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Stella Theodoraki talks to Polish magazine Czas Kultury about Amnesia Diaries
First Publication: June 22 2015
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Greek filmmaker Stella Theodoraki and Polish journalist Andrzej Marzec from discuss on her Amnesia Diaries.

Could you tell the story about the origin of “Amnesia Diaries”? Where did you find this archival material (found footage) and what was your main motivation to shoot this movie?

The material was somewhere hidden in my place. I decided to transfer it in a digital form in 2010. At the same time we were emptying my good friend’s apartment after her death. 

Since 2009, during my promenades in Athens, the images of the empty shops and offices has made me very anxious and sceptical. So, I think the idea of the movie came out of a feeling of ‘emptiness’ in several ways: A kind of empty, existential “landscape”, unknown to my generation, who was grown up in a rather wealthy period.

The part of your archival material was lost (it was stolen or sold?) and thus destroyed, forgotten. If we consider recording as saving from the oblivion, In my opinion this is one of the most dramatic moment in your movie (a metaphor of inescapable death). Do you remember what was recorded there? Could you describe it or it’s lost forever?

I can tell you [as I evoke it also in the narration-voice-off], that I remember I had filmed a lot of clouds. I cannot remember though what has been recorded generally in the stolen footage, apart from the clouds. Perhaps the clouds traveled it elsewhere. I had totally forgotten about the leftover material. 

Anyway, death is surely inescapable, although I think that these forgotten days disappeared in the oblivion, existing in someway in one’s life.

The most of your archival footage comes from the years 1985-1986. How did you get the idea to start your film journals and why did you decided to stop recording the events around you?

I filmed constantly during my studies for experimentation and research reasons. I didn’t have in that time the idea to use this footage for a film in the future. When I watched the super 8 material in 2010, I was surprised from the difference and the distance between the two periods. I hadn’t realized that 80s where so different, because for me [inside myself] it has been a continuous feeling of life. I decided to film again and to juxtapose the two different eras. As the survived material concerns two years in the past, I decided to “cover” a two-year period again in nowadays. The exact day of the last shooting was that one of the burning Athens, but it has been completely by accident. In a diary film you never know what is going to happen. Actually my purpose was to stop my shooting in this sequence of the cemetery, but the image of the burned Athens made me continue for a little bit. Finally I had to stop somewhere in 2012, otherwise it could never end.

In your recordings you focus mainly on the everyday life and not on the great, groundbreaking events. You show fragments, scraps, screen tests, even cake recipe – something insignificant from the point of view of History. Even during the economic crisis, you still show the people close to you and their everyday life. What is so fascinating for you in everyday life and in the individual stories, why do you want to save just them?

If you cannot expose the everyday life you are out of History. Remember “Amnesia Diaries” is a kind of a diary film, it is a journal. If for example I was a prime minister or a terrorist, my diaries would be different. 

My friends watch the news, they feel the violence of the media in their house, they also attempt a demonstration, talk about several subjects, but also they make a cake. Otherwise life would be very boring, as much boring as the repetitive news about Grexit recently, that makes you in the end think: “Fuck off and let’s go out of Europe”, even if rationally you don’t really believe in it. From the other hand this “insignificant’ everyday life it is a part of the crisis for a good observer. In a way during the realization of a diary film you become an historian of your life even if it is not your main purpose.

It seems that “Amnesia Diaries” grow out from an experience of loss – are you trying to resist it or to accept that loss? Do you consider your movie as the melancholic attempt to return to what no longer exist or it is rather a farewell to what has gone, a release from the past (mourning)?

I could say that for me has been more a farewell to what has gone, not at all an attempt to return to what no longer exists. “Amnesia Diaries” grow out from an experience of loss of different kinds: physical death, time that goes away, and negative social development. I cannot resist to death and time, but I can criticize and resist to an economic and social politics I don’ t agree.

Your movie is filled with dates and places. One of the most important places is the Efi’s apartment, which is slowly emptied after her death and finally becomes completely empty. What is the role of the process of losing memory – the amnesia that we can find in the title of your movie?

As I said the super 8 memories during my PhD studies were fragments hidden in the oblivion, although they exist inside me in an “amnesia” way. Efi’s apartment was slowly emptied and the whole country started to be emptied too. We were also “emptied” by an economic system of profit and, yes, our memories had gone little by little together with Europe’s memories for a destruction provoked by the mankind, although they belong to a rather close past.

Why did you decide to bring together the past and the present situation of Greece? I can imagine that you could focus only on the nostalgia for the past that no longer exists. Why the present day is so interesting and important for you? What is the reason for such comparison past/present?

This decision came automatically. For me more than the nostalgia for the past is the relentless truth of the camera objective towards the time that passes upon our lives which are changing dramatically. It is the alternation of past and present that interests me. The present day becomes the past of the future very quickly.

When you show the past in your movie, you use only the found, private recordings, but when decide to you show the present time you use also the fragments of TV news – public archive. Why did you decide not to show the political context in your vision of the past and to show only private memories?

For the past I had no other choice – I expose the found footage. The difference comes, as you say, from the present. But, it is not exactly a decision, it is a different way of life and eras. I think I had filmed a stolen demonstration in Paris, but even if I had used it, the era is different. The 80s for Paris and Athens and Australia [my main shooting areas] have been a rather wealthy period [maybe in contrary with the European socialist countries of that period]. It is not the French may 68, and it is not the dictatorship in Athens - it is 10 years after. So, I don’t really decide, it happens. The role of the media was also different, we didn’t watch TV during my studies. I traveled a lot, not now any more, my present diaries are focused in Athens. After the dictatorship in Athens in 1974 it could have been a strong political context, but not in the mid 80s. It is not by accident that the narration over the recent demonstrations comes from the dictatorship memories, but I was too young to film in that period.

Some of your characters refuse to being recorded – what the privacy means for you and how you perceive the private/public division? The moment in which you decide to make your private records public it is also the moment when the Greek people leave their private homes and go to the streets.

The people you see in the film they don’t refuse. Even if one woman mentions it once, it is a kind of a joke from her part. I have asked the people they appear during the editing of the film if they have any problem to be exposed. All of them have said that they like all the others apart from themselves, but it happens.

This film came out of a strong need to talk about our lives and I couldn’t stopped it. It is very different to my other movies and when I was making it I didn’t know if I wanted to show it, actually I didn’t mind, I’ve just wanted to make it. I wanted to talk bluntly about some things. Probably because it is too personal it is not, as some people told me afterwards. I haven’t thought that I started the present shooting the moment when the Greek people leave their private homes and go to the streets. May be you are right, maybe the pressure of crisis made me more accurate.

Your stories about the past are usually idyllic, these are calm pictures with the voice of narrator (we don’t know what the people on the screen say). On the other hand the present time that you show is without strong narration, messed up, alive and uneasy. Do you really perceive the past as so idyllic, safe and beautiful dream without any problems?

No, the past is there, it can be idyllic, but is full of death. A dead father, a “dead” love affair that the narration is made of and we don’ t even know if the male person [Peter] exists. It is silent because the sound in our memories is melted in the images. Apart from that there is no sound in that found super 8 footage. Only once in that river in Crete, there is a destroyed sound piste. The present is busy, it makes noise, but I am not quite sure if that present-past in 25 years, [even with the digital sound that didn’t exist on that analogue super 8 film], wouldn’t be idyllic as well. Maybe less idyllic than the wealthy 80s in a student’s life, but attractive because it will be not approachable.

Your archival footage is characterized by amazing aesthetics, full of distortions and defects. But when you show the present time you generate a similar effect – dirty window in a moving train or a glass full of scratches (2011, Trip to Hydra). Did you want to show that the contemporary reality is also getting old during the filming or that the past is somehow present in contemporary world?

My studies were on aesthetics and the image for me means a whole existential and social world. I was filming the super 8 without thinking at all that one day I could used it. I used to have the camera almost always with me and I was filming often automatically like a dada-poem. I still have this feeling in the nowadays shooting. So, if I have been spontaneously attracted by the dirty windows, I had probably unconsciously the impression that the past is somehow present, but surely I didn’t have the purpose to show it.

During the movie you often mention the fact how many times you have watched this fragment of video. If you watch one fragment constantly, at the same time you destroy the media – like videotape. When you say that you watch some fragment for the 50th time – you talk about strong emotional connection with it or you want to emphasize the blurring of image, its fading away?

It has been rather a strong emotional connection. Every time the feelings were different, and the emotion as well. I don’t know if I was trying to have a distance towards the material by watching it many times. If that has been my purpose, I didn’t succeeded. I was surprised by how powerful these images were and their effect on me. From the other hand, as it was me who made the editing, I was obliged to watch the material many times. I was wondering: Can’t you have a strong emotional connection with fading away images? Finally you can.

It’s hard to imagine your movie without the music that somehow creates it. Could you tell about your cooperation with Chris Deligiannis and how the music was created?

My cooperation with Chris Deligiannis has been one of the great moments of the movie. I started the collaboration late with him, after the first cut, when I was tired of this loneliness of creation, strange for a film making. I was shooting and editing alone, but it wasn’t possible to do it differently because of the nature of this movie. The film was structured together with shooting, editing and voice off. After two years I decided to work with a sound editor [Aliki Panagi] and of course with Chris. Reading his notes Chris says: “After numerous viewings and conversations with Stella, influenced by the emotional fluctuations of the narrative, i began composing, one could say by"automatic writing", guided by the need for harmony of all "materials" that make up this film”. 

I think that we succeeded a good result together because we work this automatic writing together in two different domains of art. We were talking for the same thing and we were in the same room, although he lives in London and me in Athens.

Read here the original article in Polish
  Amnesia Diaries
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