ATTENBERG DIRECTOR INTERVIEW

Attenberg Director Interview
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ATTENBERG DIRECTOR INTERVIEW



Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by Athina Tsangari
04 Sunday 04th September 2011
Never been kissed, aged 22: it's not a story that hasn't been explored in film before. But Athina Rachel Tsangari's Attenberg morphs this standard coming-of-age narrative into something much weirder, and more beautiful than the norm. Main character Marina is dealing with the fact that she's awkward, has a very sexually-charged best friend (who tries to teach her to kiss rather unsuccessfully, and mispronounces Attenborough as Attenberg) and is losing her father. When we speak to Tsangari, her slightly hushed voice and contemplative silences reflect the understated tone of the film. The stillness of her character dialogues become all at once believable yet remain wildly eccentric, and remind us just how much we love the oft-irreverent nature of independent film. Plus, we had to find out more about her motivation behind basing a film around Sir David Attenborough's older documentary shows, in a way you might not expect. 
 
 
Where did your inspiration for the story come from?
 
Well, it's the first film I've directed in Greece (because I used to work in America) and it was important for me to talk about an archetypal Greek story. I wanted to explore something that's been at the centre of storytelling for some time: looking at the ideas of family and the relationshps between father and daughter that have been a focus in stories since ancient Greek times. The whole issue of taboos influenced me too, as did that of our relationship with two poles of life: one being sex & the other death. So [giggles] I don't know, but it's a sort of erotic drive. And fundamentally it's a story about figuring out how a girl comes into her own, how she becomes a woman and grows up in her body and soul. It's a story that applies all over the world.
 
We loved the childlike awkwardness of Marina, and her Attenborough fascination. Do you love Attenborough? Was this just a chance to show that to the world?
 
I've been watching his series, not since I was a little girl, but for about 10 years. I was amazed at how much I was finding out about human nature just by observing the behaviour of other species we share the planet with. And with nature documentaries, there's something very rigourous and scientific about them, but the way he [Attenborough] treats his subjects is always very tender. 
 
 
There's also that element of fiction in terms of the structure and narration of documentaries, and because I don't really work with back-stories for my characters or naturalist psychology,I thought it was interesting to position myself as more of an observer than director. I wanted to watch the four characters from a distance in the beginning, then as the story gets more complicated and Marina goes through the sexual adventure of losing her virginity and then loses her family, I wanted to get more emotionally involved with her. I was adjusting the distance and temperature of the film throughout. 
 
You have a great eye for a documentary-style shot, especially when filming your characters in scenes without dialogue. What drives you towards capturing that sort of scene?
 
Well, I'm not really sure! Most of what I do is just very intuitive, and I never really think about how it's going to be portrayed. We rehearsed the script, which was very much a series of still conversations, and followed it closely in rehearsals. To prepare my actors we watched a lot of clips from the Attenborough series and picked up some mannerisms and physical memory from interacting animals. Then we improvised a lot for what I call the silly walks with the two girls (below), imitating different animals. Also we watched a lot of Monty Python; the Ministry of Silly Walks and all that, you know. We alternated between the rigid structure of the conversations and negotiations between the characters and sort of interludes: the way the chorus functions in Greek tragedies to break the dialogue with song and dance that provides commentary about the action. 
 
 
How did you go about deciding on Suicide as the music focus? Who did you call in/how long have you collaborated with the music director?
 
The music choices were part of the script from the beginning. I really wanted to work with interludes as part of the narrative, and make the music as important as the plot. So Suicide and Daniel Johnston are all music acts that can really hold the fabric of the time they were made. It's not contemporary, it's not trendy and has this sort of out-of-placeness that the town and its inhabitants all have.
 
Also the town is one that was built in the late 1960s, purpose built as an industrial company location, and is sort of lost in time in Greece. So I thought the music fit that mood that I wanted to establish quite well.
 
 
Yeah, the setting isn't what most people would think of when they picture Greece, all white beaches and seafront bars.
 
Yes in general, it was important to set it in a place that's not what people typically think Greece looks like. It's a town that's sort of like a ghost town right now, and signifies the end of an era for Greece, like for the characters. And at the end of the film, it can hopefully be the beginning of a new one.
 
Never been kissed, aged 22: it's not a story that hasn't been explored in film before. But Athina Rachel Tsangari's Attenberg morphs this standard coming-of-age narrative into something much weirder, and more beautiful than the norm. When we speak Tsangari, her slightly hushed voice and contemplative silences reflect the understated tone of the film, where it us all at once believable yet wildly [special]. Plus, we had to find out more about her motivation behind basing a film around Sir David Attenborough's older documentary shows, in a way you might not expect. 
 
Where did your inspiration for the story come from?
 
Well, it's the first film I've directed in Greece (because I used to work in America) and it was important for me to talk about an archetypal Greek story. I wanted to explore something that's been at the centre of storytelling for some time: looking at the ideas of family and the relationshps between father and daughter that have been a focus in stories since ancient Greek times. The whole issue of taboos influenced me too, as did that of our relationship with two poles of life: one being sex & the other death. So (giggles) I don't know, but it's a sort of erotic drive. And fundamentally it's a story about figuring out how a girl comes into her own, how she becomes a woman and grows up in her body and soul. It's a story that applies all over the world.
 
We loved the childlike awkwardness of Marina, and her Attenborough fascination. Do you love Attenborough? Was this just a chance to show that to the world?
 
I've been watching his series, not since I was a little girl, but for about 10 years. I was amazed at how much I was finding out about human nature just by observing the behaviour of other species we share the planet with. And with nature documentaries, there's something very rigourous and scientific about them, but the way he [Attenborough] treats his subjects is always very tender. 
 
There's also that element of fiction in terms of the structure and narration of documentaries, and because I don't really work with back-stories for my characters or naturalist psychology,I thought it was interesting to position myself as more of an observer than director. I wanted to watch the four characters from a distance in the beginning, then as the story gets more complicated and Marina goes through the sexual adventure of losing her virginity and then loses her family, I wanted to get more emotionally involved with her. I was adjusting the distance and temperature of the film throughout. 
 
You have a great eye for a documentary-style shot, especially when filming your characters in scenes without dialogue. What drives you towards capturing that sort of scene?
 
Well, I'm not really sure! Most of what I do is just very intuitive, and I never really think about how it's going to be portrayed. We rehearsed the script, which was very much a series of still conversations, and followed it closely in rehearsals. To prepare my actors we watched a lot of clips from the Attenborough series and picked up some mannerisms and physical memory from interacting animals. Then we improvised a lot for what I call the silly walks with the two girls, imitating different animals. Also we watched a lot of Monty Phython; the Ministry of Silly Walks and all that, you know. We alternated between the rigid structure of the conversations and negotiations between the characters and sort of interludes: the way the chorus functions in Greek tragedies to break the dialogue with song and dance that provides commentary about the action. 
 
How did you go about deciding on Suicide as the music focus? Who did you call in/how long have you collaborated with the music director?
 
The music choices were part of the script from the beginning. I really wanted to work with interludes as part of the narrative, and make the music as important as the plot. So Suicide and Daniel Johnston are all music acts that can really hold the fabric of the time they were made. It's not contemporary, it's not trendy and has this sort of out-of-placeness that the town and its inhabitants all have.
 
Also the town is one that was built in the late 1960s, purpose built as an industrial company location, and is sort of lost in time in Greece. So I thought the music fit that mood that I wanted to establish quite well.
 
Yeah, the setting isn't what most people would think of when they picture Greece, all white beaches and seafront bars.
 
Yes in general, it was important to set it in a place that's not what people typically think Greece looks like. It's a town that's sort of like a ghost town right now, and signifies the end of an era for Greece, like for the characters. And at the end, it can hopefully be the beginning of a new one.

 

Attenberg is screening now in cinemas across the country, as of Friday September 2nd 2011.

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