An Interview With Myrsini Aristidou
Myrsini Aristidou was born and raised in Limassol, Cyprus. Her recent short film, Semele, takes place in Cyprus and is the featured short of this interview. A recent graduate from NYU (she even knows Erin Vassilopoulos, who was recently featured on the site and attended there as well), Myrsini is based in New York, Cyprus, and Paris. She received her MFA in Film Directing from NYU Tisch School of the Arts in 2017, and holds a BFA in Film and History of Art from Pratt Institute in New York.
In addition to being featured across several festivals, her work has spread online and received a Vimeo Staff Pick. With another short film, Aria, to be released online at some point in the upcoming years - Myrsini is continuing to grow and develop her style. Even in the teaser for Aria, you can see a consistency in the way it's shot and the types of stories she's hoping to keep pursuing.
Semele is an intimate yet universal story about a young girl seeking out her father and the quiet relationship between the two. How they interact with each other – through their actions and expressions and not necessarily just with their words -- shows you a lot about them (which I think is a sign of precise and thoughtful storytelling).
Myrsini also created a film production company in Fall 2016 called 1.61 FILMS. The company is registered and based in Cyprus, and operates internationally for the production of short and feature length films. It was formed initially in order to support her own work and form the first Franco-Cypriot co-production of Aria. But she also has the intention for it to encourage the production and co-production of movies to be shot in Cyprus.
Additionally, she has co-founded the Sagapo Children’s Foundation - a humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential through education. Myrsini takes action in initiating and assisting with both the creation and sustainability of their ongoing and new projects.
Watch the film below and then read the interview with Myrsini after the jump.
INTERVIEW - MARCH 2018
INTRO + QUESTIONS BY JACK SOMMER
The story is, at its core, about the relationship between a daughter and father, and that was very important to get right for the film to work. What was your process like for casting? On set, what was it like working with Vasiliki Kokkoliadi, a younger actor who plays Semele, compared to adults or teenagers?
Casting is of paramount importance to the outcome of a film, and very much so when working with non-actors or children. The casting process for Semele was not easy, as in order to find our young Vasiliki Kokkoliadi I had seen over 85 girls at the time. But it wasn’t until I met my casting director, Lydia Georgana, that I discovered our Semele. I remember that when I first saw Vasiliki, I felt like we had already known each other, and that alone was what solidified my decision that she was the girl for the part. I made a very heartfelt agreement with Vasiliki before we started shooting, and she really committed to the work and to our agreement. I was really fortunate to work with her on the movie.
As for the role of the father, Yiannis Stankoglou is a well-known actor in Greece and I knew I wanted him to play the part. I contacted him directly and send him the script, knowing it would be a long shot. But to my surprise, he liked it and accepted to come to Cyprus and shoot.
I’ve read that Semele is not autobiographical for you, but that it is very personal. At the same time, you turn it into a universal story and something that everyone can either relate to or empathize with. To me, the best stories have that combination. Do you have a certain way you try to achieve this balance, either in this film or in general?
Honestly, I keep asking myself the same question, as I am not sure about the way to accomplish this. I think that the most intricate part of writing is to maintain that balance in an inventive way. It always boils down to how much you choose to keep versus how much you are willing to let go of. Usually decisions start to become a little simpler as you learn how to let go and allow for flow, while also working hard on writing and re-writing and re-writing.
Speaking of it being personal, Semele is shot on location in Cyprus, where you’re originally from. Besides wanting to keep it close to home, were there any other reasons you decided to shoot there in particular? And how do you feel Cyprus has impacted you and your work overall?
Semele was, in fact, shot only a five-minute drive from the house I grew up in Limassol. Being born and raised in Cyprus inevitably influences my work. It certainly affects it visually, morally and emotionally. It was important for me to shoot this story at the place I grew up and experienced my own childhood. There is a sense of freedom and safety when you grow up in Cyprus, which is perhaps a delusion of sorts when you look at the harsh reality of the contrasting political situation of the island.
Nevertheless, it felt that Cyprus was the ideal place to explore this autonomy, which justifies Semele’s actions, in contrast to her father’s precarious and restricted world that she enters.
When I first wrote you about the film, I told you about how the cinematography was not only beautiful just in itself, but that it also lends to the intimacy of the film. Did you have a certain goal in mind before shooting of how you wanted it to look? How did you communicate with your DP Pepe Avila del Pino to achieve the final outcome?
I had a strong vision of how I wanted the film to be shot, and how the aesthetic had to convey the sensitivity of the character and the loss of innocence through her journey. Working with Pepe only enhanced that vision. He understood right away the emotions I wanted to communicate and the images. There was a real flow of energy in our communication and collaboration prior and during the shoot.
Semele was released in 2015. What kind of experience and insight did you bring from your 2013 short Not Now into making this one? And what did you learn from Semele that you brought into your new short Aria (which is currently screening now at festivals).
Every single person working on the film has to be on the same page with the narrative, the vision, the emotion, and ultimately work their best to transform words on a paper, to images on a screen. It is essential to have a unified team to collaborate with, as a director. The truth is, however, that the circumstances change each time, and every time you realize that you know nothing about writing, casting, choosing your team, shooting or editing. You have to constantly be ready to react to the situations as they come, in the present moment. It feels like even if you thought you knew what you’re supposed to do, you never really do, as you have never experienced this specific circumstance before. It’s always new. Just like life. You just need to live it, be open and ready to react at any given point, and grant novel significance to each moment as it presents itself.
I would certainly hope that there is growth in my work, just as there is in me. Ultimately, I am only able to reflect and create according to who I am today.
You just graduated from NYU Tisch last year (and even know fellow Cinemisto-feature Erin Vassilopoulos!) and you’ve said that it made a big impact on you and that Mick Casale has been your “mentor for life” there. What was the process like learning from him and the program overall?
The experience at NYU was truly life changing. Not merely on an academic level, but on a professional, creative and personal level. A big part of my storytelling and filmmaking knowledge comes from being taught by great mentors there, like Mick Cassale, Alex Rockwell, Todd Solondz, Tom Mangan. I have learned so many things there, which I’ll treasure in my heart for as long as I continue to make movies.
What kind of stories do you want to continue to tell?
Human stories. Stories that question our relationship to life. Stories that attempt to empathize with humanity, and reflect on our interactions, just as we grow to become more aware of our vulnerability when faced with the vastness of time.
As a child I was always an “observationist”, hyper aware of all the details and feelings of others around me. Trivial or not, I was always mindful of the nuances. This hypersensitivity is a virtue or a vice that one has to live with. Telling stories of the way I saw the world around me has always brought great relief.
You can find more about Myrsini and her work at myrsiniaristidou.com