I recently had a role as a Conceptual Photography Consultant in the noteworthy film project, Fonissa. Directed by Eva Nathena and produced by Tanweer Greece and View-Master Films, this experience provided valuable insights into the filmmaking process. Fonissa promises to be an exciting cinematic venture, blending artistic vision with storytelling prowess. Fonissa comes out in cinemas from November 30, 2023.
About the Work Fonissa (Murderess).
Fonissa (Murderess), by Alexandros Papadiamantis, is a gripping novel set in late 1800s Greece, particularly on the isolated island of Skiathos. The story follows Hadoula, a middle-aged woman, as she grapples with societal expectations and commits heinous acts, driven by her belief in a woman's life being filled with suffering. The narrative explores the complexities of the protagonist's psyche and sheds light on the role of women in a small community. Adapted into various forms, including theatre and film, Fonissa continues to captivate audiences with its exploration of societal dynamics and the consequences of societal expectations on women.
About Papadiamantis, the Writer of Fonissa.
Alexandros Papadiamantis, born on the island of Skiathos, Greece, in 1851, left an indelible mark on Greek literature. Raised by a priest father, he faced economic challenges during his studies in Athens, compelling him to leave without completing his education. Returning to Skiathos, he devoted his life to writing, gaining popularity for his journalistic endeavours and serialized novels. Papadiamantis's unique approach garnered substantial fees, which he often reduced, displaying his indifference to wealth. His selflessness extended to sharing earnings with those in need. A reclusive figure, he focused on depicting the struggles of the poor and spiritual reflections, earning him the moniker "kosmokalogeros" (monk in the world). Papadiamantis passed away of pneumonia on his native island in 1911, leaving a literary legacy that transcends his humble lifestyle.
Location a: Schinias, Marathon, Attica.
I've had the privilege of capturing scenes in two distinctive settings for the film. The first took place at Schinias, near Marathon in Attica, and the second unfolded in the charming village of Mountanistika in Mani, nestled within Laconia, Peloponnese.
During the Schinias shoot, I photographed family portraits, serving as prop imagery within the movie. These images adorn the walls of the house interiors, each portraying the families relevant to the respective scenes.
Throughout both locations, I enjoyed the flexibility to navigate the film sets, allowing me to craft compositions inspired by elements that caught my eye. This creative freedom added a personal touch to the visual storytelling.
Encountering Karyofillia Karabetis.
Karyofillia Karabetis stands as one of Greece's esteemed actresses, notably portraying the lead role in the film Fonissa. Our first encounter unfolded during the prop shooting day at Schinias. As I patiently waited for the crew to prepare, I noticed her navigating the set. Ready for filming, she seemed to be familiarizing herself with the location beforehand.
Seizing the moment, I had the chance to capture a series of portraits within a barn situated on the set. This impromptu photo session provided a glimpse into the actress's poised and professional demeanour, showcasing her dedication to her craft. Karyofillia Karabetis's presence added a distinctive touch to the film's production, and our brief interaction offered a unique behind-the-scenes perspective.
The Family Portraits.
Upon the actors' readiness, our focus shifted to crafting compelling family portraits for the characters in Fonissa. Surpassing the planned shots, we seized the opportunity to capture an unplanned yet poignant moment: Hadoula (The Fonissa) and her family posed against the backdrop of a majestic prickly pear tree.
Director Eva Nathena wanted to use this scene in the film, and as soon as the filming was over, she requested an additional photograph, prompting me to contribute my perspective.
Transitioning to an indoor setting, we meticulously arranged for the family to recreate the envisioned photographic tableau. This collaborative effort aimed to enrich the film's narrative with authentic and visually captivating family portraits, showcasing the depth and complexity of Fonissa's characters.
The Bride and the Wedding.
In the following sequence, we captured moments from the bridal session, aiming to convey the essence of the matrimonial journey. My lens focused on several key scenes: a solo portrait of the bride, gracefully situated within the intimate setting of her home alongside her cherished dowry; a shot featuring the newlyweds on the occasion of their wedding day; and some group photos capturing the sisterly bond shared among the bride and her sisters.
The picturesque backdrop for these moments unfolded near two adjacent churches, seamlessly enhancing the visual narrative. These locations, provided an ideal setting for the traditional bridal photographs, adding a touch of timeless elegance to the matrimonial story.
Concluding our artistic journey, we crafted additional portraits in the surroundings nearby. One notable composition features Yannis Tsortekis, the shepherd, and his family against the backdrop of a mountain. Another evocative portrayal captures a mother with her two children, reflecting poignant narratives and emotions.
The Dream Sequence.
During a different visit to the film set in Schinias, the filming of a dream sequence was taking place that captivated me in a surreal manner. Despite the challenging harsh daylight, the scene became dynamically intriguing due to the dramatic interplay of heavy clouds in the sky. The diffused sunlight, filtered through these clouds, created a unique atmosphere, offering an excellent opportunity for capturing compelling images.
The scene unfolded against the backdrop of an expansive, empty field, showcasing an apparent infinity of women clad in black. Amidst this haunting display, a solitary, leafless tree stood as a poignant focal point. The contrast between the stark figures and the desolate tree added an ethereal quality to the composition. The strategic play of light and shadows, orchestrated by the cloud-covered sun, contributed to the overall allure of the dream sequence.
Backstage of the Film Fonissa.
While on set during the filming of Fonissa, I seized the opportunity to capture captivating backstage moments through my lens. Navigating this unique experience required careful coordination with the crew to ensure I remained unobtrusive yet able to capture compelling behind-the-scenes shots. Striking a delicate balance, I communicated with the team to find optimal locations that wouldn't interfere with the filmmaking process. However, I must admit that, on one occasion, I inadvertently disrupted a scene, leading to a moment of embarrassment. Nevertheless, my dedication to documenting the filmmaking process prevailed, showcasing the challenges and excitement of capturing Fonissa's behind-the-scenes magic.
Location b: Mountanistika. A Village in Mani, Peloponnese.
Capturing the essence of Fonissa led me to the enchanting village of Mountanistika, a nearly deserted gem nestled in the surreal landscapes of Mani, Laconia, Peloponnese, Greece. This quaint village served as the primary backdrop for the outdoor scenes, becoming my photographic canvas during a dedicated two-week on-set exploration. Enduring piercing cold, relentless rain, and gusty winds, I transformed these challenging weather conditions into an adventurous journey, encapsulating the raw beauty of the location through my lens. Explore the mystique of Mountanistika, where the elements added an authentic touch to the visual storytelling of Fonissa.
A village Made of Stone.
The village undergoes captivating transformations with varying weather conditions. The interplay of sun, fog, rain, and winds not only alters the landscape but also lends it an ever-changing ambience, sometimes shifting every few minutes. Each weather element paints a distinct picture, offering a unique and dynamic perspective of the village scenery.
Nestled in the heart of the Peloponnese, Mountanistika became the central hub for outdoor filming. A nearly abandoned village near Oitylo, crafted from stone and perched along the mountain ridge, became a character itself. The spine-like structure, visible from above, lent a mystical quality to the film. Most of the photography unfolded here, capturing the rustic charm of the village and the cinematic magic.
Scene: Fonissa and the Shepherd.
In this scene, Fonissa encounters a local shepherd (Yannis Tsortekis), seeking assistance with his newborn. Against the picturesque backdrop, a herd of lambs, guided by a real-life local shepherd, adds an authentic touch to the setting. Fonissa's pivotal meeting with Yannis unfolds against the pastoral charm of the surroundings, creating a vivid and engaging narrative.
Scene: The Chicken and the Neighbor.
In this scene, a resident from Fonissa's community engages with her in the tranquil setting of Fonissa's houseyard. As Fonissa skillfully prepares a live chicken for cooking, the two delve into the latest village happenings, weaving a tapestry of local gossip. This encounter unfolds against the backdrop of village life, creating a narrative that immerses viewers in the nuances of community connections and the vibrant dynamics of Fonissa's world.
I captured this moment in Mountanistika, crafting a portrait of Kabanachmakis, a local hunter in Fonissa, cradling his rifle, with his son positioned behind him proudly clutching a freshly caught rabbit. This scene was made possible just moments before I departed from the village. Fortunately, they managed to don their attire promptly.
Scene: Giving Birth.
In capturing the birth scene, the cinematography by Panagiotis Vassilakis played a crucial role. The lighting chosen for the filming resonated with my preferences, mirroring the type of illumination I would employ in such a scenario. Seizing this alignment, I utilized the opportunity to craft these images, documenting Fonissa's poignant moment in delivering a newborn.
Scene: Flashback to the Basement.
Capturing a moment I anticipated, the basement (katoi) curated by director Eva Nathena provided an enchanting backdrop for the portrayal of Hadoula's mother, played by Maria Protopappas, resembling a mystical figure. Adorned with herbs and captivating items, the set immerses viewers in a flashback scene where a young Hadoula (Fonissa, portrayed by Georgianna Ntalara) engages in an argument with her mother from the bygone days. Nathena's meticulous decoration adds depth to the visual narrative, creating a captivating ambience that enhances the emotional resonance of the scene.
Scene: The Wedding.
In this complex scene, a multitude of extras played a crucial role, making it the most intricate filming setup. Beyond the cast, an additional crew was dedicated to dressing the characters up in the tradition-inspired attires. The focal point of the scene revolves around a village wedding, seamlessly integrated into Fonissa's narrative as Hadoula passes through. Capitalizing on the opportunity, I orchestrated an arrangement, placing the bride and bridesmaids in my distinctive arrow formation—a technique often employed in my project 'Caryatis,' and created their portrait.
This carefully crafted scene not only required meticulous attention to detail but also involved the collaboration of an extra crew to enhance the cultural richness depicted through the characters' clothing.
Scene: The Abortion.
In this gripping scene, Hadoula plays a crucial role in facilitating a clandestine abortion, administering a remedy that inflicts intense pain on the woman. The photograph captures a pivotal moment of anguish, as the woman vocalizes her distress while two other women support the procedure by restraining her. Strikingly, the image encapsulates the complexity of societal dynamics, revealing that women themselves, often victims of societal norms, become complicit in concealing the agonies experienced by their peers. The haunting portrayal underscores the intricate web of silence and complicity woven by women in a society that perpetuates their suffering, shedding light on the unspoken struggles within this community.
Scene: At the Church
I captured these photographs during a scene filmed at a historic church nearby. Fonissa, pays a visit to this ancient sanctuary, encountering the local priest (Christos Stergioglou) and his wife (Olga Damanis). The evocative setting adds depth to the storyline, emphasizing the intersection of the characters' lives within the sacred ambience of the church.
During the production of Fonissa, capturing the funeral scene stood out as a highlight for me. The solemn atmosphere provided numerous captivating photographic moments. A particularly poignant image from this sequence features the departed individual resting in her coffin, surrounded by mourners expressing their grief. This scene not only presented an array of visual storytelling possibilities but also allowed me to document the emotional depth of the funeral, creating a memorable and evocative visual narrative.
In a noteworthy scene, Fonissa's presence at a different funeral procession adds an intriguing dimension to the narrative. The procession, featuring numerous extras clad in solemn black attire, followed behind two small coffins. Fonissa's bold attendance at this event added depth to the storyline, portraying a moment of unexpected strength. The procession moved past a striking solitary tree, strategically positioned against the backdrop of the sun, creating a captivating visual. This scene encapsulates a pivotal moment in the storyline, offering both visual interest and narrative significance.
The Police Arrive.
In this photograph, I captured a pivotal moment as a concerned neighbour alerts Fonissa about the police investigation into the tragic deaths of the children. The scene unfolds as the authorities from the capital have arrived to probe the unsettling incidents. Hadoula's reaction is a mix of alarm and concealment, adding a layer of suspense to the narrative. With this snapshot I tried to encapsulate the tension in the air, offering a glimpse into the intense emotions and clandestine atmosphere surrounding the unfolding investigation.
Scene: Scylla and Charybdis.
Increasingly ensnared by mounting suspicion, Fonissa finds herself caught amidst the perilous dual forces akin to Scylla and Charybdis. On one front, a relentless police manhunt intensifies, casting a shadow over her every move. Simultaneously, the villagers incensed and brandishing torches, coalesce into a torrent of fury at dusk, relentlessly pursuing Fonissa on the other flank. This climactic moment in the film serves as the pinnacle, capturing the essence of the narrative that I captured through the lens in the photographs below.
Scene: The Cliff.
In the pivotal final scene building up to the climax, Fonissa and her envisioned mother draw near the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. Exhaustion is palpable on Hadoula's face as she stands beside the imagined figure of her mother, contemplating her next decisive move. The dramatic setting intensifies the emotional depth of the moment, with the cliff symbolizing the precipice of Fonissa's internal struggle. This symbolic convergence at the edge captures the essence of the scene, as Hadoula grapples with her choices, creating a visually evocative and emotionally charged sequence.
Fonissa: A Cinematic Odyssey of Emotions and Unspoken Struggles.
As the curtain falls on Fonissa, a cinematic journey echoing Alexandros Papadiamantis's narrative and the Greek landscapes, emotions resonate profoundly. The film weaves a tapestry of societal struggles, women's silent battles, and the consequences of unspoken truths.
A dedicated cast and crew, meticulous scene crafting, and resilience against weather challenges contribute to Fonissa's rich storytelling. From the haunting dream sequence to the evocative portrayal of a clandestine abortion, each scene echoes the haunting beauty of storytelling.
As Fonissa graces cinemas from November 30, 2023, it promises not just a cinematic experience but a profound exploration of the human spirit. Fonissa stands as a captivating journey, resonating long after the credits roll.
Some backstage images from Mountanistika: