From the streets of Havana and Trinidad: a hotly photographic journey in the heart of Cuba as seen through the lens of Georgia Korossi.
We arrived in Havana in the late hours of a hot September night. The streets were low-lit but full of people. The next day we took the captivating old-city streets of Habana Vieja, for a walking adventure. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Children are at the heart of Cuba’s shaped character. There are no kids left alone. Seeing happy children felt like we were at the right place. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Old town Havana: Habana Vieja Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Monday morning on Habana Vieja’s Obispo street Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Fruits shopping in Habana Vieja Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Avocados Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Fruits & veg market, Habana Vieja Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
American author Ernest Hemingway’s love for dogs was so enormous that he buried his beloved pets Black, Negrita, Linda and Neron in the garden of his house in Cuba. Finca Vigía (Lookout Farm), is a 15-acre property 15 miles east of Havana. He lived there from mid 1939, first renting it and then buying it in 1940. At Finca Vigía Hemingway wrote most of For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) and The Old Man and the Sea (1951). The house, designed and filled with a magnificent taste for floor tiles and chairs alongside works of arts, is now a museum. We were greeted by its staff and the garden’s wildlife of exotic flowers, hummingbirds and other visitors like this friendly dog pictured here. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
The swimming pool at Finca Vigía next to the pet cemetery.
Hemingway’s desk and typewriter in the tower of Finca Vigía Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Industria street, Havana Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
We were on the look out for a music school. In the heart of Havana, geared with our cameras, we were an easy target. A man in his early thirties approached us and insisted on taking us to Che Guevara’s first house in Havana, where his grandmother lived. It turned out the man wanted to sell us tickets for a concert organised by this school pictured here. He said he would buy milk for his kids with the ticket sale commission money. The building was huge with a wide staircase leading up to an open space surrounded by high sealing rooms and a square courtyard in the middle. There, the stage was ready for the night’s concert.
Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Our first ride with one of the bicycle taxis. Everywhere in Havana you hear the question, “Taxi?” and rumours has it that taxi drivers earn more than doctors in Cuba. Taken onboard one of the bicitaxis, this picture froze the moment when this man went to buy his sandwich at one of the street cafes. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Cuba’s diversity is triumphant but gender equality and women’s confidence prevail in every corner of Havana’s streets.
Hotel Nacional de Cuba peacock Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Cuba’s internet provider, Etecsa, is impossible to access. There’re only a few designated hotels where you can buy WiFi or telecommunication centres like Telepunto, Cuba’s equivalent to BT, and can only be used within a distance of 100 metres from the actual building. These girls here are not online, what we’re so used to seeing in the Western world. They’re playing a digital game on their smart phone. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
An afternoon wondering around the streets of Havana Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
I was looking back at you to see you looking back at me to see me looking back at you. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Freediving: Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Fisherman: Caleta de San Lázaro Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
School hours Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
After school hours Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Vanity: somewhere near Paseo de Marti (Prado), Havana Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Old American cars are still in use and they’re so many that it felt like we were time travellers. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Casa 1936, Havana Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
We arrived in Trinidad, central Cuba, late on Thursday evening to find this preserved sixteenth-century town. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
It was a thunderous night with constant lightning strikes. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
A day in the life of Trinidad Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Trinidad is close to the beach and mountains in the southern corner of Sancti Spíritus. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Night falls in Trinidad (UNESCO-declared world heritage site) Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
When visiting a foreign country it’s always worth travelling outside the big cities. Cuba’s countryside is vast and gorgeous. Farmers are going about their daily lives but there was something honest about this man we found on our way from Trinidad back to Havana. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Factory workers at their midmorning break. Somewhere on the road between Trinidad and La Habana. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Casa Vitrales, Havana
Our last afternoon in Havana. Hair ribbons are usually the norm among two or three year olds. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Handball is a popular game in the streets of Havana when the sun sets. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
In Cuba, the cigarettes you are able to buy, like Hollywood, Popular or Lucky Strikes are far too strong and we were left with the cigar option. This photograph was taken from inside Havana’s cigar factory.
Just before the storm: on our way to El Coccinero rooftop and Fabrica Arts Centre we were guided by road police to ease the traffic. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
After the storm: a group of young men gather to start up fishing in the Atlantic Ocean on the Malecón esplanade, Havana. Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Boy watches lizard Photograph: Georgia Korossi/11polaroids
Georgia Korossi is editor of 11polaroids, writer, photographer and producer of film based in London and Athens. For this project the photographs were shot by Canon EOS 650D with Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens.
Tell the world about Philosophy! 15 films from around the world that inspired our imagination during the festival in London this year.
The present is a strange beast. – Jean-Luc Godard
Goodbye to Language (Adieu au langage, 2014)
Αnother festival of imaginative films closed its curtains last week. Our focus this month was the BFI London Film Festival where we saw films from around the world that took us outside of our comfort zone. It was an adventurous 12-day festival covering for the BFI’s very own live blog and putting forward BFI-produced videos of highlights and interviews. A week later the memories are still bold with inspirational films. Here are 15 that caught our attention.
Winner of The Grierson Award in the Documentary Competition, Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan’s Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait is a courageous work filmed under the most dangerous circumstances. A film made of 1001 images, shot by 1001 Syrian men and women and Mohammed himself, the director found these images on a daily stream from YouTube. He left Syria on May 9, 2011, “the day of triumph over fascism” Mohammed tells us in his film. With him he carried these 1001 images for a talk in Cannes and since then he’s been living in exile in Paris. A year later in 2012, Wiam Simav Bedirxan, a young woman who lived in Homs, got in touch with Mohammed and started filming what she was witnessing: the cinema of the victim and the murderer alongside her struggle for survival.
A much-deserved winner for such a prestigious documentary award, Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait brings forward experiences from a cruel reality that is hard to imagine in the western world. This is disturbing, pure cinema that observes life’s cruel reality and Syria’s deep struggles.
Juror’s for this year’s documentary competition were film-director and producer Sophie Fiennes (The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology), the Emmy®-winner and BAFTA-nominated producer and director Roy Ackerman, the Emmy®-winning producer and editor of Storyville Nick Fraser, Dogwoof’s head of distribution Oli Harbottle, and the BAFTA-nominated filmmaker and screenwriter Penny Woolcock.
For Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan’s confronting account of life in Syria during the civil war, Fiennes commented:
The jury were deeply affected by this film. Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan’s portrait of Syria is both unflinching and poetic. It is hard to watch, because the fact of war is and should be unbearable. Bedirxan’s passionate and courageous quest to be a reliable witness, while trying to comprehend and survive her desperate situation in Homs, is profoundly moving. Ossama Mohammed’s exile in Paris, resonates with our own safe distance from this war, but the miracle of the film is how it engages us.
In one of the screen talks at the festival, director Abderrahmane Sissako was in conversation with the BFI’s Head of Film Programme and critic Geoff Andrew. When asked why he made his latest film, Timbuktu, Sissako explained there was a situation that made him start with the idea. In July 2012 while on visit to one of the villages in Mali, he witnessed a couple being stoned to death because of adultery. On this very day, he adds, a new phone had come out and the media filmed the very first person buying it, as if someone who has a new phone is an important piece of news. We are bombarded on a daily basis with news that is not of any significance. As Sissako emphasized during his conversation with Andrew, “It is important to him [the person who bought the new phone] but not to the rest of us”.
Later in the conversation, Sissako tells us about today’s spotlight on Islam:
The current discourse is that [Islam] is about this terrible religion but it’s not true. There are a number of people who have appropriated this religion as a vehicle for their own interest and it has nothing to do with Islam itself.
Sissako’s latest picture Timbuktu, bares witness to what the director saw in July 2012. Timbuktu is a powerful portrait of love, compassion, suffering and humanity brilliantly shot by Blue is the Warmest Colour‘s cinematographer Sofian El Fani.
Similarly, writer-director Mohsen Makhmalbaf (A Moment of Innocence) made The President, an insightful film with a universal scope: peace for all. Filmed in Georgia, Iranian director Makhmalbaf triumphs in bringing international anxiety with powerful effect to his picture. The President is an astonishing work that asks this simple question: if ideology is based on revenge, how can you talk about democracy?
Outside the international spectre, we caught up with films that dealt with personal difficulties, struggles, loneliness and rage. Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s My Friend Victoria, adapted from a story by Doris Lessing, is an intelligent portrait of racial identity in the contemporary western world. Poignantly performed by newcomers Guslagie Malanda and Nadia Moussa, the two friends, and adopted sisters, come across a French bourgeoisie that is open to diversity under its own terms and conditions. Following some unexpected circumstances and much consideration for her little girl’s future, Victoria chooses to take this journey but equally it has to be under her own terms too. It is a lonely journey and Civeyrac’s adaptation of Lessing’s story is an achievement in portraying a complex reality.
Tender and at the same time funny, Ne me quitte pas by Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden, tells the heartfelt story of the friendship between the recently divorced, with two kids, Marcel and his pal Bob. Beautifully photographed with an eye for still-life symbolism, the duo’s film reminded me of Sergei Dvortsevoy’s 1998 documentary Bread Day. In Ne me quitte pas, also reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the two men live their intuitive life in rural Belgium, which is far from harmonic.
Greek director Syllas Tzoumerkas’s second feature A Blast is a superb portrait of the gratitude and sadness flaming in Maria’s (Angeliki Papoulia) life. A mother of two whose husband is a sailor and works on a tankship in Germany for six months, Maria is trapped in the misery of loneliness and huge financial depth inherited from her mother (Themis Bazaka).
Like with his debut feature Homeland, in his second film Tzoumerkas focuses on family, its patterns and consequences. But in A Blast rage breaks through institutional, social and personal anomalies in search for dignity and a firm mission for change. With outstanding performances from Angeliki Papoulia (Alps), Themis Bazaka (Wasted Youth) and newcomer Vassilis Doganis in the role of Maria’s husband Yannis, A Blast looks into adolescence, prostitution and escapism against the rise of far-right ignorance. Still threatening the most vulnerable in the crisis that is gripping Greece for the last five years, fascism gets the black eye from Maria’s daring and explosive anger.
Tzoumerkas balances the personal and national turbulence to a poignant level, which together with his film’s electrifying imagery of Maria’s and her husband’s flashbacks to the years of their romance, announce him as an audacious filmmaker. There’s nothing ‘weird’ about Tzoumerkas’s picture. Only the reality of a burning desire: to be loved, unconditionally. A Blast is an engaging film, which together with Ken McMullen’s admirable OXI: An Act of Resistance, also an entry to this year’s festival programme, are perhaps the most accurate accounts that carefully illustrate Greece’s difficult years of austerity and the tragic impact it has in people’s lives.
This year’s festival paid tribute to one of the world’s tireless documentary filmmakers, Frederick Wiseman. This is good news because at the age of 84, Wiseman continues to educate us with his passion for the art of documentary and technique as the great invisible behind the camera. It is truly a magical skill, as his characters in all his films seem almost always not to notice the presence of the camera. It happened most recently in his At Berkeley (2013) and it happens again in his new film National Gallery, a glorious account in a day of the life of the glorious paintings held by one of London’s art museums.
Wiseman’s National Gallery together with Mike Leigh’s biopic of the great Romantic painter Mr. Turner and Mark Cousins’s 6 Desires: DH Lawrence and Sardinia in the festival’s programme, have an appetite for the act of looking and appreciation for the great British artists. Only that Cousins’s latest essay film on the English novelist and poet and his brief visit to Sardinia in the early years of the 20th century, manifests an exemplary script and testifies the very essence of desire. Though his essay film affirms, “Not all desires should be satisfied”, in the end he simply reverses this affirmation with his very final scene. But I wouldn’t like to spoil it, just watch it when there’s a chance.
Peter Strickland‘s third feature and a follow up to his Berberian Sound Studio, The Duke of Burgundy is an adventure in sound and dark humour in the intimate relationship of two women. A long-term experimental musician, English writer-director Strickland emphasises on the intriguing sounds of cats and lepidopterists. But its surreal cinematography, telescopic imagery and kaleidoscopic autumnal patterns, under the supervision of Nic Knowland, alongside metallic appearances of butterflies trapped outside the bedroom, will burst your imagination to a hypnotic effect, transformed to a motif in the sounds of orchestral pop duo Cat’s Eye.
Another favourite from the festival was The Sapience by Eugène Green (The Portuguese Nun). Green is an educator himself who has drawn inspiration from the French baroque theatre technique. Thus it comes as no surprise that his film, for which he also wrote the script, is a visceral attempt to weight the poignancy of education as a bilateral practice between the teacher and the student. In the heart of 17th century baroque architecture during their visit to Italy, withdrawn architect Alexandre and his psychoanalyst wife Alienor encounter young brother Goffredo and his sister Lavinia. The age gap between the four blazes new trails in their personal experiences and the film’s tour around Italy’s celebrated Roman architecture, with strong reference to Francesco Borromini’s work, is an adventure into spaces of light with a ghostly effect. It also emphasises the need for an architecture where cities can grow organically.
Cinema’s enfant terrible, Jean-Luc Godard came back to the festival. This time with his 3D film. At the age of 83, the French auteur paid homage to the great modern philosophers, his dog Roxy, romance and humanity’s blinded conscience. In his Goodbye To Language he superbly plays with a variety of mini-3D cameras and it is an excellent film from which Hollywood needs to learn a thing or two. It felt like a real treat while watching it in full-house BFI IMAX: a celebration of independent thought, an original act of daring to think differently. It was a real gift Mr. Godard.
Sadly, we didn’t catch up with many shorts this year. However both Ahmed Ghoneimy’s The Cave (Cairo), a musician’s odyssey for an audition in Alexandria, and Philippe Lacôte’s To Repel Ghosts, based on Jean-Michel Basquiat’s last trip to Abidjan, deserve a special mention for their vigorous style. Both films screened as part of the African Metropolis programme at the festival.
A revamp programming approach at this year’s festival and a new hub for journalists at the BFI’s Stephen Street location, led an audience turn-out with a boasting 7.5% increase across London venues. Over 12,000 people across the UK attended simultaneous screenings of the Opening Night film of Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, the Closing Night film of David Ayer’s Fury, and the Documentary Special Presentation of Laura Poitras’s CITIZENFOUR. This is confirmation that alternative content matters creatively as well as financially and with most of the films from the programme to look out for, hopefully when they get their release after their premier at the BFI London Film Festival, we will then meet you again next year.
Georgia Korossi is editor of 11polaroids, writer and curator of film based in London and Athens. You can read more of her writings here.
Continuing its reputation as the biggest international documentary film festival in UK, the 21st Sheffield Doc/Fest welcomed documentarians and activists from the public domain with a fierce independent spirit this year.
The past is always with us. But who wants to live in an antique shop? – Ian McShane in How We Used To Live
Screening at the 57th BFI London Film Festival’s First Feature Competition, Luton is an insightful film and an alarming tour de force about personal responsibilities. Director Michalis Konstantatos talks about his debut feature.
The world of Luton, the debut feature of Michalis Konstantatos, is common people in their everyday lives. The three lead characters seem to have nothing in common: Jimmy (Nicholas Vlachakis) is a wealthy high-school student dominated by his controlling mother, Mary (Eleftheria Komi) is a trainee lawyer in her 30s and Makis (Christos Sapountzis) is a 50 year-old family man and the owner of a mini market. What at first looks like episodes of their ordinary lives, it turns into a gothic tale of a city drifting into bleak, doubtful and gloomy prospect.
Atmospherically Luton follows in the footsteps of other realist dramas, such as Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. There is a shot of clear reference to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant when Jimmy walks down the school’s corridor but these references are only “a synthesis of films that I like and grew up with: it is the cinema I understand and admire but each one of these works is different”, Konstantatos explains.
In 2010, I screened Michalis Konstantatos’ intense short film, Two Times Now (2007), in London as part of the film programme Happy End at Yinka Shonibare’s Guest Projects space. The reactions to the story were mixed but there was the feeling that the precise detail and tension in Two Times Now was vital signage this newcomer writer-director has something to say.
It’s no surprise that three years later his debut feature film created a lot of curiosity since its premier at the San Sebastián Film Festival last month. Shortly before its premier at the 57th BFI London Film Festival, I rush to read Luton through the crisis in Greece and the rest of the world but “the idea of Luton started before the crisis” he tells me and he adds “it’s about what leads to a crisis.”
Luton took shape four years ago as work in progress at the Sarajevo Film Festival’s CineLink Co-Production Market. The project was acknowledged by representatives of the Cannes Film Festival and in spring 2011 it got invited as part of the fifteen international projects selected that year for The Atelier. But how Luton kicked off? “The spark of this film” Konstantatos continues, “started from random incidents of violence I was reading about happening around the world and concluded that those who were causing this violence were everyday people and not some thugs or criminals.” Luton is not an easy watch. It’s an insightful film that grows layer by layer. “I started to search for this world, how could we arrive at such violence, coming from what facts, who is doing it and what pushes them to do it. In my previous films violence is employed as a phenomenon [Two Times Now] but just four years ago we gave this idea a shape, a scenario” he reveals.
The script was co-written with Stelios Likouresis and the whole rhythm of the film is built on discovering what’s hidden behind each character. For the first hour we’re taken through the details of three people’s daily routine, near isolated and almost manic depressing. Konstantatos focuses on the details of everyday life, which we pass unnoticed. His long takes with his all time collaborator, DoP Yannis Fotou, give the viewer the space to focus on the invisible signs of madness on the body language of those surrounding us, who otherwise seem normal.
The pale contrasts and flat photography in the film reflect the characters’ equally flat psychology and what Luton says at first hand is that people need to help themselves before anything else. According to Konstantatos, “Luton is very close to realism: simply I want to place the characters in their own environment, relate them as objectively as possible.” He later explains, “I want to demonstrate how the environment influences people, how it forms their psychology, if they react towards it and if not, where exactly reaction and resistance exist?”
In almost every scene in the film there’s a repetitive moment of frustration, people’s desires, which some try to get in vain or simply don’t bother to try: like Makis failing to pick up the phone and place an order complaint at his work. “It’s easy to express your feelings but at the same time very difficult and this is an element that guided me to make this film. I believe most problems are created out of incapability to recognise and express ourselves to the outside world” he adds.
The title of the film, we learn from Konstantatos, is a metaphor. For Jimmy, the fact that his mother sends him to Luton University is not a new phenomenon. His mother asks him to have Sunday lunch every week with his granny but neither his granny nor him want to be there. Like with many teenagers from a wealthy background, Jimmy’s future is prescribed by his consumerist bent parents. Essentially Jimmy’s escape to an unknown city like Luton (for most people it is only known as an Easyjet destination) is insignificant.
For Konstantatos, the film works like when you look yourself in the mirror: “By recalling the scenes [from the film] you recall elements of yourself and it’s quite challenging because it’s not the way we’re taught to think in our life. It’s not the rhythm we’re used to. Usually nobody tells you, wait, think and make your choices. Usually you’re asked to harry up and make profits otherwise you loose your job. Therefore I believe many responses to the film will be influenced by this element because we’re not used to take the time to reflect”, he observes.
Despite the current craggy financial landscape in its native country, Luton has secured distribution in Greece by Feelgood: a partner who supported the film from its script stage together with co-producer Christos Konstantakopoulos of Faliro House Production. Last June Greek broadcaster ERT went off air and the closure’s influence on cultural production has been, as predicted, catastrophic. For Luton too the closure of ERT left agreements in the air, even though their support towards the project has been compelling.
“The instability, so much madness and standstill of the market that exists in Greece today naturally create an enormous damage in the psychology of people. Luckily there are people who believe in projects and they are willing to contribute without obvious income. But this has an expiry date when you need to earn your living. If there weren’t young people and producers such as Yorgos Tsourgiannis [from Horsefly production label] who has the momentum and enthusiasm to come in and put his head down to make films and Chris Konstantakopoulos who takes the risk to support non-mainstream cinema, there would be no movies in Greece. Also without the support of the film’s co-producers, the involvement of the Greek Film Centre, Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, Arctos Broadcast Facilities, Two Thirty Five post production company, Endorphine Production, Costas Varybopiotis and Yiannis Fotou, Luton would not be able to be completed.”
But what can we expect for the future of Greek cinema? “I see that movies do get made” he replies. “Though the thing is that they should be made rightly with people getting paid. When it happens with coordination and clean agreements then it is very nice to be happening. I see there is a number of people who are very talented, directors, producers, directors of photography and I think if we don’t go out of our minds riding the so called Greek Wave, things can progress with the local film production industry. In recent years every movie made by a Greek filmmaker has to ride this Greek Wave label and I believe there is a risk to become like the idea of the stock market in Greece in the 90s, when everybody joined in and finally the bubble bursted. So it needs some attention and everyone should look to work more precisely and responsibly in order to make movies.”
While waiting to get the green light for his new film, Konstantatos has been working on TV series, music videos and theatre productions and he is the co-founder and director of the Blind Spot theatre group based in Athens. His new film has a working title Carbon and is currently developed through the nine-month long residency at the Torino FilmLab Script & Pitch programme.
See the trailer and head to Day 10 of the festival’s liveblog to check Konstantatos’ eight-song playlist that sparked his imagination while writing the script for Luton.
Georgia Korossi is a writer and producer of film based in London and Athens.