The Sundance Festival’s Directors Lab is one of the film world’s most renowned programs supporting young creators and a much sought destination for directors from all around the world. The program is very exclusive. Each year, only eight projects are selected to participate. Over the course of four weeks, the directors chosen get to work with important film professionals (directors, actors and screenwriters). The Directors Lab isn’t open to applications, but rather, chooses the projects it wishes to include. Most participating projects are American and have taken part in Sundance’s Screenwriters Lab, as did ‘Park’ in January. Even so, participating in the Screenwriters Lab doesn’t guarantee a ticket to the Directors Lab, since the former accepts twelve projects, whereas the latter only eight.
Talking to Flix about her experience at The Screenwriters Lab, Sofia Exarchou said: “Before I arrived I hadn’t imagined it would be so different from similar workshops that are organized by film festivals around the world, but the Lab’s structure and they way it is set up is very different from anything I’ve experienced before. There were 16 advisors present for 12 projects. People like Tobias Lindholm and Quentin Tarantino spend time on your screenplay and try to help make it better. It’s incredible. You realize all those people are there to help you, to communicate with you, and you owe it to them to communicate as well, to be open, to immerse yourself in the experience. You need to help them understand deeply what it is you’re trying to do. At the same time you get a better understanding of it for yourself, and through them, you acquire a set of tools to help you develop it”.
Explaining how a week in Utah in January affected her screenplay on a practical level, Exarchou says: “Before I arrived there I knew the screenplay needed further changes, but I was feeling too tired to make them. The trip and the work we did there provided me with incredible strength to continue. I felt like I understood what I wanted to do more fully. The fact that I had to share my ideas with all those people, each with a different way of seeing things, helped me see my story and film more clearly. Upon returning I wrote another draft of the screenplay which wouldn’t have been possible, had it not been for the Screenwriters Lab.”
Exarchou with the other participants of the Screenwriters Lab.
The expectations for the work that will be carried out at the Directors Lab over the following month are high, but the way the Lab works seems to inspire just as much enthusiasm. Sofia Exarchou describes it for us: “The advisors at the Directors Lab are directors, actors and screenwriters. I will be there for a month. From what I gather, the first week will be an introductory week to get us acclimatized, to meet our advisors and give them a basic idea of our projects and to meet our crew and actors, since the plan is to film certain scenes from our screenplays. From June 1 – 18 we will be filming. Each director has picked certain scenes he/she would like to work on; challenging scenes they want to focus attention on, scenes they may be uncertain of how to complete, or scenes that may intrigue and/or cause difficulties. I have chosen some of my film’s most difficult scenes, like the one that features a foreign actor that I won’t have sufficient time to rehearse with. At the Lab, for 18 days we will be rehearsing, filming, editing, with actors that could even be from our films’ cast. But since the casting for most films has not yet been completed, you can choose from the pool of actors that will be present at the Lab. Everything is very well organized and strict. For example, they have asked me for a complete floor plan of the spaces in which we will be filming, to reconstruct them so that I can have a replica of my workspace at the resort. This isn’t for aesthetic reasons, but rather so they can get a sense of how I direct, the camera’s movements, my sense of space. What they focus on especially is your work with actors and how you direct. The advisors are there all along the way to discuss matters and your decisions with you and to offer feedback. When filming ends and the actors are dismissed, work resumes on the screenplays, in a process similar to January’s Screenwriters Lab”.
But how did a Greek film manage to find itself at such great heights (metaphorically and literally speaking, since Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort is located at an altitude of a couple of thousand meters). The film’s producer, Amanda Livanou explains: “We have had close ties with the people at Sundance, since 2012 when Babis Makridis’ film ‘L’ was selected for the festival, before it was even completed. So, we sent Sofia’s screenplay and started a dialogue with them about what our expectations were and what we wanted to accomplish with this film. We had numerous Skype sessions and discussions before Sofia was selected for the Screenwriters Lab in January. They are very careful about which films they choose and reach their final decision after hours of discussions. Regarding the Directors Lab, things were different, because they have to invite you to apply and there are fewer positions than there are on the Screenwriters Lab. Since January, we have been trying to figure out how to get the timing right, given that the film is already in pre-production. But the way they treat their films is truly extraordinary. Their support and active participation at the side of filmmakers is something we have never witnessed before in Europe. So, we also did everything in our powers to make this happen.”
Answering the question of how it feels for her as a producer to be so close to the start of filming having been selected for such an important program, Amanda Livanou says: “First of all, for a newcomer and first time director to be selected for this process is remarkable. It helps inspire a more positive outlook and also protects against the difficulties that making your first film entails. Many opportunities are offered, especially in the Directors Lab, which is essentially a process of producing and filming in perfect circumstances, or in circumstances that allow you to feel comfortable enough to take risks. On a practical level, as far as publicity and funding are concerned, it means that a Greek film is making headway in the world of global independent cinema, before its filming has even begun. Of course, the American filmmakers that will be participating stand to benefit from the process even more. However, there are also possible funding opportunities for us to look into. There aren’t many, because of the language barrier, but the Labs’ advisors have been helpful in this respect too. ‘Park’ is the first Greek film to have accomplished this, so I’ll be able to tell you more about it in the future. It’s something we’re currently dealing with for the first time.”
‘Park’ has already received distinctions at Thessaloniki Film Festival’s ‘Crossroads’ event and at Sarajevo’s CineLink program. Filming begins in September. ‘Park’ is being produced by Amanda Livanou (‘L’) for Beben Films and is co-produced by Faliro House, Steficon and Feelgood. The film’s development has received support from CNC (France’s National Center of Cinematography) and the European Cinema Support Fund (Eurimages).
The film takes place at the Olympic Village, nine years after the end of the Athens Olympics, with Greece in decline. Among abandoned sporting facilities and luxurious resorts for rich tourists, 16-year-old Dimitris and his friends travel the distance between his country’s triumphant past and its current plight, painting the portrait of a society that wasn’t ready for the fall that followed.