The Brides director returns with Greece’s foreign language Oscar submission, the story of two sisters who harbour a terrible secret while spending their lives in love with the same man.
Voulgaris shot his 1930s-set drama on location on the Cycladic island of Andros in the Aegean and speaks with Elbert Wyche.
How did you start working with the film’s screenwriter Ioanna Karystiani and did you work closely with her on the writing of the script?
Little England (The Jasmine Isle - Europa Edition), was a book read and loved by many people; an advantage but also a risk for a film adaptation. Ioanna and I agreed to focus on strong emotions and highlight the human adventure. All of my films and Ioanna’s books are human-centred so there was a solid base on which to build collaboration.
Very often when we work together all we need are a couple of glances at each other. For each scene that we considered necessary for the plot, Ioanna wrote 10 scenes before it and 10 scenes after it, which were not meant ever to be used but provided a source of good phrases, a key silence, something that served and enhanced the atmosphere in the film. This method has helped us a lot in post-production as well.
What are some elements within the story that resonated with you?
The love. The passion. The loneliness. The mourning. The untold truths revealed too late. The timeless topic of family relationships. The maritime community where men became the “old salt” in the oceans and women the “Penelopes” in the turbulent waters of an empty house.
How long did you shoot and where?
On the beautiful Andros, a Cycladic island with a great maritime tradition, where almost all the houses through the years have been wounded by shipwrecks. Filming lasted nine weeks, during winter and spring of 2013.
Did any significant problems arise during pre-production, production or post?
The film was an experiment of motivating the whole local community of Andros. The locals trusted us, inspired and helped us in many different ways. All public buildings were at our disposal, dozens of mansions and folk houses, hundreds of nautical relics, the willingness of the people to participate in small roles as well as in crowd scenes as extras. I had an excellent artistic team and very good technicians, so during both pre-production and shooting, they were able to utilise this invaluable offering. The good material we had in our hands was a guide for the patience and detailed work required during post-production.
How did you find Penelope Tsilika and Sofia Kokkali?
I love actors. I trust them. I want them active and creative, with suggestions that do not stop until the very final shot, the last day of filming, I choose them with care. While casting for Little England, I had the help of my daughter Constantina, who is a director herself. I chose Penelope (Orsa) and Sofia (Moscha) for their character and the “breeze” on their faces that remind us of the ethos of the time. I was not apprehensive of their inexperience, as they had just graduated from the National Theatre School. I saw in them the determination to work hard and to try things.
What was it like working with them and other integral cast?
I worked with calm and tenderness with all the actors. Especially with Penelope and Sofia, I concentrated on my long experience and great interest that I have for female characters. Women tend to experience feelings more intensely: they sharpen and offer them, often paying the higher price. I try hard to find the nuances.
What are some audience reactions you’ve received and do they match up with what you hoped they would experience?
Full houses. Queues outside theatres. Long discussions with film analysis both on the script and the images of Little England among groups of friends, schools, throughout Greece. What surprised me was that Little England received the same warm response from very different audiences abroad. In Shanghai, in Sydney, Montreal, New York, Cairo and elsewhere.
You won Best Film and Best Director in the Shanghai International Film Festival. What do awards mean to you?
Joy, gratification and honour that reflect on all Greek artists who work consistently under difficult conditions.