Executive Interview with Professor Artemis Anastasiadou

Image Source: MATAROA

Born and raised in Thessaloniki, Greece, Artemis Anastasiadou began her career by studying and receiving a degree in theater before moving on to become a filmmaker.  Having started her career as a director in Europe she later moved to the United States, where she directed her own shorts and ended up winning several awards at multiple film festivals. Her most popular films are I Am Mackenzie and Calling, both of which focus on human aspects and social realism, taking inspiration from the style known as Italian Neo-realism. Since 2020, she has been teaching at the American College of Greece where she is a professor in the cinema studies department.

Q: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

A: By watching my first films when I was in primary school. I felt like it was a magical place where I could be alone and travel to multiple universes, and I always wanted to do that. Of course in Greece that wasn’t always a viable living or career path. We didn’t even have a university back then where you could study filmmaking so I didn’t think about it for many years and instead studied theater as my first degree as theater was and still is a very popular career path in Greece.  But I was a passionate cinephile and I grew up in Thessaloniki, the second biggest city in Greece, which has a very important film festival, the Thessaloniki International Film Festival.  So while studying theater in Greece I went to an exchange program in Scotland and started film studies and filmmaking. I took part in a film competition and they gave me cameras and some people to help me out where I did my first film, without knowing anything.  As I recall it, that’s when I decided that this was fantastic and that I loved it more than theater and I wanted to pursue it further. That is when it suddenly became something I can reach for because before I didn’t have any connection really to cinema apart from watching films. Therefore, after I graduated I decided to try my luck at film and traveled to Denmark for my first filmmaking program.  

Q: What’s the most important element to focus on while making a film?

A: I mean, story and character development for sure. However, as a filmmaker I would say that each part is very important because making a film has many steps. You have to write the story, then create the world, develop the photography and style, find actors that are going to bring it to life, and then of course edit it all. Therefore I’ve also found that every part of the filmmaking process needs a very good collaborator. I like to work and collaborate because I feel that filmmaking is a collaborative art, and the more minds we have the better the film. I like to focus on people that can help make my vision, or something close to my vision, come to life. So yes, the story is probably the most important, but how you’re going to realize it and bring it to life are very important as well because two different directors would create two completely different films. For example, choosing a director of photography is really important because it’s shot through their eyes. You can control the composition, but they have spent all their lives thinking about photography. A different photographer can have a completely different universe to the film. I would say every step is important but knowing, really knowing, the core of your character and the philosophy of your universe is very important cause it will point out the artistic decisions: what kind of colors you are going to use, what kind of lens, how you are going to represent your character through the actor you choose and how to work out certain elements for that character.

Q:What are some challenges you as a filmmaker faced while making films?

A: When I made my first non-student film it was before doing my master’s degree in directing, and it was my very own production.  Therefore, my biggest challenge there was my lack of experience. The visual result was not the way I imagined it, and it was very far apart from my imagination because I wasn’t skilled enough to be able to control the visual style of it or understand how choosing this actor would mean not necessarily getting the result I thought I would get. That was the biggest thing I learned from that film. It turned out okay, but had a completely different tone than what I had envisioned. I couldn’t recognize it and felt like I was failing. That being said, failing was a good experience. After doing a lot of short films and watching how film by film you can get so much better and eventually be able to control your style, rhythm, and acting, I’ve found what you envision may be even better than what you originally planned. That, I would say, is a true gift that you gain just by working. 

Most other times its money. Films can be a lot of money, and sometimes you don’t get the funding that you want. A filmmaker constantly suffers rejection and disappointment, but the good thing is if you love filmmaking you do it anyway. Try to get better and learn from your mistakes. You can have one filmmaker whose first film is a great success, but then they won’t know how to be a good collaborator because they are not humble enough to collaborate with other people or they’ll experience disappointment when they don’t have the same success in their next film. Everyone considers themselves an auteur in Europe, causing them to slowly lose touch with their story and become narcissistic.

Q: What is the best advice you can give someone hoping to work in the film industry?

A:I think it depends on what you want to do because every job is different. For example, if you want to be a director or cinematographer you have different challenges than a screenwriter would and vice versa. But I would say that you need to be very responsible, always looking to be well versed in the technical aspects of work because that’s what you are going to work on as an assistant.  Also, if you want to be part of the creative team, be open to working on creative projects and not doing everything for money as well as making decisions out of passion and love. Be open to working with other artists or your friends as well. A lot of young filmmakers tend to go into filmmaking and, if they’re good enough, become used to getting paid for projects that might not be so artistic. This can easily lead to them getting very detached from filmmaking and can result in a career in advertisement or corporate work. In conclusion, I would say don’t lose touch with the creative aspect of filmmaking.

Q: As a director what advice would you give to young directors?

A: I would advise not to imitate all the same trends in cinema or only make stories you think might sell. For example, one might find some topics that are really edgy or that Sundance is looking for and then you end up with a lot of stories and films covering that same topic. I would say try to be honest with yourself and what you specifically can share, how your perspective can add something more to the conversation. Find qualities from your experiences and the way you view the world that can be unique. This part has a lot to do with self-reflection, so it’s not always about a glamorous lifestyle full of going to film festivals, getting followers on Instagram, and advertising yourself and your movies. Rather,  it’s about reading and studying and finding something that really hits your core because that’s the thing you’ll want to spend a lot of time on. Some filmmakers are very successful in the film industry from doing short films and features, but others might do something completely different. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you do your film at 35 or 25; cultivating yourself and your own originality is the most important aspect of being a filmmaker.   

Q: Who were some directors or films that inspired you to become a filmmaker?
A: Ken Loach has had a very strong influence on my filmmaking. A British director who does social realism, he always shows protagonists that are working class and are surviving despite having struggles with things like the state and system. He helped me discover the kind of universe I wanted to work with since a lot of my characters also represent minorities and the working class. But now I also admire a lot of women directors like Alice Rohrwacher from Italy, or Céline Sciamma from France. I like the topics they choose and the sensitivity they display towards the characters and their world.

Q: Do you prefer European cinema or American cinema?

A: I’m not a specialist, but I feel American cinema has a stronger focus on screenwriting and dialogue, whereas in European cinema we put more focus on concept and visual style, and our protagonists don’t talk as much. What I do admire about American cinema is the characters they portray. They include many unique details, while European characters tend to be flatter and try to survive a difficult situation for example.  In American cinema, you can see many different temperaments. There tends to be more humor, and I love that the U.S. is a vast territory, so there are many more ethnicities and the characters are more interesting. In American cinema you can find anything, it’s an abundance of truly unique stories. I also admire American directors. I feel that they are very courageous for the style of filmmaking that they choose. A lot of American cinema ends up following the three-act structure or that type of plot line, which can make it very predictable. But still, I admire their stories and how much freer I think it is compared to European cinema.