A young woman wakes up in a hotel room. She gets out of bed. She washes her face, combs her hair, puts lipstick on her lips. She realizes that this is what she does day after day when she wakes up. She feels the urge to break this chain. She strips and goes to the room's balcony. She imagines that this is her last day. She smokes as if this were her last cigarette. She looks at the world as if this were her last gaze. Suddenly, she feels the urge to fall indeed from the room's balcony. She climbs--
It is our pleasure to interview Iasonas Sigma, the director of Dead or Not?
What makes you fascinated with making experimental films? What makes something experimental, according to my opinion, is its state of non-closedness, and it is exactly therein that its “experimentality” lies: in its resistance to close itself in regards to meaning, content, form and last but not least symbolism, leaving all of the aforementioned open to interpretation. Life is an open system, -it would be so boring otherwise!- and if one considers the ideal of making Art to be the “mimesis, imitation” of life per se, according to Aristoteles, the first Art-critic, the polyvalence of the “open text” in terms of references and intertextuality is what makes experimental filmmaking before my eyes utmost fascinating, given, furthermore, that cinema, as an Art, is by definition multi-referential, containing in its vast body all the other arts in toto. Under this light, therefore, I would wish for this element of “experimentality” to be also organically integrated in traditionally “non-experimental”, more “story-based” cinematic genres as well, dilating thus the borders between what is considered experimental or not, a tendency already to be observed nowadays more and more even in classical Hollywood filmmaking. And fortunately, so.
Why did you choose black and white for your project? “Dead or not?” happened to be my first professional attempt at filmmaking, and for me it attained, even from the beginning, this sort of fetishistic status that every artist’s first work of Art entails. Black and white cinematography refers to the genesis of cinema itself, since the first moving images to be recorded in front of a camera were black and white, and I wanted my first film to enclose in it something of the strivings and reminiscences of the history of the cinematic Art as a whole. For an artist to leap forward, he or she, starting from somewhere, ought to pay tribute first and foremost to the genesis of his/her Art. It is not accidental, therefore, that “Dead or not?” plays with concepts of presence and absence, of being-there and being-not, referring thus to that fundamental inexorable enjoyment that the iridescence between shadow and light granted to the iris of the eye during the first days of the cinema. It is, additionally, not accidental that I also chose super8 black and white film for the dream sequence of the sleeping woman at the beginning of my movie, in which the frames per second of the image are 18 FPS, lower than the usual 24 FPS, marking it with that impression of that syncopated, faster movement, which refers to those “ancient” first cinematic attempts. The above-mentioned characteristics, together with the voyeuristic a-temporality and non-spatiality that black and white grants in general, give to my film a "diachronous" touch which help it integrate classicism and post-modernism at the same time, interweaving, in its organic experimentality, the past with the future.
When did you make your first film? This is a story worth mentioning! I made my first film -and I consider it to be complete in its own idiosyncratic way!- non-deliberately, playing with an actress friend of mine. I was at the beginning of my cinematic experimentations and full of passion and enthusiasm for the endless possibilities that a camera in my hands could open for me. It was two years ago, and we had arranged to have a drink at a small café in the middle of a park in a province of Athens and I came to our meeting holding the latest model of a cellphone which I had bought owing to its high-tech camera. I started showing it to her, being proud of it, and it was only a few minutes later that she proposed to me to improvise a scene with her, just like that, a scene that we had never rehearsed, letting ourselves free, -me as the director and herself as the actress-, and just do whatever came to our minds. I thought it was a foolish idea, and followed it somewhat unwillingly, but from the moment I turned on the “rec” button, something magical happened: Ι suddenly felt that the world had stopped, that only me and she existed, -in fact only she, I considered myself to be invisible, albeit having some sort of peculiar, strange existence-, and followed her mechanically as she went to sit on a bench, pretending to wait for someone, -opening in the meanwhile her purse and searching in it for small things in order to entertain her “waiting”-, someone who never came, a fact that left her feeling rejected and torn, and as a consequence made her get up from the bench she was sitting on, and just leave. While I followed her departure with the camera, and her vanishing in front of it, I felt that this short film wasn’t over yet: Ι felt the urge, not knowing where it came from, to return to the bench and film it without her sitting on it this time, just recording her “etheric body” as I imagined it having stayed there, without her self, waiting for this man who never came. I was so touched afterwards to watch this film, -which was indeed shot at one take!- that I knew from that moment on that I had been caught in the net of an art, the cinematic one, in an inescapable, unavoidable way. I named that first film of mine “Absence”. It helped me realise that all that cinema is about can be just a small slice of everyday life going unnoticed in its insignificant everydayness, which can, nevertheless, contain in it a whole tragedy.
Dead or not?: tell us about the philosophy and the themes behind the film and the cinematic language of the film and why you made it. Now that I am thinking about it “Dead or not?” may have been influenced a little bit by “Absence”, and it is not until your previous question that I came to realise that so clearly! I guess what drew me towards the making of a film like “Dead or not?”, the script of which I wrote myself, and in which I follow a young woman as she falls from a hotel room’s balcony, is the easiness with which one can nowadays decide to fall from a balcony from one moment to another, (given the way the awareness of our finiteness has invaded our lives, due to pandemics, economic crises, climatic changes and so on), the easiness with which one can commit suicide, not suffering necessarily from a certain pathological condition. We all flirt daily with fantasies regarding the deprivation of ourselves from the world and the others, and whether our death, -that is our absence- would make a difference, whether we would make a difference in a world without us. The conclusion I have come to, regarding suicide, is the following: the vast majority of the people who commit suicide have no intention of dying per se, but more so escaping into a wholly other version of themselves, of becoming totally Others, -a sort of peculiar reincarnation-, retaliating thus the world and its inhabitants for not having appreciated, -and having not helped them also appreciate- the version of self they had prior to their death. This is exactly the theme and the philosophy behind my film “Dead or not?”, since I tried in it to portray exactly this form of deprivation a young woman strives to initiate among this world, depriving it from her presence, leaving her absence behind, (which is maybe livelier than her presence itself!) and ultimately escaping in a peculiar reincarnation, whereby, after her Fall from the hotel room’s balcony, she becomes another version of who she is, remaining to be her, but also not being her at all.
Please tell us about the festivals the film was an official selection. I had the luck not only to be selected up to this point officially by Chicago Indie Film Awards, L.A. Indies, Venice Shorts, New York Independent Cinema Awards, Montreal Independent Film Festival and Indie Short Fest for my film “Dead ot not?”, but also to win two awards from Berlin Indie Film Festival, one for the “Best Artist Short Film” and the other for the “Best Editing”, three distinctions from Independent Shorts Awards: the Silver Award for the “Best Experimental Film”, and two honourable mentions: one for the “Best First Time male Director” in regards to me and the other for the “Best Cinematography” in regards to Manos Tzivakis, the director of photography of “Dead or not?” and three award nominations by IndieX Film Fest, one for “Best Experimental Short”, one for “Best Women Short” and the third for me as “Best First Time male Director” again.
How challenging is to make experimental films and find an audience for indie films? The financial difficulties of making experimental films, together with issues regarding their popularity are highly compensated by the fact that, as I aforementioned, the borders between what is considered to be experimental in terms of filmmaking nowadays and what not are slowly starting to fuse, since audiences strive to be continuously surprised and startled by newer and more original ideas, not only in terms of stories, but also in terms of image systems and cinematography. This makes this kind of filmmaking highly challenging but also irreplaceably and uniquely rewarding, given that it develops classical cinema even further, providing it with inspiration and breadth of vision that is constantly being integrated in its body.
Do you see art as a form of experiment and would you continue only making experimental genres? If one considers Art to be the experimental laboratory of Life per se, -which according to my opinion it not only is, but it furthermore ought to be- it would be ideal, in one’s career, not to commit oneself only to the experimental genre, but to strive to view under an experimental prism also not experimental genres themselves.
What is your next film project? Stricken by the new state of things that the new data on our planet impose on us, my next project has to do with Love and Death, trying to investigate answers to the following questions: Ιf one knows that the End is near, -not only his personal one, but also the planet’s-, is one able to transcend his Ego and love the Other, notwithstanding age, race, sex, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and the rest of the categories that define our human condition, or are we after all programmed, as a race, to pertain to categories and love immutably under their conditions and presuppositions? According to my belief, it is to these and similar kind of questions that a supreme art like Cinema, maybe the most supreme of all, ought to strive to answer, since it can, in the best way, mirror life in all its complexities and no way outs, providing it back with some acceptance of them and relief regarding them. What one cannot answer straight away, one can turn it into cinema. This could be one form of salvation regarding our souls and our World.