One of the most anticipated films screened during the Greek Film Festival last month was Boy on the Bridge (To agori sti gefyra), by Cypriot director Petros Charalambous. Although it is Charalambous’ first feature movie, Boy on the Bridge garnered the 40-year-old director and his team prestigious awards in film festivals across the globe.
Socrates, the main hero played by Constantinos Farnakas, is a 12-year-old boy growing up in a seemingly idyllic village in Cyprus in the 1980s. His innocence is lost, and he abruptly has to face the cruel reality of the world. Socrates comes of age under his uncle’s relentless abuse that fills his young soul with vengeance.
Charalambous’ plot evolves from an almost old-fashioned Tom Sawyeresqe story into a darker, unexpected territory where the main hero finds himself at the centre of a murder investigation, which exposes a dark family secret and changes his life forever.
Neos Kosmos spoke with the director about the movie’s success, the challenges of a feature film production in Cyprus, and his upcoming projects.
You have a long career spanning film direction, TV, theatre, documentaries, and commercial productions. Why did it take so long to direct your first feature film?
I feel grateful and lucky to have completed this film and excited and blessed that during its first year journey it has been screened in around 40 festivals around the world and received eight awards so far. I believe it happened at the right time for me to be experienced enough to handle a project like this and mature as a director to be able to guide the actors through the story, the emotions, and the difficulties of a feature film. Shooting commercials gave me the opportunity to be on set almost every week, working with babies, children, animals, models and professional actors, in short deadlines and with time and budget constraints. I love it though and I want to be able to continue directing commercials while preparing for my next feature.
Having lived with the magical experience of shooting and completing a feature film as well as the experience of the festivals and the recognition of the audience, I feel that this is something I want to do over and over again and hopefully I will be given the chance.
How hard is it to secure funding for a film these days? I read that the budget for Boy on The Bridge was €680,000. Is that considered a lot or too little based on Cypriot and Greek production standards?
It is extremely difficult to fund a project nowadays especially in Cyprus. It is very hard to find private sponsors. The only way to produce a film here now is through the funding from the Ministry of Education and Culture. We were fortunate enough to have met a very generous but also forward-looking man, John Papadouris from Kalopanayiotis (the village we shot), who believed in the film and supported us by offering accommodation and board at Casale Panayiotis. Therefore the support and help from my producers along with the funding from the ministry and the John Papadouris Foundation (Kalopanayiotis) made this film possible. Also, working with so many talented professionals who passionately contributed to each stage of the film made me feel really grateful and fulfilled.
The love and commitment all the crew, actors and the two 12-year-old protagonists showed for the film transformed this difficult and demanding process into an exciting and challenging adventure.
How did you come up with the idea of the story? Did you decide to create a film based on Eve Makis’ novel the moment you finished reading it or did it take you some time to process?
Eve Makis called me few years ago asking me to read her book The Land of the Golden Apple and consider it for a film… I was fascinated by the characters, the story, her writing! I found so many similarities to the way I grew up in the 80s and thought it would be a great chance to make a film for those beautiful and carefree years! Then everything started happening. The producers, Marios Piperides and Janine Teerling, came along and the scriptwriter Stavros Pamballis wrote the script with Eve based on the book. The Ministry of Education and Culture funded the film and the John Papadouris Foundation joined the project as a co-producer.
How much have you diverged from the book’s storyline?
The film is based on the book and most of the characters are in the film. But we couldn’t keep all of the stories in the film. We decided to focus on the boys and follow their perspective throughout to clearly create a coming of age story. The main character is in most of the scenes. The handheld camera, which in my opinion, could be another character of the film, begins at Socrates’ eye level, but as the story and his character goes through all the problems that come in his way and he grows and matures, the camera goes rise to a higher point of view symbolically. The same happens with the title. We changed the title to describe the coming of age theme of the film. The bridge, besides being realistically in the village and having many scenes take place upon it, also symbolises the passage of the boy from being a 12-year-old boy to becoming a young man.
What made you choose this specific actor for Socrates’ role?
Konstantinos did not have any acting experiences before the film. This gave me the chance to ‘paint’ on a clean canvas. He is really talented and clever! He had a full understanding of what was going on on the set in terms of camera positions, continuity in actions and emotions. Of course he comes from a family in the film industry, therefore he had an initial understanding but he trusted me enough to guide him through the film. His face and eyes, that combined innocence and smartness at the same time made him very sympathetic to the audience. George, the other boy in the film, is also very talented and comes from a family in the industry. The good thing was that they are friends in real life. This made it easier for me.
Is it hard working with children and transferring them to an era much different to the one the actors are growing up in?
I love working with children. Most of the commercials I direct have kids starring. I think we have a connection. Working with Konstantinos and George was a great challenge. I had to transform them from boys of a city in 2015 to boys of a village in the 80s. We worked together for eight months before the shooting. I wanted them to trust me. Most of the rehearsing was actually riding bikes, playing in the fields, running in the village streets. Then it became more practical. We visited the actual locations and did all the blocking to get used to it. We didn’t touch the script up until two months before the film. They were excited and committed. There was great help from their families. I really enjoyed it.
Even though you are presenting the story of a child, it almost feels as if you are monitoring the journey of an adult to self-discovery that anyone could identify with. Can you identify in any way with this observation?
Realism and truth. That’s the way as a director I approach each project but especially this film. And for me it’s the only way if you want people to identify, remember, feel, understand, accept, take this journey with you. The film tries, and I think manages to, capture real life as it was in the 80s in terms of language, styling, production design, appearances but also everyday life. This is another reason why older audiences identify with the film. The film combines suspense and drama, tragic incidents and everyday life, personal issues and broader conflicts, ambiguous characters and unclear pasts, contrasting emotions and situations, but at the same time challenges the very questions of what is right and wrong, or good and bad, notions which are not always simply black and white. The chance to develop and capture all of the above was a great challenge for me, and a journey through both familiar and unknown paths. I think this is the reason why the audience takes this journey with us; to remember, identify, laugh and cry but most of all, celebrate life.
Do you feel that it was difficult trying to recreate a Cyprus village of the 1980s in 2017?
It wasn’t very difficult to recreate the 80s reality in the village since Kalopanayiotis maintained its identity over the years. We had to make minor changes in signs and remove the modern lighting from the bridge.
Some changes were also made to the house’s interior for the needs of the story. Kalopanayiotis has a ‘wild’ beauty that immediately created the feeling I wanted for the film. The way the village is built on the slope of the mountain, the river, the energy, the bridge. The bridge is a protagonist in our film. It works both ways-symbolically and realistically. The warmth and the positive way the people there accepted us and helped us made the film along with the help from Mr Papadouris made it possible.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
While representing and following Boy on the Bridge on its festival journey, I am currently completing a feature documentary called From Here to Everest. I am in post-production for a short film called The Bullet Within and in development for my next feature film which is soon to be announced.