Marios Piperides’ debut feature Smuggling Hendrix comes to the 25th Delphi Bank Greek Film Festival with numerous accolades, including winning the Best International Feature Film at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
As well as being awarded $20,000, the jury, which included Goodfellas star Ray Liotta, praised Smuggling Hendrix “for its unique, comedic exploration of a complicated, absurd political situation told in a clear, personal and compelling way”.
Piperides revealed that he not only felt great pride and satisfaction, but also was astonished that his film, which came up against 9,000 entrants from around the world, came out on top.
“The award came totally unexpected. It was a big shock at the beginning,” he told Neos Kosmos from Cyprus.
“We were just happy to have the film make it in the 10 features and that for us was good enough. So, of course, we were excited. Cyprus only makes two to three feature films a year, maximum. So, we’re competing with films and countries like Germany that make 200 films. Afterwards the film got more promotion, and more interest from distributors. So, it was really important to have received the award in a big festival like Tribeca.”
Smuggling Hendrix has been described as a metaphor for political and social life on both sides of the Cypriot divide. The film is told from the viewpoint of struggling musician Yiannis played by Adam Bousdoukos whose dog runs away into Turkish Nicosia and follows his comical attempts to retrieve him.
Piperides was born in 1975, just one year after Turkey invaded northern Cyprus on 20 July, 1974. The Nicosia-born director revealed that he wrote the film to show the absurdity of the imaginary green line, which has divided Greek Cypriots and their Turkish neighbours for 44 years.
“Of course, it is tragic what is happening and what happened,” he says.
“This division has been going on for too long; it’s half a century without really moving forward. We are at the same place we were 10 years ago. People want to live together and come together. We’re one country, we’re similar people. We just have this absurdity of this small island being divided in two. It cannot go on like this. I grew up with the Cyprus problem, I lived through the different stages. We really need to find a solution.”
How the anti-war film cleverly highlights the absurdity of living in a divided capital is by having the protagonist Yiannis form an alliance with Turkish Cypriots Hasan (Fatih Al) and Tuberk (Özgür Karadeniz).
Together with his ex-girlfriend they hatch a plan to cross the border into occupied Turkey in an attempt to smuggle Hendrix back home and into the Greek Cypriot side.
Piperides’ aim was to make a film that took an objective view of the Cyprus conflict and to tell a human story that portrays what life is like on both sides of the divide.
“That was the intention,” he says.
“As a filmmaker I wanted to show that we have the same hopes and fears and dreams. We have our everyday life and the Cyprus problem, and the division just became part of our lives. At the end of the day the message of the film is that we’re all people and it doesn’t matter if you’re Turkish or Greek, Muslim or Christian. We’re people, and we need to learn to live with our differences and accept their point of view of life, respect that and try to live peacefully.”
Many scenes were shot around the militarised green zone, which Piperides says presented a number of challenges during filming.
“We only went one day to the north, just to shoot some exterior locations with a limited crew,” the director revealed.
“We filmed almost everything on the Greek side – it’s the same towns, same cities, we just changed a few signs and that makes it look like you are in the north.”
Piperides started writing the script in 2013 during “the banking crisis” on the island, which inevitably also influenced the development of his protagonist Yiannis.
“Everyone was fed up with everything,” reflects Piperides.
“A lot of people were leaving Cyprus. A lot of my friends left, as happened in Greece also. They wanted to leave and go and start a new life somewhere else. So Yiannis was one of these people that wanted to make a new start, a new beginning and leave everything behind.”
Piperides studied Film Production in the US, and ended up being a turning point in not only his career, but life as a whole. Despite having grown up in Cyprus, it was abroad that he would first come to interact with a Turkish Cypriot.
“It was just after I did two years of military service and I met for the first time a Turkish Cypriot,” he reveals.
“It was very weird for me to accept the fact that there was someone Turkish that was saying ‘I am from Cyprus’. For me Cyprus was more Greek Orthodox Cypriots. This is when I knew, that this is how I will grow as a person.”
What’s notable about Smuggling Hendrix is that Australian audiences will see the film before anyone in Cyprus does, and Piperides has been anticipating the response.
“It’s going to be shown in Cyprus next April when we premier there,” he says.
“I am interested because I think it will be the first time that lots of Greeks and Cypriots will see the film. It will be interesting to see how people receive the film. I hope they like the film, I hope they enjoy the film, see it positively as an anti-war film. That’s what it’s about.”
Along with Smuggling Hendrix, Piperides has another film showing at the Greek Film Festival, but this time as a producer. Rosemarie, written and directed by Antonis Floridis, is another feature coming to Australia with a number of accolades, having won the 2017 Greek Film Critics Award in Thessaloniki, and a nomination for Best Film at the 2017 Los Angeles Greek Film Festival.
“It’s about the things that as a society we don’t say,” explains Piperides.
“It shows that as a people, us Cypriots want to pretend that everything is happy and nice; that it’s sunny, we are at the beach and its nice weather, tourism, and there’s history and we have family ideals and values. But behind these closed doors there are more secrets, things we don’t want people to know about.
“The film is dark but it’s approached with humour. This is Antonis’ style. He likes his black humour with drama and a bit of comedy. But you have to see the film to understand, I don’t want to give away anything.”
To see screening times and book tickets for ‘Smuggling Hendrix’ and ‘Rosemarie’, visit http://greekfilmfestival.com.au/