Honeyland - A Portrait of Life Itself

Daniella Verektenidi, 29/1/21

When you get caught in the midst of a moment in life you cannot grasp, it's rarely you take the time to dwell within that moment. Observe and discover. Filmmakers have given us those moments and have let us dwell in them, observe and discover. Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov, 2019), is made of the simplest of ingredients, resulting in a film that will stick to your memory and your heart. A film that manages to find its holding within a simple story about a woman and her bees. Opening its doors to life’s circumstances, aches, necessities and human nature. One can go on in all the details that a viewer can obtain from observing the subjects of this story. The filmmakers have magnificently created a portrait of a woman, of a village and of the Macedonian hills without letting their presence known. Observing and discovering you step outside of what you are and into a cinematic meditation of what’s unfolding in front of you. In the end, you almost forget the film is a documentary - letting you go back to your own moments in time and see them with a different eye.

Missing the days of cinema viewing, connecting with one another through a shared experience. I watched Honeyland back on those days. Nostalgic of the cinema atmosphere and watching films you didn’t know much about. I went into the screen completely unfamiliar with what to expect. It is not often you’d make such a statement - but I did come out a little bit better, with a little bit more warmth in the soul.

It is easy in times as now to forget about what makes us feel this way. Although not as great as going to the cinema, I do urge you to seek those moments in films that you can access online. They can be free, or through various subscriptions. Re-create the scenery as much as you can and let the stories take you.

Honeyland is available to rent via Amazon Prime & Apple TV.

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Reflecting on Trans in Focus: With Corporatism absent, now is the time to reclaim space and
utilise our voices

Kate Fahy 03/07/2020

Through all of the pain, grief, agitation, anxiety, suffering and hardship that this current pandemic has caused, I have really been latching onto the idea (perhaps for the sake of sanity) that these times have brought some long-absent power to the people. Quarantime has gone from baking banana bread and zoom quizzes to proactively tackling systemic injustices. The Black Lives Matter movement has led to global conversations on anti-racism, the symbolism of celebrated slave-owners have been physically torn down, almost every large organisation in the UK is currently introspecting on institutional racism and how to be better, education on black history is yearning to be improved. BLM has achieved real, tangible change, and its efforts are far from done.

The people have reclaimed the streets, and COVID has meant that it has been necessary to do this with care, thought, and meaning. After months of feeling ‘what the fuck is happening right now’, the other day it finally hit me properly that we were living in a very different time; that things had irreversibly changed. It was when I was walking through Brixton and noticed all of the out of date poster advertising, the emptied bus stop adverts that had been replaced by Extinction Rebellion posters, and posters for a campaign to save a local treasure – the grocery shop Noor and Cash which was under threat of eviction (the campaign has fantastically won its battle against the billionaire DJ who owns Brixton Village). Corporatism is absent, it is even struggling. It has temporarily lost presence and power, and in turn the people, the local communities have reclaimed space and voice.

This was felt so strongly at last weekend’s Black Trans Lives Matter march in London. Last year I went to London’s Pride march and found myself bored, standing behind a fence watching corporation after corporation adorned in rainbows – not marching for queer rights, but marching for advertisement and profit. In antithesis, the BTLM march was solely led and formed by queer people. In fact, it was a protest led by black trans people – just as Stonewall was. This time everybody was adorned with flowers in homage to Stonewall leader Marsha P. Johnson. It felt like the true roots of Pride, it felt powerful and vibrant and beautiful, and angry and united.

It is painful that protest is still necessary. Current issues in the UK seem to revolve around the myth that in giving trans people rights, cis women will lose theirs. This fear is being most prominently circulated and acted upon by the likes of Equalities (this irony is always too much to bear) Minister Liz Truss and author JK Rowling, who for some unknown reason has become the TERF master.

Trans people do not have enough of a role in the implementation of their own rights to exist and this cannot be the case. Through our Trans in Focus season, the primary goal was to hear the voices, experiences, and history of trans people through cinema, and to in turn be educated and also generate a discussion. Despite all the painful and oppressive things that trans people have always faced and are currently facing, it gives me hope that these conversations are currently so wide and present, and that people are uniting both on the streets and on the internet to fight against oppression, and to protect trans life.

From the programme, my favourite films have been the shorts. This is probably because they were all directed by trans filmmakers/artists. Feature films directed by trans people are scarce thanks to lack of opportunity and resources, and bigotry in production and distribution. There are films directed by cis people that are about trans life – some of which are good and some of which are not. But I feel that the best stories are told by the people who know those stories; who live them.

Woman Dress by Thirza Cuthand is my stand out, and I think that’s because of its allegiance to story-telling – to the power that it holds, also the impact of its suppression. It delves into a story of a Two Spirit person in indigenous Canada that had been handed down for generations, until it stopped being told due to shame and fear imposed by Colonialist ideals and general suppression of indigenous existence. Only 6ish minutes in length and super low budget, the film really inspired and educated me. I wasn’t aware of the concept of two-spirit people, and had barely given enough thought to the fact that colonialism, westernised ideals and religion had all had a huge impact in removing the historic and sacred existence of trans and non-gender conforming people globally. It was a real thrill to be able to have Cuthand join our discussion of her film, and while we have been consistently bummed that we have not been able to put on these screenings physically, it did reveal the potential of the digital – to communicate and connect with a filmmaker on the other side of the world.

It really feels like we are all on quite a wild ride right now. There is no doubt fear as to where it will land, but it feels a whole lot safer and stronger as we take it on in unity. Let’s keep raising one another up, let’s keep talking, learning, unlearning, fighting. Let’s keep story-telling. 

Born in Flames - Let’s tear this fucker down

Kate Fahy, 12/05/20

“We will continue to fight … against the system that names itself falsely. For we have stood on the promises far too long now that we can all be equal under the cover of a social democracy where the rich get richer and the poor just wait on their dreams.”

– Honey of pirate station Phoenix Radio

When I sat down to watch Born in Flames, I was already angry. I had just watched Boris Johnson’s mumbo jumbo public speech of nothing-ness. He encourages people who can’t work from home to go back to work, such as those in ‘construction and manufacturing’. I heard this as “I really don’t want to be paying your wages any more so you working class folk can go back to work and put your lives in danger so that I can keep my property investor friends rich and save a few pennies myself”.

Money > life apparently, and that’s not to mention the gross under-emphasis on those who are being most severely affected by COVID 19. The hardship upon those who were already experiencing it – i.e. BAME people, the working class, those with mental and physical illness and disability, and those suffering abuse – has exponentially risen, with seemingly little recognition by leaders.

I had also been reading about the global roll backs on trans rights, and directly harmful and discriminative policy changes amid COVID, such as Trump’s push to allow doctors to refuse transgender patients treatment for the virus, trans women in Puerto Rico being hunted and burned to death with no arrests, and the Hungarian government seeking to no longer recognise the existence of trans people. (The current violent oppression of trans people is an urgent topic that will soon be given greater focus by Vadi? Nevadi.)

That turned into a minor rant, but needless to say, I was pretty agitated when I decided on a whim to watch Lizzie Borden’s 1983 pseudo-documentary, Born in Flames, which had been sitting in my watch list for far too long.It turned out to be exactly what was needed. The film is radical, urgent, and furiously calls for active rebellion. Set 10 years after the American ‘Social Democratic War of Liberation’, it investigates the fragmented injustices that remain in a state that calls itself Socialist and ‘free’. Hierarchies persist in terms of race, gender, and class, and the film gives perspectives of diverse feminist groups that are agitated and willing to scream for equality.

Radical in both content and form, the film was made over several years as an independent film on a shoestring budget. Borden herself has said that she made the film “as an act of rebellion.” I read that independent filmmaking used to be called guerrilla filmmaking – a term that seems apt here. The final product is an aesthetically and conceptually raw film that simultaneously grabs you by the throat and unlocks your shackles.

Born in Flames is overtly outraged and fuelled by anger, yet manages to remain inquisitive, with room for curiosity, multiple perspectives, and open-ended questions and ideas. It stands for unity, for rebellion, and for revolution. I felt it as a call to arms. COVID quarantine has encouraged inaction, but current oppression against already marginalised communities cannot remain overlooked. Global administrations are arguably more violent and more powerful than in 1983. As I began the film I felt angry, but also deflated, defeated, and tired of seeing only a growth of pain, death, and injustice; as I finished the film the anger had grown, but so had my willingness to fight.

P.S If you’re in the mood for some political punk, check out ‘Born in Flames’ by The Red Crayola which runs through the title film.


Power in Community Cinema

Kate Fahy, 07/05/20

This time last year I was losing my mind writing my Master’s dissertation about community cinema and counterpublic formation, and planning my first screening in Bristol of Barbara Hammer’s Nitrate Kisses on 16mm print. I’m fully in love with community cinema, and the power that it holds – for me, for us, and for the greater good (the greater goooood). I re-read my dissertation the other day, and wanted to share some points and thoughts that I think reflect the aims, ambitions, and passions that me and Daniella share, and that translate and echo through our project Vadí? Nevadí.

To really understand the formula and ambitions of community cinema today, it’s vital to go back to the roots. So let’s rewind a few decades to the 1960s and go south to Argentina. Argentinian Militant cinema (a more politically focused strand of the Latin American Third Cinema movement) was orchestrating clandestine cinema screenings of highly political films that explicitly opposed the country’s existing oppressive regime. Such films included La Hora de los Hornos (dir. Octavio Getino, Fernando Solanas, 1968). The organisers and attendees of the screenings faced massive risk of persecution, violence, and even death if discovered – so why the fuck do it, right?

My most and least favourite phrase is “but it’s just a film”. It’s my least favourite because it really pisses me off, but it’s my most favourite because my belly gets fire-y and I can let it loose. Leaders of the Militant cinema, like Getino and Solanas saw cinema as an important weapon and tool in the process of liberation. They encouraged active participation from audience members in the form of pamphlets, introductions, and most importantly, post-screening discussions. Their screenings intended to have transformative impact on their audiences, and thus onto wider society. Through clandestine screenings, often in warehouses inciting the working class to rise up, they advocated alternative forms of film distribution and exhibition.

The late 1960s saw global uprisings in response to consistent oppression, discrimination, and the squashing of identities by dominant culture (ie. Bourgeois white, cis, heteropatriarchy). Identity politics were widespread, and there started to be a cultural shift reflected in film programming, in that film festivals started to become more politically engaged and driven, and there was a growth of alternative identity-based film festivals. These festivals acted as a sort of cultural intervention that sought societal change and followed the formula of encouraging active participation. Marginalised communities mobilised with the desire for network formation, and the enablement of an open and discursive space in which they could confront issues and freely defy dominant conventions.

A slice of history gives an understanding of the formula and deeply imbedded aims and purpose of politically driven programming and community cinema today. But there are also contemporary issues that feed into DIY culture and film programming. I am really drawn to the issue of space. Space is banal – it is just there. But at the same time, it is huge – it can be gendered, sexed, raced, cultured, open, private, exclusive, free, and a whole lot more.

We live in the sometimes truly disturbing era of neo-liberal capitalism in which space is ultimately money. Cultural spaces across the country and across the world are being bought and privatised on a huge scale. Space is property, capital, and investment to the gains of the rich, and the loss of those to whom it originally belonged and held solace. The reclamation of space thus becomes political (as it also was for Militant cinema). DIY cinema takes space back and gives it identity, and purpose. DIY screenings are for the most part non-profit. We hope that Vadí? Nevadí screenings will always be free. I love the idea that the organisers and attendees of politicaly-driven screenings in reclaimed spaces are activists. Everything about them is oppositional – to capitalism in formation, to societal ‘norms’ in content. We like to experiment, push boundaries, showcase that which is not being showcased, and most importantly create space for conversations.

Vadí Nevadí has a lot of room to grow, and we hope that we can nurture a space and community that is really powerful. We want to represent, celebrate, connect with, and engage marginalised communities. We are exploring both physical and digital space, and the potential of discussion, unity, and exploration, that both of these entities hold. Cinema is powerful, as so is each of us.


Crisis of Identity in the ‘Greek Weird Wave’

Daniella Verektenidi, 30/4/20
(the below is an edited version of my final year Film Criticism assignment)

 (Attenberg, Athina Tsangari)

‘I’m a godless old man leaving you in a new century, without teaching you anything’ says Spyros, to his daughter Marina, in Athina Tsangari’s comedy drama Attenberg (2010). This sentence sums up a few of the ideas that are implemented in the Greek society and the New Wave of filmmaking in Greece.

The director, who’s previously worked with Richard Linklater on Slacker (2002) and Before Midnight (2013) , is one of the few prevalent figures in the Greek cinema of today. Chevalier (2015), was her most recent feature film. A deadpan comedy about masculinity and male dynamics, Chevalier similarly to Attenberg, belongs to this new wave of cinema that has emerged in the last decade or so in Greece. This ‘Greek Weird Wave’ as many have called it due to its unique thematic style, seems to have appeared in a time when the country has been at its weakest economically. Along with the 2008 December riots that caused a troubling aura hovering above the nation. Is this aura and the state of insecurity the inspiration that inspired this new generation of Greek filmmakers to create these bizarre films?

Similar to the French New Wave or nouvelle vague back in the fifties, where filmmakers were looking to re-invent the way films were made in France, a few filmmakers in Greece have taken upon themselves to express their way of seeing life at the moment. The French were inspired by the auteur theory, the view that the director is the most important creative force in the making of the film. This way, films were analysed by recurring themes or styles attributed to each director. Interestingly, the Greeks seem to have established a collective auteur approach to their filmmaking. The approach has been characterised as ‘weird’ and when you see one example you would understand why. Unlike how we’ve seen Greece in Hollywood, those films are not about happy family affairs and Pierce Brosnan losing his breath when singing with a blue sea on the backdrop. They are dark comedies that don’t intend to make you laugh and pass your time unaffected, but instead to raise your eyebrow to the situations you are exposed to.

Attenberg, for instance, is an observational piece of film that looks at its main character the way David Attenborough looks at the subjects of his documentaries (hence the title). We see Marina, a 23 year old cab driver, hissing like a cat to her friend, with whom she doesn’t seem to have the friendliest of relationships. We also see her act like a monkey with her dying father when spending time together. All the while she appears to be trying to deal with not desiring anyone sexually and being afraid of human contact in that way. The more she comes to terms with the inevitable death of her father and learns to let go, the closer she gets to overcoming her fear of connecting with someone in a sexual way. The fear of intimacy she is facing appears to only be solved with letting go of the bond she has with her father, the only family she seems to have.

The subject of family can be understood with a Greek proverb that reads ‘as long as you have the blessing of your family, it does not mater even if you live in the mountains’. Family is a big part of Greek cinema and that comes as no surprise as it is important to Greece itself. Letting go of your family as well as looking for it are both important in this new surge of cinema.

Yorgos Lanthimos a recurring collaborator of Tsangari has established this importance with his Academy nominated film Dogtooth (2009) and later on with Alps (2011). The latter one is about four individuals who called themselves and their business Alps. Their line of work is to ‘fill in’ for members of family that have passed away in order to ease the pain of the family’s loss. They find their clients in a hospital and by collecting little pieces of information of the deceased, they pitch themselves to their families as a substitute. As the tagline of the film says ‘when the end is near, the Alps are here’. The reasoning behind their actions is questionable but the characters themselves appear to have no family of their own and it would be right to assume they hope to find it through their work even if temporary.  Like Attenberg, Alps looks at human connection and the times in which it is lacking. The characters who strangely substitute the dead, are struggling to connect with others around them but salvation is in neither of the directors minds. Tsangari herself said in an interview that ‘’I really have to understand or accept redemption for my characters because I guess it’s something that I haven’t understood or accepted for myself.’’ We don’t see people finding each other in the end or reaching catharsis. Their bizarre behaviour that seems unappealing at first, makes up with that struggle to connect as that feeling doesn’t seem strange at all.

So there is something disturbing in family relations altogether, there is chaos and uneasiness that challenges the notion of ‘family’ as viewed in normal. Perhaps a bit darker than the previous films mentioned, Miss Violence (2013, Alexandros Avranas) is another great example of the turbulent new wave. The fascinating opening scene of the film is a lovely looking birthday party for the 11 year old Angeliki, with all her family celebrating with songs and music at their sunlit apartment. Angeliki is dancing with her granddad and siblings before leaving them to the cake and pass-the-parcel. She walks towards the balcony, smiles at the camera and jumps off. Her family is still celebrating in the background. The camera tilts on the ground to reveal her body unmoving on the asphalt road. ‘’She was really happy’’ says the granddad to the welfare officers, there wasn’t a reason for her to jump. The rest of the film we spend trying to solve the puzzle of why she did.

We soon come to realise that there is something not completely right with the family and the closer we get to answers the bigger the idea of the ‘family’ is being brought down. The granddad, a man who takes on a humiliating job in an office to support the family seems to be reacting with an unnerving way to her loss. The more we observe him the more we realise he seems to be holding every member of his family by a string. He is the patriarch figure that we can also interpret as the nationalism that resurrects with the people and drives them to keep still with outdated traditions and beliefs when succumbing the ‘family’ in great distress and anxiety.

It is not only the family that is in question but also sexuality and gender roles that in modern Greek society are still taboo topics of discussion. In Attenberg,  Marina asks her father ‘’Do you ever picture me naked?’’ ‘’Of course not, don’t say things like that’’ he answers. ‘’I do. But without a penis.’’. They conclude their conversation by saying that some topics are taboo and for a reason, in the society we live in we are not meant to discuss those. In the Greek society however, even today, there are various subjects that are considered taboo.  This New Wave is allowing these topics to be addressed - perhaps what film and art does best. 

Marina is questioning her sexuality and the act of sex. She is seen admiring female bodies and engaging in a very awkward kiss with her female friend only to discover that she is not attracted to them. The questioning of one's sexuality however, in this Orthodox Christian society, is not a thing you would stumble across a film or any other media in Greece so easily. Even today, homosexuality is still viewed with restraint by a lot of people and only the younger generation seems to be more open to consider, examine and accept it. Even though this backward-look on the subject sounds quite horrifying to acknowledge, it is important to discuss to move forward. The gender roles that have been firmly established are suddenly being questioned. The patriarch; who is the man that carries all, is not so strong anymore. In Attenberg the daughter is the one providing for her father, whereas in Miss Violence the granddad is not the man who appears to be and ultimately is brought down.

Chevalier on the other hand is questioning masculinity entirely. Here a group of friends go on a fishing trip where they end up playing a game of ‘who is the best in general’. Each of them rate each other in everything they do, the way they dress, speak, swim, sleep or get an erection. Whoever scores the highest will be announced the winner and receive the chevalier ring. The masculinity of each of the players is at stake as they try to convince each other of how great of man they are, even though the tough image they are trying to project is far from it. The most ironic scene that challenges that idea is towards the end of the film when the winner is announced. Before they hand the chevalier ring they sing a traditional school song that says ‘where’s is the ring, you will not find it’. The ironic part is that this song was sang usually by young girls on school breaks and it referred to a wedding ring. Grown men have never been seen singing it, so when it is sung here the impact is bizarre and strangely entertaining. When men are usually portrayed as the breeder and strong figure, suddenly that image is being diluted. The masculine figure is shown to have insecurities, fears and general ‘emotions’ that previously were not attached to them.

What we see in all these examples is insecurity and a lot of questioning, mainly the idea that is hovering all around is that of one’s identity. The films seem to rethink and reconstruct the idea of the Greek national space, where a certain established role of the family, patriarchy, gender, sexuality and other ideas seem to be challenged. After the economic collapse and the uncertainty of the stake of the entire nation, doubt loomed over every individual and in greater ways the young people who would only just get out into the world. It is no wonder how one can start challenging the idea of oneself when you’ve lost  hope in all of what you were certain before.

Marina is not sure of who she is meant to be with men and women, apart from her father. In Alps, the characters are trying to find where they belong even if where they find themselves is entirely fabricated. In Miss Violence, the question of identity comes from the audience seeking answers to who the characters are against what they are displaying themselves to be. Whereas Chevalier questions whether masculinity has anything to do with one’s identity. Perhaps the role of this weird wave is not only to show the turmoil of the Greek society of today but also break away from it. How do the Greeks do it? They are making films about people who are not society’s norm. They are weirdos. When first watching any of the films of this new wave you stop and ask ‘what are they thinking?’ This is not how adult members of a civilised society act. But through that presentation of ‘abnormal’ behaviour they question what is normal and whether it should be.

The success of the new wave as it appears to be is due to all these factors and it is undeniable that it has brought attention to the country’s cinema once again after such a long time of silence. Greek cinema beforehand was repetitive motifs of melodrama and the attempt to mimic Hollywood tropes that had no weight on what Greece is as a nation. Before Dogtooth, it hadn’t received a nomination at the Academy Awards since 1977 with Iphigenia  (Michael Cacoyannis) adapted from Euripides’ play Iphigenia at Aulis. The question that rises at this point is what does this Greek Weird Wave mean for the future of Greek cinema? Being optimistic we would hope that this is only the beginning of a changed cinema for a changed nation. There is however an undeniable setback for the expansion of a bigger cinema scene and that is financial.

With Greece declaring bankruptcy the same year as Dogtooth’s release it is surprising that a new wave was established at all. Most new waves of cinema emerged after socio-political changes; the French New Wave followed by the New German Cinema, came after the second world war, while Spanish cinema completely reinvented itself post Franco era. There is a need of expression when one's surroundings are repressing and ambivalent. When words fail to describe one's angst, art fills in to help understand that anxiety and one’s identity. Filmmaking seems to be the art form that generations have chosen to express themselves, with this Greek generation doing the same now. Will that need of expression be enough to keep this movement going? 

Lanthimos in an interview expressed his doubts on the topic, even with the success of Dogtooth he said, filmmaking in Greece is still a very hard process. There is hardly any funding available and the films they made so far is all a product of collaboration and hard work. It is no wonder he is moving to foreign productions such as The Lobster(2015) and most recently The Favourite (2018). Tsangari seems to be more hopeful and has set up her production company HAOS Film in Greece with the intention to build the Greek cinema scene. Let’s hope we haven’t seen the best just yet from this weird wave and that it is only a new era of filmmaking for the nation of Greece.


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