The young writer director Eleanna Santorinaiou talks to Mixgrill

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Eleanna Santorinaiou is a young writer director. She has written and directed three children plays for Fournos theatre in Athens, where she also created her first short film. Currently she lives in London, where she directed her two following films during her studies at London Film Academy and is already preparing the forth one. Her film «Parson and Son» is included in the Open Screening section of the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen) on Sunday 4th of May. We grabbed this opportunity to have a public discussion.



Let's start in chronological order. «Apple, Cinamon and Sugar». How did your occupation with theatre begin?

I had the advantage, or dis-advantage depending on how one sees it, to be raised by a very artistic family. I grew up around tv sets, cameras, lights and actors. When I was 15 years old, I realised that I had to confess to myself that I wanted to be a director. Fournos Theatre in Athens is a family business, from day one up to now, for 21 years, I am spending a great deal of hours inside that building. Watching rehearsals, chatting with actors and directors, attending premieres. I was always wondering If I could one day create a play, like «real directors» do. At Christmas of 2008, I was lucky enough to have a chance to try it, so i did.  

You actively participate in three children plays that are in the program of Fournos theatre during this theatrical season. How is your cooperation with the other contributors of the plays?


We have a great collaboration, as we work as a team. We are all looking new ways to improve the plays. Even during the break between the performances -in the weekends- we are constantly discussing about what it went wrong, what had a good impact on the kids etc. We are tying to create an entire experience of «I am going to the theatre» for the kids, from the time they enter until the time they leave. It’s all part of the experience and for us as a team there are always ways to make it even better.  As a director, even thought I have a specific vision and ideas of what I want as an outcome, I am always open for suggestions and improvements. Besides, the plays wouldn’t be the same without the great contribution of the two main actresses Matina Dimitropoulou and Eugenia Maragkou and of course the entire team of Fournos.



How are children as an audience? Do you feel that it becomes more difficult to approach them as you grow older?

Children are the best and most demanding audience. It is very difficult to catch their attention, in a way they will want to watch an entire play. Although if you do make it happen, they will show your success with their entire being. (Once a little boy was crying because the play was finished but he wanted to see more.)
I am afraid that a part of me hasn’t grown up yet. I wouldn’t say that I have the Peter Pan syndrome, but I do feel that a small part of my childhood is still with me; Whereas for the time being I do not feel that I have been departed in a degree that I am not able to write for children. This is a great privilege but it’s not enough.

The generations are changing, nowadays the things that children find entertaining didn’t exist when I was a child. A person who creates art (in any form) for children, must -in my opinion- be well informed about the children’s habits. What they like, what is boring for them etc. For example the last three years, toddlers know and play with tablets, something that will have a great impact in the book industry.

Your first theatrical play is already in its sixth year! How often do you watch it and what kind of reactions do you receive?

When I am in Athens, I am watching the plays almost every weekend. I am always in Fournos, but I must admit that sometimes it is very tempting to stay in the lobby and chat with some parents and the rest of Fournos team.
What is fascinating about «Apple, Cinamon and Sugar» is that even though it’s running for 6 years continuously, it’s a different performance every time. Due to its interactive form, the children have the chance to communicate with the actors, something that adds lines to its main core and also leaves space for improvisation to a certain extent.

The feedback, is almost every time very positive. Parents are keep thanking us and explain that this was the first theatre experience for their kids etc. The children don’t want to leave the stage and eventually a lot of them visit us again two weekends later. Once a father told us that the play is one of the classics! That was one of the best comments!

Which was your favourite book as a child? The one that you just couldn' t leave behind?

Even though it is very cliche to say that, I have many. Some of them I have them on my mind, still. One that I was always drugging around, was «Rosie's Babies». It’s about a little girl who tells her mom about her babies (a teddy bear and a bunny) whilst the mother puts the baby brother to sleep. I liked the illustration and the idea of a little girl having her own babies. Another one that I was always thinking of and I loved when my mom was reading it to me was «The magical rain in Pumino» a story from the collection «Stories from the phone» by Giani Rodari. I have a huge list with many more, but you only asked for one and I have already given you two.

From theatre to cinema. How did the transition happen? Do you think it was deterministic?

I liked theatre and I always had it for granted due to Fournos. Cinema was for me something different, magical and realistic (concerning the issue it raises) at the same time. Even though my career begun from theatre, my final goal was to become a filmmaker. After graduating from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens with a bachelor's degree in Philosophy and History of Science, I came to London in order to study filmmaking. Last September (2013) I finished my studies in London Film Academy and as I really liked the working environment I decided to stay in London.

Will you keep working in theatre? Which differences do you observe between theatre and cinema as a creator?

Yes, I will. When I was younger I thought that when I would start working as a filmmaker I would stop doing theatre. I was seeing theatre as a stage before my final goal. I was completely wrong. I do want to direct in both media, as they offer different things.

In theatre, you can express inner thoughts. You can talk about notions with a more straightforward and easy way (for example using monologs). On the other hand, as a film director, you create different worlds and spaces, circumstances where you place your characters, afterwards you as the director are able to control the world and show to the audience what they have to see...
On the contrary, as a theatre director you create characters and you let them rule your crafted world. The characters-actors have the task to connect with the audience and take them to a more abstract, world.

Of course the borders between theatre and film are transparent and can be mixed. For example a lot of filmmakers use the camera as a philosophical sub layer (for example Bergman) and a lot of theatre productions have their own «film glory», plays such as musicals.

What inspired you your first short film («Do You Remember When We Used to Go to the Sea?»)?

A long train of thoughts. I had for a long time on my mind a Greek song by Tania Tsanaklidou, "Mama gernao" (“Mum, I am growing old”), where a daughter to her mother about her adult life. I also had on my mind the picture book “Rosie’s Babies” – for which I talked before. And my grandmother had died 3 years ago. I still have her on my mind. One day I was having a conversation and I realized how horrible it would be if you were growing up without your mother. Later on, I thought that it would be even worst if your mother was alive but she couldn’t follow your journey to adulthood. That’s how I got the idea of the Alzheimer’s. A lot of people have asked me if I even had a relative or I knew someone who was suffering from that disease, but the answer is that I don’t. I have heard a lot of stories, friends of friends, and I have seen movies about it. So that was the beginning. The latest draft of the script was after a lot of editing and conversations with people whose opinion I trust.

Childishness and diseases are combined in a special way in your work so far. Is the former the appropriate counterweight to the latter?

I must admit that I had never seen it that way. My father was always saying to me that my childhood will be my «batteries» for the adult years. The older I get the more sense it makes. Having that in mind I will say yes, childhood and the sense of carefreeness that a child has, the freshness, the hope and the positiveness, can be the counter which will balance the negative incidents and difficult periods of adulthood.

Will the cinema that you aim to do be suitable for realists or dreamers?

This is difficult to answer. At the moment, I am interested in the human relationships. How people are connected with each other. How our relationships define us, and how this has changed with the digital evolution. This is a very realistic subject which can also be explored in a way that is more magical, positive and fairy tale-ish, in a way that dreamers will be hooked too!

But to be honest, I don’t know if I am able to say that the way I make movies is for realists or for dreamers. Maybe the fact that sometimes I am very realist -to the bone- and others I am a dreamer like no other make me unable to choose.
The movies I want to make will be movies that will reach the audience, will make it think and discuss and hopefully the film will have a personal impact on every individual. Like films had on me as a teenager. Realists and dreamers, are equally welcome!

Your film «Parson and Son» will be shown in the International Festival of Oberhausen. What kind of emotions do you have?

I am proud for sure. Joy! Films are being made for people to see them. It’s more than great that I have the chance to present my film to the audience of Oberhausen Festival. I am not anxious at the moment, but I am sure that my heart will beat like a tambourine when I have to go on stage.

And if somebody who wants to watch «Parson and Son» has to travel to Germany, your first film is already available online. How does internet assist new creators?

Every film has a «festival life» -1 or 2 years where it can be submitted in festivals. During this period it cannot be online as it might be disqualified from the festivals. This is the reason that you can only find the trailer and not the entire film. But if anyone would like to watch the film, before he tries to go to Germany, please do contact me. I might be able to do something for you.

As for the use of internet and social media, I believe it helps a lot the young artists in an extent that nothing would be the same without it. It is an entire new cyber community where people support each other! Besides, the way we are watching, nowadays, films, videos and TV strongly depends on the internet.



During the last years we see a widespread use of 3D special effects in cinema. Once it was something "exotic", but lately it is rather a trend. Films such as Avatar, Life of Pi or Gravity attempt -or even achieve- to prove that nothing is optically impossible. It is impressive for sure. Is it still artistic?

3D capture and composing is a technique, one more tool for the filmmakers toolbox. It’s something neutral and the final form that will take depends on the ways it will be used. To be more specific, Wenders used the 3D technique in 2011 for his documentary film «Pina» where we see Pina Bausch’s collaborators talking about her life and work and performing extracts from her performances. I saw this film on 3D and it was really great. Because you were able to experience the sense of space, the stage. In a case like this, 3D is used as an extra touch  as a part of an artistic project.

Movies such as Avatar, The Life of Pi and Gravity are more entertaining than artistic for me. They are aiming to use the 3D technique in order to make it possible to create these worlds in a way that will be more appealing to the viewers eye. And also cheaper for the studios. In cases like this 3D is there to create something more fascinating and cool.

For me though, what makes a film artistic, in a way that is something deeper that entertainment, is its theme. It is not whether they used a real tiger or not. I am sure that if Kubrick was alive, he could do miracles with the 3D technique. Besides he was doing already without it (2001: Space Odyssey).

What is your opinion about the modern Greek cinema?

It exists and is going better day by day and this is good. We have a great production company «Faliro House», which is growing every day, making new deals and collaborating with companies abroad. All this sound really great. Consequently I think something very positive is going on. Greek cinema gets bigger!

Personally though, I would like to see more positive and true to our reality films. I don’t believe that all the Greek families abuse their children in a way that they are psychologically damaged for life. I don’t like the fact that most of the Greek films I have seen are dark and the characters are really problematic. I believe that, although it can be true, Greece is not only that. But the good is that Greece becomes a serious contributor in the European Film market.

You live and work in London. Was this your choice? What do you think about the contemporary migration wave from Greece and how do you experience it yourself?

It was my own choice and at the same time is wasn’t. Even though Greek cinema is improving, we don’t have an industry yet, therefore it is not easy to find a job as a filmmaker in Greece. So, in one hand, I wanted to come to London and work here but, on the other, I don’t know how I would feel if there was a Greek Film Industry. Also I believe that by succeeding in the UK it will be easier to help my own country.

I don’t know if the Greek migration wave is something new. I know that during the early years of the previous century Greeks were immigrating to America, Australia and Germany in order to have a better future. They were working as laborers. Our generation is a generation with degrees. We study abroad and we decide to change countries in order to practice the profession we studied, which in most of the cases doesn’t exist in our Greece. But, of course, in every case, young Greeks immigrate in a different way and better conditions.

I am very happy here in London. Of course, there are differences between the two countries. Sometimes it seems very difficult the entire idea of living abroad, more expensive life, different customs and manners. Also you are miles away from your family. The thing is to ask yourself what is your dream and how far you are willing to go for it. I aim to become a professional filmmaker and this supports the idea of changing countries. My goal is to eventually live from my income as a director and, just to be honest with you, to have chances to visit Greece often!



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