Angeliki's on-screen therapy session is part fly-on-the-wall documentary and part soap-opera. Starting with a return to her native Greece, the film is a series of casual conversations between friends and family, who freely discuss all the things that people chat about: meals, chores, vacations, each other, accidentally being locked in sex shops overnight, acquaintances that have public intercourse at food markets. You know, “the usual”.
The aim, according to the director, was to prove that everyone around her might be crazy. But, along the way she proves another universal truth: that families can really talk.
"The hand-held filming style was the only one I could use for The Magnet," says Angeliki. "It's much more 'pareistiko' ('groupy'), as we say in Greece. It's easy and cheap to do, but at the same time it lets the audience relate to the characters and see something of their own friends, family and history in every minute of the film. It's telling you that everything is going to be ok, even in this crazy world, as long as we're all in this madness together."
Angeliki recruited family and friends to appear on screen, and gave them a short outline of what she wanted. She cites Curb Your Enthusiasm as a model. "The script was barely one page long, setting out the order of events and the end result, but the dialogue was unplanned. I told my family and friends what I wanted to talk about, and most of them said yes to working with me. They were so comfortable and good at it, it was almost weird. They all acted like the camera wasn't even there, although none of them are actors. Actually my actor friends were really bad at improvising; they were all cut out of the film during editing."
Adding to the accessibility is the fact that most of the conversations hinge on the most basic subjects of all: food, death, sex. "We talk about matters of food and death and sex twenty-four-seven in Greece," agrees the director. "I wanted to put them in the front row, make food the main worry and death a joke. Very Mediterranean, very optimistic. Very funny."
The editing style doesn't follow any one conversation for long, instead jumping back and forth between different threads. The director believes that long conversations, even funny ones, can tire, and wanted the film to stay quick and fast-paced. Plus there was a more commercial consideration, the wish to minimize as much as possible any reluctance among English-speaking viewers to sit through a subtitled film. "A shorter joke is a funnier joke," says Angeliki. "I know this better than anyone, since I have the attention span of a five-year-old."
As The Magnet progresses, a couple of things become clear. One is that Angeliki herself, behind the camera for the first half of the film, is increasingly present on-screen in the second half, a participant in the conversations rather than a listener, seemingly drawn out of cover by the casual chat of her friends. The other realization is that hardly anyone is discussing 'the magnet'; the character trait that was supposed to be the subject of her enquiries only gets a passing mention. All planned, according to Angeliki.
"I wanted to first show everything from my eyes, the magnet's eyes; how I attract everyone who's a bit out of it. And then, I wanted to show the psychos' point of view; how they see the magnet and what they think of me. How, in the end, I think you're crazy but you think I'm crazier, and if I'm still with you it's because we understand each other."
For all the elliptical style and earthy humor, deeper issues lurk in The Magnet. Its creator has strong opinions about gender politics and cultural differences, and her concerns are obliquely reflected in the film. "Issues of everyday life and relationships do matter to me a lot, and I struggle non-stop to find answers and solutions," she says. "So far The Magnet has given the most romantic solution of all. If everybody around me is crazy, it means they found common ground to stand on. And if I attract them, it means I'm one of them."
The end result is a film performing multiple duties. It stands as a fun half-hour with some colorful characters, and as a personal document about Angeliki's roots, all presented in a style close to mockumentary. It wears its cultural identity on its sleeve, just as its multi-cultural creator intended.
"It started as something I needed to do because I missed my home and I was going back after a long time," says Angeliki. "I lived in the United Kingdom, which has a completely different kind of craziness that I love, but unfortunately can't relate to. I love just saying things without thinking, but in the United Kingdom that means I'm asked to explain almost everything I say. In Greece we don't try to say anything deep. We just say stuff and then laugh at it and how shallow we can be. There's no great mystery to The Magnet, just raw comedy and funny lines lasting half an hour. Making the film reminded me where home was, and how important it was to me. It reminded me of what I had lost when I moved away, and what I wanted back. It was a film about going back to basics."
With The Magnet completed and winning attention from festivals, Angeliki can reflect on the end result. "I love it when films are genuine and passionate, and this can only happen if you're dealing with a topic you love, or, even better, with something you have experienced. I think that a writer should write about what he knows, that a filmmaker should make a film that represents him, and that we should all be true to ourselves and what we are if we want to make good quality films."
A potential complication for films of such honesty is that they may not travel well. Strong local color and distinct regional flavor can be barriers to raising a film's profile in other territories, an issue Angeliki recognizes fully. "The Magnet is for everyone, but it's quite limited geographically. It will appeal to people from the Mediterranean, East and South America and Australia. In Greece, Spain and Italy they love it. In the United Kingdom they raise eyebrows and ask me what it was all about.”
Helping films to get across such barriers is something organizations such as Indie Fest can help with, and the attention has certainly been of benefit to The Magnet. Angeliki says that offers of help, promotional ideas and other advice still come her way several months after the film's progress through Indie Fest and other competitions.
Given her taste for cultural observation, Angeliki's dream project might not be a great surprise: "A sitcom. A sitcom on cultural differences, relationships and crazy everyday life is what I'm working on and what I'll always be working on, with small breaks for something different. I'm working on making everyone laugh at least once a week while bringing different people and cultures closer together, since making fun of ourselves ahead of others is where the real comedy lies."
In the meantime, the success of The Magnet has brought its own rewards. "I'm in love with the result. The film has won two awards and was a finalist in more than ten film festivals. It has kept me very happy. And keeping a Greek woman happy is a really difficult task." LINK Tim Hayes is a freelance writer based in the United Kingdom. LINK)