CIRCLE Interviews: Meet Efthymia Zymvragaki, CIRCLE 2020 Participant
Efthymia Zymvragaki holds a Master’s degree in Artistic Productions and Research - Fine
Arts UAB. She is a photographer trained at the IEFC. Also, she holds a degree in Psychology by the University of Crete.
Co-DOP of the documentary “You will be a man” by Isabel de Ocampo. DOP for the
feature film “Rocco has your name”. She directed the short documentary “Refrán’’. DOP of
several short films. She is currently working on two documentary projects, related to the use of violence.
Q: Please introduce yourself and your project briefly.
A: I´m Efthymia Zymvragaki, I was born in Crete (Greece) and I live in Barcelona (Spain) where I work as a cinematographer and producer, as part of the production company GRIS MEDIO.
Efthymia Zymvragaki, photo from private archive
“A Sad and Vulgar Loner” is a documentary about Ernesto, a man with a past in violence and abuse. And this is what he calls himself, but also his name is used for any violent and abusive man. Such as his father.
Ernesto is struggling to face his acts of abuse and take responsibility, driven by the need we all share: to live a life free of violence. In his history of violent behavior, Ernesto is not a rare exception, the statistics of domestic abuse are staggering. But what happens when an abusive man speaks out, actively positioning himself as a critic of violence?
Q: Why this film? What is your most important motivation?
A: Through the story of Ernesto, I hope to build an emotional portrait that goes beyond
stigma and guilt, allowing us to listen. I believe that transformational change in regards to violence against women will only come when men start confronting their behavior and speaking out. But there seems to be a tendency to silence the perpetrator’s voice to avoid highlighting the fact that he is a “man like us”.
Q: What is the biggest challenge in making this film?
A: This film deals with a very sensitive subject matter and proposes a shift of perspective, which makes it very much controversial. On the other hand, this could be seen as a bold and unique access to the intimate thoughts and feelings of a character we haven't got access often. The other big challenge the story faces now is the fact that own protagonist died by suicide. And this opens up a process, a need for a more personal position and relation to it, which is transforming the initial way the film was aimed to be told.
Q: What would be the most frustrating/troubling part of film-making (as a woman)?
A: In the process of developing and producing a film we are exposed many times in situations where the decision makers are men, who most of the time don´t like to be questioned in their privileges, and would naturally reject a topic that makes them uncomfortable. With the male creative team members and without generalisation in any case, the most difficult thing to deal with is the self-confidence men feel or want to apparent, not leaving space for doubt and out of power struggle dynamics. So the main struggle for me is to be able to generate a space of collaboration out of these conflicting beliefs, an honest dialogue between equals brought together by common interest and corresponded ideas.
Q: And the most rewarding one?
A: The way the stories we tell become part of us, fundamental to our commitment to life. Documentary is approaching reality as an experience. A culture creation experience where realism, mysticism, magic, fact, history, politics and morality blend in the creation of an “informed device”. What I like the most is the process, not the goal, or result per se. As I approach the elements to portray in a story, my own way of understanding the world changes, and that's the kind of message I would like to share. It's not about a direct relationship of cause and effect of a psychological realism that drives this world. It is more of an exercise in non relational understanding and it's transformational and fulfilling.
Q: How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your work as a filmmaker?
A: When the first lockdown during April 2020 had been declared, the project had been selected to participate in the CIRCLE Women Doc Accelerator which has been carried out online and we did not consider shooting a priority at that point, even if it was possible under the official national shooting protocol. When the long isolation and a new jealousy crisis destabilised Ernesto and we finally came to know that he had died by suicide, the first reaction was taking a flight to support Juliane and shoot the consequences of that dramatic event. But the new COVID situation and the fragile health of Juliane (suffering from asthma) as well as her age (65) made us decide not to take risks. So we preferred to focus on screening the previously shot scenes and making the transcripts. So all this time we focused on the scriptwriting process, trying to get to the core of the film, as well as applying to production calls and participating in pitch forums and markets virtually.
Q: What inspires you the most in your creative journeys?
A: I grew up in a place where tradition was still practiced at that time and I am very much attracted by the way tradition transmits by repeating, in a ritual way, cultural knowledge. When later I tried to understand why accepted and normalised ideas about romance were oppressing me, I started doing interviews to my friends. And then recorded other friends repeat their sentences. I wanted to hear those ideas play again in the mouth of other women. And then I asked an actress to act out all those thoughts the women had shared with me. The same necessity to “play it again” is also present in this feature documentary project. And probably the ancestral power of representation, converting filmmaking into a cathartic ritual with therapeutic properties, is what inspires me the most.
Q: Can you compare your experience at CIRCLE with other similar platforms that you have been part of?
A: I have little experience I must say, I participated at Mentoring projects, during L'Alternativa Film Festival 2019, where the open group work was implemented as well and was a very good starting. Then I participated in the IDFAcademy this year, which was an excellent experience. There are more programs I haven't had the opportunity to participate yet, but what I can definitely say is that a longer program as the CIRCLE´s is a essential place to be for a non-fiction woman director.
Q: What were the most important benefits from being part of CIRCLE program?
A: The group work and sharing is a truly empowering experience. I also enjoyed a lot the warm and safe feeling the CIRCLE team provided us with immediately. When it comes to our mentors and masterclasses, it was a privilege to be given feedback by talented experts I admire.
Q: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
A: Adina Pintilie "Touch me not". This is an incredibly fine and fine-tuned emotional and formally accurate storytelling. Blurs the boundaries and questions how reality is represented in a documentary film. The gentleness that the film breathes helps us connect to a new gaze on intimacy. An approximation to “the other´s” body with no cruel or sensational resources or judgment, but with honesty and affection, as the gate to essential relation and communication.
Q: Do you have a favorite documentary film? Why is it one of your favorites?
“Bella e perduta” directed by Pietro Marcello is a poetic and esoteric journey, an elegy to nature, a deeply touching story bringing in light an ancient knowledge.
Neither a story "of the real" nor pure storytelling, is a fairy tale, with fantastic components. Initially it was supposed to be the story of the keeper of the Carditello Palace, Tommaso Cestrone, on a journey of discovery of an emblematic land of "fires" inspired by Guido Piovene's "Journey to Italy". During the shooting Cestrone dies, and the film undergoes a metamorphosis, taking the point of view of a male buffalo destined to death. It's a gaze full of tenderness and empathy. As well as a reference for understanding fortuitous coincidences, encounters and sudden losses, which reverse the course and the point of view and finding a different meaning from that imagined at the beginning.
Q: What is the most important thing for you as a spectator? What do you search/expect to find in films?
A: A blind spot. I like films that are challenging me. I am delighted by poetry, intelligence, kindness, intimacy, frankness and contradictions. I like it when a film is working inside me for days, and I wake up thinking about it.
Q: What advice do you have for other (female) directors?
A: It's a great challenge and pleasure to figure out what the real character wants and what the story wants you to discover about yourself. I personally feel like entering the story by intuition, like a sleepwalker. I try to analyze the message of this experience and what the preliminary images and materials try to reveal, as if I was establishing a dialog with my subconscious mind. And then try to recover these connections into the film in a way that can speak to other people's subconscious minds.
A flim still from Efthymia's film A Sad and Vulgar Loner