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PRODUCTION / FUNDING Netherlands / Greece

Janis Rafa wraps post-production for her feature debut, Kala azar

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- The Greek director has finished her first feature, about a place that can no longer sustain animal life, where a young couple takes care of dead animals to give their lives meaning

Janis Rafa wraps post-production for her feature debut, Kala azar
Director Janis Rafa and DoP Thodoros Michopoulos shooting Kala azar

Living in both Amsterdam and Athens, and known for her work in video art, video installations and cinematic narratives in short- and medium-length formats, Greek director Janis Rafa is finishing the post-production of her debut fiction feature, Kala azar, which she is aiming to premiere in early 2020. Closely connected with her previous body of work, the movie slowly reveals a post-apocalyptic landscape where humans and animals, both dead and alive, co-exist on the periphery of an urban environment. Filled with stray dogs, roadkill, fatal accidents and creeping death, the narrative blends reality with semi-autobiographical elements to ultimately create a fictitious, sensual experience.

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Kala azar is set in a remote and semi-industrial zone, on the fringes of a South European city. There, a young couple (Pinelopi Tsilika and Dimitris Lalos) takes care of dead animals to give their lives meaning. Their job is to collect deceased pets from homes and take them to a pet crematorium, in order to deliver the ashes to their owners. But their relationship with death doesn’t end there; the couple also collects roadkill and the bodies of animals found abandoned in the landscape. Meanwhile, the middle-aged parents of the young woman (Michelle Valley and Tassos Rafailidis) also live in a home nearby surrounded by their dogs. Like the rest of the characters, they also make use of strange mechanisms in order to forge their own path towards co-existence and loss. The landscape brings the lives of its inhabitants, both human and non-human, closer together as this poetic, multi-strand narrative progresses. The couples’ stoic perseverance creates a space through which their love grows, until the moment they are involved in an accident and become the enemy themselves.

Rafa, who also penned the script, started the development of her project by basing it on her childhood memories of a time when her parents took care of former stray dogs, also encompassing the feeling of loss when these creatures ultimately started dying. One major cause was kala azar, a deadly parasite that is spread by dogs through the bite of a female sand fly that needs a meal of blood in order for her eggs to mature. Greece, along with other Mediterranean countries, suffers particularly from this endemic disease. As a project, Kala azar was selected by De Verbeelding, an award for visual artists producing their first feature under the support of the Netherlands Film Fund and the Mondriaan Fund.

Kala azar is being shot in a way that aims to give a universal and timeless take on the landscapes, symbols and characters. Dialogue is used sparingly, letting the cinematography and the sound do the narrating. Lensed by Greek director of photography Thodoros Mihopoulos (Entwined [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Minos Nikolakakis
film profile
]
), the film is being edited by Patrick Minks (Tanzania Transit [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
), while Elena Vardava (Pari) is handling the art direction. Marc Lizier (The Broken Circle Breakdown [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Felix van Groeningen
interview: Felix Van Groeningen
interview: Felix Van Groeningen
film profile
]
) is also on board as the sound designer, and the soundtrack is being composed by former Alt-J musician Gwil Sainsbury as part of his new LOOR project.

Kala azar is a Dutch-Greek co-production staged by acclaimed Dutch director-scriptwriter-producer Digna Sinke, of Amsterdam-based SNG Film, in co-production with Konstantinos Kontovrakis and Giorgos Karnavas for Greek company Heretic. The film is being supported by the Netherlands Film Fund, the Mondriaan Fund, the Greek Film Centre, ERT SA, the Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst (AFK) and the Abraham Tuschinski Fonds, and won the Feature Expanded Distribution Award in the Feature Expanded programme, organised by HOME and Lo Schermo dell’arte.

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