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What It's Like to Be a Woman Director in a Country with a Tiny Film Industry

Features
by Stelana Kliris
January 3, 2014 1:39 PM
2 Comments
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Still from "Committed"
Still from "Committed"

I'm often asked what it's like to be a woman working in the film industry. My answer? Depends on the context. 

While I am aware of the dismal statistics on gender inequality in Hollywood and what possibly awaits me as I grapple my way toward the "promised land," I currently belong to the small but eager film industry of Cyprus. The good news for me as a female filmmaker is that we're so busy trying to get our little Mediterranean island on the map that nobody cares about my gender.

I have spent the last ten years working in the commercial and film industries in Greece and Cyprus, and I've seen their pre-crisis potential and momentum, followed by sudden economic collapse and, in the case of our neighbor Greece, the emergence of remarkable work known collectively as the "Greek Weird Wave." The financial crisis has only recently hit the shores of Cyprus, slashing local film funds and forcing filmmakers to seek alternative routes. We just might follow in the footsteps of the Greeks; a cataclysm like this usually strips an industry down to those who really want to be there, and having financial autonomy means that filmmakers start to produce truly original and risky work like the Weird Wavers Dogtooth to Miss Violence.

My debut feature Committed was born in a similarly inhospitable climate. Our only option was a micro-budget, guerrilla-style production made possible through crowd-funding and an angel investor. The film is an English-language road-trip comedy about a chance meeting between a man and a runaway bride. While the official languages of Cyprus are Greek and Turkish, I was raised in South Africa with English as my first language and I have only experienced Cyprus as an expat, so I chose to make my characters from the large community of expatriates in Cyprus.

The film was shot across 25 locations with a core crew of 12 people in just 17 days. We had to contend with a series of challenges, ranging from unprecedented banking restrictions at the peak of the crisis to the blistering heat. Special mention goes to my leads Melia Kreiling and Orestes Sophocleous, who had to perform in these conditions while wearing an overflowing wedding gown and a suit, respectively.

We also had the kinds of unexpected visitors one finds in rural locations, like watermelon trucks and herds of goats passing through our set. It sounds cliched, but they are part of the charm of Cyprus, and thus something we tried to capture on film.

Committed is the first post-crisis independent feature film to be produced in Cyprus, and thankfully not the last. We seem to have inspired a ripple effect of maverick indies that will hopefully bring our industry back to its feet. Of course, producing local films is just one side of the coin. The other involves publicizing and distributing our films. Since Cyprus is a small country without an internationally recognized tradition or history of film, it can either be a (hopefully surmountable) marketing hurdle or something we use to our advantage in terms of the novelty of our cinema. This still remains to be seen as we start submitting Committed to international film festivals and sales agents.

Regardless of the film's origin, it is always a challenge to get it into the international arena and it helps if there is a large local audience behind it. Coming from a small island like Cyprus, the problem is that no matter how supportive, our local audience is relatively tiny, so we'll have to depend on worldwide viewers. But we're doing as much online and social media publicity as possible, and it may come down to me donning a wedding dress and taking the film itself on a road trip!

Being a woman hasn't affected my working process, but it has certainly influenced my content. Unfortunately, Cyprus is still a place where your marital status is the main source of validation. You could win an Oscar and still be seen as a failure if you're single. So I took all my questions and concerns about love, marriage and commitment -- about how movies influence our ideas about romance, and whether to trust logic or instincts when it comes to matters of love -- and put them into my film. I wanted to make a first feature that was fun and light-hearted, while retaining its substance. Hopefully Committed will be something that audiences, especially women, will find accessible and relatable.

Cyprus may be a traditionally patriarchal country, but our film community is made up mostly of young, progressive people and we have a decent balance of male and female directors. This year's Cyprus International Short Film Festival's top directing honors went to female filmmaker Tonia Mishiali for "Dead End," and another woman, cinematographer Marianna Ellina, won a best director of photography award for "Omikron Plus." In Cyprus, I have found that if you put your head down and focus on your work without making gender an issue, then nobody else will either.


Stelana Kliris is a South African Cypriot filmmaker with a background in production on international film and commercial productions in Greece and Cyprus. She has just completed her latest film, Committed, which will begin its festival run in 2014. All screening updates will be posted on the film's official site and Facebook page.

Watch the Committed trailer: 


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2 Comments

  • Linn D. | January 7, 2014 12:43 PMReply

    Ms. Kliris, I am in awe. You rock. I hope your film and your career reach unprecedented heights. Good luck. :)

  • Stelana Kliris | January 7, 2014 1:57 PM

    Thank you so much Linn, that's so kind and it really means a lot :)

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