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Interview with X-Pollinator Guests - Greek Director and Producer of ANIMAL

X-Pollinator Case Study Animal (2023) with director Sofia Exarchou and producer Maria Drandaki, Greece.
X-Pollinator Case Study Animal (2023) with director Sofia Exarchou and producer Maria Drandaki, Greece.

We’re delighted to announce the guests for the Creative Europe MEDIA supported panel at X-Pollinator 2024. The Greek director Sofia Exarchou and Greek producer Maria Drandaki will chat about their film, Animal (2023), on Saturday 24th February in TU Dublin. In advance of X-Pollinator we spoke to them about the making and development of Animal.

X-Pollinator is a cross-disciplinary professional development and networking initiative for female, trans and non-binary talent. X-Pollinator 2024 will take place from 23 - 25 February on campus at TU Dublin Grangegorman. It will feature an exciting line-up of international speakers such as Aoife McArdle, director of 'Severance'; Ella Glendining, director of 'Is There Anybody Out There?' as well as a case study of 'Animal' from director Sofia Exarchou and producer Maria Drandaki, which will be screened for participants with a networking reception.

Animal (2023), is a Greek, Austrian, Bulgarian, Cypriot, Romanian co-production which was supported by Creative Europe MEDIA and Eurimages. It premiered in competition at Locarno in 2023. Animal won the Spirit of the Festival Award at Cork International Film Festival 2023.

About the Film-makers

Director Sofia Exarchou was born in Athens. 'Park', her first feature film, premiered at Toronto IFF and San Sebastian IFF, where it won the New Directors Award. Her sophomore film, 'Animal' was selected and participated in L’Atelier (Festival de Cannes) and Mia Roma Market. In August 2023, 'Animal' premiered at Locarno IFF, where it won the Award for Best Performance. ANIMAL also won Best Film Award at Thessaloniki IFF, Cork IFF and Vancouver IFF plus numerous other awards in various festivals such as Best Performance Award at Les Arcs FF and Thessaloniki IFF, Fipresci Award at Mannheim IFF.

Producer Maria Drandaki is the founder of Homemade Films, an Athens-based film production and distribution company. With a taste for sharp, cutting edge, innovative cinema, Maria has produced and co-produced several short and feature films, which participated and won awards in many international film festivals (Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Locarno, Toronto, Rotterdam, IDFA, Karlovy Vary, etc.) and were distributed in movie theatres, TV channels and platforms around the world. Maria is a member of the EAVE and ACE producers' networks as well as the European Film Academy.

In 2022, Homemade Films was granted support from Creative Europe MEDIA’s Slate Funding for its upcoming film projects.

‘Animal (2023) is a hard-hitting film about the dark side of the tourism industry and those that work in it. Dimitra Vlagkopoulou’s performance is masterful and truly engrossing. Animal, directed by Sofia Exarchou wins the prize for its heart, tears and glitter, and we can’t wait to see what Sofia does next.’ Cork Film International Film Festival
ANIMAL, Spirit of The Festival Award at Cork Film International Film Festival, 2023.

Interview with director, Sofia Exarchou, and producer, Maria Drandaki

In advance of X-Pollinator 2024, we spoke to director, Sofia Exarchou, and producer, Maria Drandaki, about the making and development of their feature film, Animal.

Congratulations on Animal winning the Spirit of the Festival Award at Cork International Film Festival in 2023! Sofia, can you tell us about the film and what drew you to this story?

Director, Sofia Exarchou: ‘Animal’ takes place in an all-inclusive hotel on a Greek island. The story starts during the springtime when the hotel works only with group of elderly tourists and the film follows a small group of animateurs who entertain them every night with games and karaoke songs. Among the animateurs is Kalia, a 35-year-old woman who has been working at the hotel for many years. As summer approaches, new animateurs arrive to assist for the summer months. Among them is 17-year-old Eva, who came to Greece from Poland one year ago and will work as an animateur for the first time in her life. Animal follows the stories of Kalia, Eva and the other animateurs through the hard, intense touristic season.

The idea to showcase the “B-side (the backstage) of tourism” was what drew me to the story in the first place. I wanted to make a film about labour, about the harsh working conditions in modern capitalistic societies. I aimed to shed light on the individuals within these structures and the precarity, darkness, and exhaustion they experience. The touristic industry seemed to be the best option for me, not only because I am Greek and intimately familiar with this world, but also because tourism is Greece's largest 'industry,' generating the majority of the country's income and also, in my opinion, part of our country’s identity the last decades. Inside this touristic machine, the main characters of Animal are the animateurs, who are the employees who provide entertainment all-day. Their unique characteristic gave me the opportunity to explore, parallel to labour, the role and power of entertainment as a critical component for capitalism's survival.

What EU funding support did you get, and how did it help you realise this project or others on your development slate

Producer, Maria Drandaki: Αnimal was developed with the support of Creative Europe - Slate Funding and it greatly helped the film at the development stage. 'Animal' is a film that had quite a lot of activities that had to be carried out at a very early stage- extensive location scouting, research, casting of the animators’ team, music clearing etc. As the development sources in Greece are really limited, the Creative Europe support allowed the team to carry out properly and timely these activities. Additionally, the Creative Europe MEDIA Slate label, since it’s quite competitive, had a very positive impact on the company’s professional status and consequently its network.

What was your experience of co-production on this project?

Producer, Maria Drandaki: I’m very used to coproducing and every time I'm learning more and more how this complex process can become creative and beneficial for the film. 'Animal' was produced as a 5 country co-production which made the process a big learning experience. Most of the co-producers supported wholeheartedly the film but there were also really big challenges with one of the parties. Gladly we were able to overcome them and complete successfully the film

How important were MEDIA-funded programmes like EAVE and ACE Producers for your career?

Producer, Maria Drandaki: They were life changing experiences, I can’t really imagine myself as a producer without having been through these programmes. I hold very good professional relationships but more than that also very close friends in the industry thanks to these programmes.

Do you think there are issues around gender equality in the European film industry that need to be addressed?

Director, Sofia Exarchou: Of course, there are issues that need to be addressed around gender equality in the film industry and gladly the last years, some of them like the under-representation in all levels of the industry or the pay differences have finally begun to be discussed and we can already see some changes and a slow improvement. In my opinion, I think that we should address and discuss more the role perception of genders in all professional fields, as well as in the film industry, which of course reflects the role perception in society in general. As society, I feel that we have just made our first “baby” steps. There is still a long way to go.

Producer, Maria Drandaki:
Certainly there are issues of gender equality in the industry that still today need to be addressed, even though things are very different than 10 or 15 years ago. But the challenges and issues of the professional environment we live in and which need to be addressed are bigger and vaster today; the discussion on the gender equality is part of it.

X-Pollinator 2024 is supported by Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland through the Screen Stakeholders Funding Scheme and Coimisiún na Meán, in association with Creative Europe Desk Ireland and TU Dublin School of Media.

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