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THESSALONIKI DOCUMENTARY 2020

Menios Carayannis • Director of The Music of Things

“A documentary takes you wherever it wants, not wherever you want”

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- We talked to Menios Carayannis, the director of The Music of Things, named Best Greek Film at the 22nd Thessaloniki Documentary Festival

Menios Carayannis  • Director of The Music of Things

Shown in the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival’s Feature Length International Competition, where it was crowned with the FIPRESCI Award for Best Greek Film (see the news), Menios Carayannis’ dialogue-free The Music of Things [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Menios Carayannis
film profile
]
takes a look at three different men, wholeheartedly dedicated to their work, proving, once again, that actions speak louder than words.

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Cineuropa: In the film, you follow a musician, a carpenter and a photographer. Why these professions? Apart from the first one, perhaps, as the “music of things” is clearly the focus here.
Menios Carayannis: What connects these three people is their devotion to what they do – their ability to lose themselves in it, which is something I also enjoy. That’s what caught my attention with both the photographer and the carpenter – they are so focused, all of them are. It allowed me to find other connections, ones that go beyond speech, because we are connected to sounds and whatever surrounds us – things that we don’t normally pay any attention to. It’s just something that I am exploring, a continuation of what I did in my previous film [Senseless Me] about madness, poetry and everything that lies beyond words.

Is that why you don’t show their personal life, for example? It’s just work and this act of creation. Is it something you recognise in yourself, too?
I do, actually. I like this quality, even though sometimes it can be misunderstood. In our society, you are supposed to always be alert, and these people chose another approach. They have other ideas about what’s important. The photographer, he focuses on such small details in his work. He comes so close, and then he takes pictures of the whole galaxy! There is some magical surprise coming out of that. For him, there is no distance between things. Nothing is “too close” or “too far”.

Their approach feels quite timely, with the pandemic still going on. It has forced so many of us to finally “stop and smell the roses”.
I think you are right. I talked to many people about this pandemic, and there were some positive things about it, like noticing things that we don’t have time to notice in our everyday life. This whole thing has also shown us how connected we all are, how fictional these divisions andthese nationalities are. A simple virus can get everywhere and immediately affect us all. I guess it gave us all a whole new perspective. This focus they have, it was a discovery for me, too. That’s the beauty of documentaries – they can surprise even the filmmaker. It takes you wherever itwants, not wherever you want. I respect that.

Being your own cinematographer certainly helps with keeping an open mind, but did you have to set some boundaries? There is a scene when one of your protagonists is taking a shower, with the camera lurking outside.
It’s very tiring to work by yourself, but you do get closer to things. That being said, I am not interested in having a “hidden camera” or showing things without people’s knowledge. I respect their privacy and their limits; it’s very important to me. I always have everyone’s consent, and they know exactly when and what I am filming. As a matter of fact, sometimes they even have their own suggestions. With the carpenter, it was his own idea to climb the tree: he likes to do that, and he wanted to do it in the film, too. He understood its atmosphere and my intentions. Even the table he is making was born of discussion. He was asking me: “What do you think? Should it be higher or lower?” [laughs]

For many artists, the actual process of creation is very intimate, and they don’t necessarily like to share it with others. Were they comfortable having you around?
They were more than comfortable – they were happy. The musician, Yorgos, usually plays “normal” music with bands or famous composers in Greece. The opportunity to just do this and only this, to look around, capture sounds and make music out of it, for him, it was a gift. That’s how he expressed it. That’s another magical aspect of documentaries: things happen in front of your eyes, without any preparation or any fixed ideas. You can just let yourself be surprised.

Did the idea to go “beyond words”, which you seem so attracted to, make the collaboration any easier? Because they didn’t have to talk about their work?
I would put it differently: it wasn’t about making things easier or more difficult; it was about bringing something else to the table. By not speaking, you allow the audience to see things for themselves, to decide where their attention will go. When nobody tells you how to interpret things, new qualities emerge. That’s what I found out with this film, and that’s what I wanted to find out. Is it possible to have no dialogue and still keep people interested, especially in a documentary? After all, they are supposed to be informative. In The Music of Things, there is a different kind of relationship with the audience. It’s more open, more of a game. I want them to feel like a curious child, trying to see what’s inside a toy.

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