Female Directors Season: Katerina Philippou-Curtis

The fifth addition to our female directors interview season is Katerina Philippou-Curtis. She talks about her upcoming feature film, Marriage, and her inspirations for her unique style.

Interview by Sophie Duncan

What was it that made you want to go into filmmaking?

Writing stories as a child. Writing scripts. Giving precise camera directions on each scene. Visualising an entire film in my head from beginning to end. Feeling overwhelmed every time a film was about to start. I think I was 8 when my dad bought me a little camera and told me to “now make magic.’’ A year later he died and I was left with that feeling of him wanting me to make magic. I don’t think I can do anything else as a job that I feel makes my life worth living.

You have a very interesting and unique style; what are some of the inspirations for your work and why?

I was captivated ever since I discovered the complex yet magical world of Ingmar Bergman. Having a fascination for all things allegorical, I found the scene In The Seventh Seal where Antonius Block plays chess with Death simply mind-blowing. For me, that scene sealed the power of film, the avalanche of thoughts and artistic expressions it generated. Agnes Varda’s auteur cinema with her distinctive artistic style is another influence and inspiration. Her film, Vagabond, one of her greatest feminist works, with its non-linear techniques and interpretation of the subject matter is pure narrative bravery.

On your website, you've written a little about your newest film, Marriage, and what it symbolises. Could you expand on this and explain why you feel so passionately about this story and all it represents?

Europe is caught in a moral dilemma, as anybody can see right now. We, in Britain, are also split. There is a wave of acceptance battling a wave of fear. Seven years ago I got trapped in some horrid riots in Athens, Greece and I saw the devastation caused by austerity regimes, that even today, 7 years later, are still an occurrence. One thing led to another and the script was formed.

Deciding to use the allegory of a marriage suddenly made the film more accessible because it dwelled deep into the mind of a woman and her process of deciding whether to divorce or not. Choosing carefully the metaphors makes the film timely but also timeless. My passion in getting the film made was almost like a blind rollercoaster ride where you are falling and you don’t know where it will take you. I had planned it, cast it, prepped every scene, did the production design and gathered the main team, cast and crew and started rehearsals. Then the foreboding events that I had written…just started happening. The refugee crisis scene we shoot on 2014 was next year’s front page news and that only fuelled my passion in getting it finished and making it look like a studio film in terms of production value. 

I think the subject matter is and will always be so current that the film deserved every ounce of hard work and imagination and respect in the filmic language to stand up there with other thematically ambitious films. Being independent has its benefits in that you are able to stretch yourself and try to find the best way to portray ‘a mind’s journey’ and also a simple but well-known political story. That’s why I decided to use both colour and black and white. Colour symbolises Europe’s wave of acceptance, love, hope and future and black and white matches the wave of fear, and is intrinsic, self-absorbed, unloving and unhappy. We worked non-stop the last 5 years to make the best film we can with very little resources. Our trailer right now is going viral on Facebook and we are at present over 32,200 likes just by posting the trailers and that means that our hard work resonates with audiences from all over the world and the film touches on subjects that people want to see.

If you could make any type of film with anyone you wanted, what would it be and who with? 

Clemence Poesy, Anthony Hopkins and Sally Hawkins. It is actually my dream cast to hopefully my next project, a simple character-driven drama about a particular condition that has not yet been explored in films. I have tried in vain to approach their agents but you can’t get past the fact that you are not fully funded at that initial phone call!! So to get a script to them just to get their interest is impossible as a writer/director.

Do you find getting funding for your films challenging and is there any advice you have for anyone looking to fund their own films?

This business is based on who you know not what you know. We have a lot of experience but not many contacts. The only way to do it as an outsider is to…do it. One way or another find the funds to be able to pay our cast and crew. I edited and colour-graded the film myself. Paul, my partner, did the camera, cinematography and VFX. Most films have 600 people working on so many effects. We had two students we trained and Paul. If you have a story to tell and you strongly believe in it, go for it. 

The other way is, as I call it, go through the front door. Start with a short, make connections, surround yourself with people who call the shots, create relationships and slowly you will get into that circle of trust and mentoring and support to progress into features supported by the industry’s initiate programmes. It takes longer but your name is known, slowly and steadily. There is no right or wrong. 

You've made feature films and short films as well as a music video and a 'playfilm.' What are your favourite things about each different medium?

Films take longer and involve so many sides of you. As a writer/director, the process starts from the idea and ends at the final sound mix. These years are disciplined, focused and full of creativity and collaboration. Working as a team and filming has to be the favourite bit. On location. When you see it unfolding. Dressing the scene with music and working with composers is another favourite activity. Making music videos involves precise editing. Cutting to the beat gives me a buzz and I cherish the opportunity to make music videos because they are a short burst of intensely creative days. Making the playfilm - a combination of film and play - is perhaps the most challenging and creatively infused-euphoria I ever had. It’s everything. Not just a film but the same story told twice, from different angles, in different contexts.

What are you working on next?

I’ve just finished an original script called The Secret Mind of Oakly Carter, age 9.74. I’m taking Marriage into festivals and then I’m hoping to start looking for co-production companies and funding bodies to get Oakly made.

Do you have any advice for women who aspire to become filmmakers?

My advice would be the same regardless of sex. Just do it. However, since our representation suffers in numbers, it is evident that we must join forces. Support each others’ achievements and take on task those bodies that promise to support women. Join female-led groups like Cinesisters and Film Fatales and Women in TV and film. Don’t see women as competition, we are all different in our artistic language and we all want to tell stories. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, be honest, be real. Be nice. Try not to let men put you down. Do not over use the female card - it alienates people. You are judged on your talent, not your sex. And demand respect. In all places. In all areas. At all times.

You can find out more about Kat's film Marriage here and all work at her website. Links to Kat's social media are below.

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