Seven years after her skillful debut Park, which played Toronto and San Sebastian, where it won the New Directors Award, Greek filmmaker Sofia Exarchou has returned with her sophomore outing.
Animal, which Exarchou directed from a screenplay she also penned, follows a group of young seasonal performers who provide entertainment at one of Greece’s many all-inclusive island resorts. Kalia (Dimitra Vlagopoulou), returning for her ninth year on the resort, is the leader of the pack, but she’s starting to crack. As the summer intensifies and the work pressure builds up, their nights become violent, and Kalia’s struggle is revealed. But when the spotlights turn on again, the show must go on.
The pic debuted in competition at Locarno, where Vlagopoulou took the Pardo Award for Best Performance. Since then, Animal has been one of the year’s buzziest arthouse titles, screening across the festival circuit and picking up awards. Next week, Exarchou returns home, with the film making its Greek debut at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival. Below, the filmmaker speaks to Deadline about why she decided to make a feature about the dark side behind the Greek tourism industry, how a win in Locarno has changed the perception of her work back home, and how a fruitful filmmaking community was created out of Greece’s financial troubles.
DEADLINE: Sofia, you’ve been on the road with ‘Animal’ all year. How are you feeling?
SOFIA EXARCHOU: We went to Locarno, Sarajevo, Montreal, and Vancouver, where we won Best Film. Then Haifa, and now it’s actually starting to become too much. I’m going Spain, Viennale, Thessaloniki, Mannheim, Brussels. It’ll keep going until the summer, and it’s nice. It’s a good feeling to see your film is traveling and people are enjoying it.
DEADLINE: Have you noticed a change in attitudes toward you and your work following the win at Locarno?
EXARCHOU: I did also pick up awards with Park, my first feature. It won Best New Director at San Sebastian. But yes, I don’t know why, but with this film, I have felt a change in attitude. Perhaps it’s because of Locarno. We’ve also had very good reviews. It’s already been covered nicely in Greece, even though we haven’t screened it here yet. Maybe it’s also the film’s theme because it’s about tourism, and all Greek people have some relationship with that. People from the industry are happy for me, and it has changed how they perceive my work. But let’s wait until after Thessaloniki and the distribution in Greece.
DEADLINE: How are you feeling about bringing the film home?
EXARCHOU: I’m excited. Firstly, most of the cast and crew are coming from Athens to watch the film together. We’re going to be a big gang of more than 40 people. Many of them haven’t seen the film yet because we didn’t have the time to set up a private screening. I’m excited to be in my country, although it’s sometimes stressful. It’s a totally different feeling. You’re not among foreigners. You’re among people who you have worked with and family friends, and you want them to like it. It also feels like the end of the film’s journey, you know. I’ve done this film. I shot it. And now it’s screened in my country.
DEADLINE: What would be a success in Greece for you with ‘Animal’?
EXARCHOU: Well, we worry about the film’s distribution. It’s tough here for Greek films to do well in the cinemas. But that would be something that I would like to happen. I would enjoy people in my country going to the cinemas to watch the film. Of course, I enjoy going to festivals, but it’s different. Communicating with audiences in Greece would be a success for me.
DEADLINE: Can you tell me a little about the genesis behind the film’s story?
EXARCHOU: I started writing the script because I wanted to make a movie about work and working systems. From there, it was obvious to me that if I wanted to talk about work in Greece, the tourism industry would be the core of it. This led me to the idea of performers working in a hotel during the summer. Suddenly, it all made sense with the notion of entertainment, which, for me, is intriguing in capitalism: The idea of how we need to keep people entertained all day to keep the system rolling.
DEADLINE: Despite the financial hardships and volatile political environment, it feels like there has been a fruitful new filmmaking wave in Greece. What has it been like working in these conditions?
EXARCHOU: It has been difficult. We had an economic crisis, and many things changed in the industry. I started working before the crisis. It was much easier to make films and to work in films with good salaries. With the crisis, it was almost impossible to have a job. On the other hand, we built a small community because of all the struggle. Everybody was helping each other. Plus, sometimes, when everything is collapsing, an energy is created where you want to present your universe to the world. You have this anger and stress, which is a big motivation for an artist.
DEADLINE: What’s next for you?
EXARCHOU: I still have some work on Animal. We took it to Locarno very quickly, so a lot of promotion hasn’t been done. We’re now working on a trailer and a poster. I have an idea for a new project, but I need to relax first. I feel quite drained after all these years of work, especially the last two. It’s really important to recharge the batteries in your brain before beginning a screenplay, which is the most difficult step in the creation.