L'Atelier 2019 - Festival de Cannes
Christos Massalas: "I’ve been working on this project for many years now, and the more I wait for it to be greenlit, the more it enlarges itself in scope."
BROADWAY | 1st Feature Film | Greece
Broadway tells the story of a group of young bandits in contemporary Athens. Nelly is a tomboy; Barbara is a boy on the run, dressed as a girl. Rudolph is a prankster and Mohammad is always there to save the day.
The four of them collaborate, combining the art of dance with the art of pickpocketing. While Nelly and Barbara perform dance routines to catch the attention of the passers-by, Rudolph and Mohammad mingle with the crowd and dig inside the spectators’ pockets, lifting wallets and smartphones. After a day’s work, the thieves return to Broadway, an abandoned entertainment complex, which has become their home and hideout. In the confines of Broadway, they are safe to live out their fantasies, uninterrupted.
But things take a different turn when Markos, the original leader of the gang and Nelly’s domineering boyfriend, returns from prison. He has a new plan.
Hi Christos, it’s great to talk to you, how’s everything going?
I’m excited and worried and puzzled and, at times, stubbornly optimistic. So I’m doing OK.
You are no stranger to film festivals, do you remember what your first film festival was like?
Actually, my first film festival was Cannes in 2007. I was a student in my second year of University back then, in London. I managed to get a festival pass, booked myself a flight too Nice and got a room at Cannes La Bocca. I stayed there for three days. I checked the films in the catalogue and I was trying to figure out how many films I could fit in one day. But in the end, I couldn’t get into most of the screenings. I got to watch some short films, one of which I still remember to this day vividly. And then I managed to get into a press screening of ‘My Blueberry Nights’ by Wong Kar Wai, and I did get to see David Lynch from up-close for a split second. But for the most part, I roamed along the Croisette aimlessly, completely baffled by the delirium of this place, like a fish out of water. Thankfully, I found someone who was as disorientated as me and we roamed along the Croisette together, pondering on the future of cinema, while missing out on all the fun.
What does it mean to be at L’Atelier 2019 with Broadway?
It’s good to go back with a feature project. Ten years after my first peculiar visit to Cannes, I attended again with my short film, “Copa-Loca” which was selected for Quinzaine / Directors’ Fortnight. And it brought me good luck; the film travelled a lot after its screening in Cannes and it opened doors for future projects and collaborations. So, I hope that now with “Broadway”, which is just a step away from pre-production, we can find some much-needed support to be able to move forward and make the film the way it should be made.
How important is this opportunity for filmmakers to be part of something like L’Atelier?
It’s great. And we have Georges Goldenstern to thank for inviting us. It seems like a good bunch of projects from across the world. You get to come together to discuss and debate and mingle and blabber. And in today’s world, at least in this side of the world, films are being realized, through joint efforts and co-productions between countries and people who are willing to take the leap hand in hand. And it may all start from a cup of coffee in the context of L’Atelier or it may fall apart at Le Petit Majestic after one drink too many. But yes, I feel it’s important what Cannes is doing with L’Atelier, curating a programme which shows considerable variety and putting these projects under the magnifying glass.
This is your debut feature film are there any nerves ahead of pitching your film at Cannes?
I get more nervous when I go to the supermarket and have to pick tomatoes than when I have to talk about my project. So I think I’ll be fine.
"I started shooting my own videos, editing in camera, since I didn’t know otherwise. "
Broadway was selected for the 2018 Sundance Screenwriters Lab. What was this experience like for you?
I had a really great time in Sundance. And I didn’t know what to expect. I was always a bit sceptical about script workshops, perhaps because I’m a bit stubborn in more ways than I should. But Sundance is so much more than just a workshop – in fact, it’s not a workshop. You get to spend a few days in a snowy resort in Utah with some great people, who are appointed as your script advisors and you get to talk, you don’t write you just talk about your project. And they treat your work with respect and so you open up and you become receptive to their feedback. It’s done in such a way that you can take it all in and by the end of it you’re all pumped up and ready to go back home and work hard to make it better.
Can you tell me a little bit about Broadway, what is behind this film?
In “Broadway” there’s dance, there’s disguise, there are gipsies, tramps and thieves. It’s a story that takes place in contemporary Athens, at the crossroad of the musical and the heist film. It’s a film about the city I live in, about the state of being an artist trying to make it against all odds, about the leaps of faith you have to take, about the crimes of passion we’ve all heard of, about ambition and obscurity, about the heroes you’ve never heard of, about girls and boys and boys disguised as girls. I’ve been working on this project for many years now, and the more I wait for it to be greenlit, the more it enlarges itself in scope.
Do any of your own experiences find there way into your films?
All of them. But I don’t want to make films that are ‘autobiographical’. All of my experiences go in, but I distort them. Not because I want to conceal what’s purely lived and what imagined, but because I want to reinvent things, that’s why I write scripts and make films. I want to rewrite my own history in terms that are larger than my own life. I’m a storyteller and I have a wild imagination so I like to spice things up. But the experiences are all there somehow – I don’t know how they couldn’t be.
How different is this film, in terms of story, shooting and style to your short films?
I guess we can talk about this when the film’s in the can. But in terms of the screenplay and the way that I envision it, I can say that I feel that it will be a continuation of what I’ve been doing so far, but with greater clarity and a wider scope. In the course of the years, I’ve explored different approaches in my shorts; “Flowers and Bottoms” is more abstract and conceptual, “Copa-Loca” is a portrait film or a quasi-diary, structured like a fable, with very particular visual motifs; “Make-up” is looser than the rest and I think of it as conversational piece more than anything. So, “Broadway” will bring all these together and more. And in terms of storytelling, it’s inevitable that a feature-length story calls for a plot in ways that a short film can’t contain. So, there are things that translate from one format to the other and things that don’t.
As a writer/director what are some of the main challenges you face when you are making a new film?
I won’t talk about the artistic challenges, because those are integral to the artistic process. Making a film is a process of constant questioning and that’s part of the thrill of it. But there are many practical and financial challenges, which you could do without. I’ve made most of my shorts without proper funding and I’ve produced them myself.
And given the circumstances, it was something I could go for. But now, going into a feature-length territory, it’s impossible to work this way. Particularly in Greece, you depend on state funding. And I have a good production team behind me (Amanda Livanou and Bertrand Gore) but there’s as much as the producers can do when the state funds are stalling. It’s a bureaucratic hell of Kafkaesque proportions. And I’m trying to keep my calm. But it’s tough, very tough.
Has there always been a passion for filmmaking?
As long as I can remember myself. Most kids sleep holding their teddy bears, I used to sleep holding my videocassettes, quite literally. And eventually, I started shooting my own videos, editing in camera, since I didn’t know otherwise. And at the age of 18, I left Greece and moved to London to study cinema. There was nothing I wanted more.
What did it mean to you to win the Greek Academy Award for Copa-Loca?
It feels good to be awarded by your peers. Who doesn’t like to get an award? It feels good. But the feeling doesn’t last long enough. You’re happy for a moment and then you have to keep going, to make more work. Whether you like it or not, reality will keep knocking on your door. So awards are nice for an evening or so and they may look good on your biography. But, basically, you have to put it on the shelf and continue doing what you’re meant to do.
Is there any advice you’ve been given that’s stuck with you?
I had a surreal meeting with Lina Wertmuller, the Italian director who made ‘Love and Anarchy’ and ‘Seven Beauties’, in her apartment in Rome. She had just turned 90. She sat there on her sofa, half-lit, and asked me about myself and what I do and what my script is about. And I kept talking and talking non-stop and she would just nod every now and then. At the end of our meeting, she turned to me and said: “I have one advice to give you and listen carefully: Don’t cut your hair”.
Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
If not this time, then next time. Because nothing goes to waste.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Broadway when they see it?
I’ll leave it to them.