Asimina Proedrou

Asimina Proedrou was born in 1982, in Athens, Greece. She is the director of the short film “Red Hulk” (2013) that won the Best Short Film Awards at the 2013 Drama International Short Film Festival and the Athens International Film Festival before having its international premiere at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in 2014.

Tara Karajica talks to Asimina Proedrou about feminism and film and her debut feature, “Behind the Haystacks,” an intense and visually lyrical exploration of religious hypocrisy, xenophobia and constrictive borders in which the 2015 refugee crisis on the Greece-North Macedonia border is seen through the eyes of three morally culpable family members. The film premiered at the 2022 Thessaloniki International Film Festival where it won six awards, before scooping the Best Debut Award at the International Film Festival of India – Goa, and now screening in the Europe! Voices of Women in Film program at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

 

 

 

 

How did you get into filmmaking?

Asimina Proedrou:

When I was ten, I watched Cinema Paradiso by Giuseppe Tornatore on TV and I was so thrilled by the world of cinema, the movie theaters, and, from then on, I started saying that I would like to become a film director. But everybody treated me like I was saying something very crazy. When I was twelve, I watched Through the Olive Trees by Abbas Kiarostami, but I didn’t know which film it was because, for some reason, we had to leave. And I’ve had this lingering question for a long time: “What is this film and who is the director?” It took me more than ten years to find that out.  I told my parents that I would like to become a film director, but they felt it wasn’t financially safe, which, by the way, is true. So, I graduated in Economics and Finance in Athens. Then, I did a Master’s in Finance, and started working in the accounting department of a mining company, and later the sales department. But I still had this big desire to become a film director. So, I started studying Filmmaking when I was twenty-nine years old, while working. And then, with my very first short, I got an award which consisted of a full scholarship in a film school in Athens. I made another very successful short, which was called Red Hulk, which won the award for Best Short Film Awards in Greece and traveled to many, many film festivals. After that, I started doing my Master’s in Filmmaking, but I had to work, so it was a distance learning program. I then started developing Behind the Haystacks. It took us six years to finance it and we are finally here.

How did Behind the Haystacks come about?

A.P.: When I finished my short film in 2013, ten years ago, and when I started doing my Master’s I have just told you about – it was through Raindance and the Staffordshire University – I started thinking about my first feature – mostly the theme of the film, not the story yet though… Anyway, I wanted to make a film about how ordinary people submit to a corrupt system. So, I started having ideas about how to develop it. I was going to London for some very short workshops and I had a friend there, who was doing her PhD and she told me about Doiran Lake, the lake at the border between Greece and North Macedonia, and how there are two different worlds there. On the Greek border, it’s an agricultural community with very spare villages, not very populated – actually almost isolated – and, in the other part of the lake, the North Macedonian part, you see this touristic resort just one kilometer away. And, at the same time, there is wild beauty to this lake, so I started considering setting the film there. I started doing research for the film and, in 2015, we traveled there – it’s very far from Athens as it’s in Northern Greece. The first night that I stayed at the hotel by the lake, there were thirty or forty migrants hosted there, so we talked to them the next morning, and I then decided that the refugee crisis would be part of my story. I had already started doing research about the refugee crisis, because it was a period when all the European countries had closed their northern borders, and the refugees, who were trying to get to the rest of Europe, were trapped in the northern parts of Greece.

The film is an exploration of where modern society is being led to and why and the way human relationships stop existing within all of that. Can you comment on that?

A.P.: The story is about how our modern societies are putting pressure on people and human relationships, and about how everyday people submit to corrupt structures. However, at the same time, there is a comment throughout the film related to where the Western society is leading overall; a comment related to the horrible way European countries treated the refugee crisis, leaving millions of people to drown in the Aegean Sea.

You have a very critical gaze, but at the same time you show your fears. Can you delve deeper into that?  

A.P.: Well, my goal was to criticize the system, not the everyday people who, defeated, submit to corrupt social structures. The protagonists of the film try to do the best for themselves and for their family. However, they’re making lots of mistakes and probably also the wrong choices. Stergios doesn’t want to harm the refugees – he wants to avoid going to jail for a mistake he made in the past. But then, he makes one mistake after another. At the same time, he wants to protect his daughter, but he doesn’t exactly know how because he comes from a conservative society that reproduces itself, actually. The characters of the film are definitely dark, but at the same time, I tried to shed light on this darkness and reveal whatever humanity and beauty exist in their everyday struggle to survive, from their need to love one another, to enjoying their lives, and making the world around them better.

Can you talk about the challenges of making this film? And, the little victories? 

A.P.: Well, the financing took a long time – six years! However my producer did a really great job, and we got crucial funding from the Greek Film Centre, Eurimages, ZDF-ARTE, etc. The other challenge was that we shot the film during the second lockdown, which was very, very difficult for us because there was this huge insecurity. Everybody felt that somebody would get sick and you remember all the restrictions we had due to COVID. So, it was quite difficult because we were not allowed to move from one place to another. But we had to shoot in three different locations in Greece and two different countries – Greece and North Macedonia. The border was closed due to COVID and it was quite difficult to travel. Also, all the shops were closed, so it was also very difficult for some departments, especially the costume design and art directing departments, to make purchases. It was a crazy thing to find clothes, etc. It was really tough with locations, especially public places. Nobody wanted to give us permissions. And, the other hard part was the weather because in Greece, it doesn’t snow often, so when it snows, all sense of control is lost. Everything was difficult, but so exciting at the same time, and we had to find creative solutions to overcome the problems. But it’s a great victory that the audience are thrilled by the film, identifying with the characters and the theme. Of course, there are other victories as well – the film has been in Greek cinemas for more than five months and has been nominated for seventeen Iris Film Awards from the Hellenic Film Academy, and it has already won several awards at film festivals.

Are you a feminist? If so, how does it inform your filmmaking? 

A.P.: I think I am a feminist in a way. I’m a woman, I stand up for us women to have a voice, to be equal to men, and I think that my experience as a woman is something that is reflected in my filmmaking. However, I am not sure that all women share a common gaze and I am saying that because I sometimes feel that I don’t always identify with what is supposed to be a female or feminist gaze in Cinema.

What is your opinion on the situation of women in film today? How is it in Greece?  

A.P.: Well, in Greece, there are several women – I am talking about directors – who are now making their first or second feature film, which is some kind of progress. But it’s still hard to be working in the film industry. I mean, you find a producer and you get financing for your project, but it might still be difficult to function in a male environment in terms of how much you are respected or how difficult it is to set your limits. But not always. I have personally been very lucky with several male partners. But anyway, although there is some change, there are still fields that are still very underrepresented; there are very few women DoPs in Greece, for instance.

Do you have a favorite female filmmaker and a favorite film by a female filmmaker:  

A.P.: Andrea Arnold. The visual style of her films has affected me very much indeed.  

What are your next projects?

A.P.: I’m developing two feature film projects and a pilot for a series.

 

 

Photo credits: Courtesy of Asimina Proedrou.

This interview was conducted in partnership with:

and

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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