Interview with Tomás Barão da Cunha: Director of the Award-winning Movie “Aegean”

On 24th of September, the young Portuguese director Tomás Barão da Cunha shared and exclusive interview about his new movie. “I like how Europe and Asiatic culture met each other in the middle and form this Greek Mediterranean identity.”, he stated.

Read on to see more about the breath-taking documentary movie.

🎤As a Portuguese director who has grown up with the perspective of Mediterranean people, how did you feel when you were writing the story about a completely different Mediterranean country?

“As Portuguese, Greek culture didn’t seem so far away from mine. We have a common history, and as I say, everything started there, between those mountains in Attica and on those islands on the Aegean Sea. So, my own culture already has Greek and Mediterranean history in it. ‘Aegean’ was a very different film to build compared to my other shorts. It’s not a common film that you write before you shoot. I can say that it’s more sensorial. Because we start on the interviews with the refugees and with the asylum seekers and then we had the idea to illustrate those interviews with the Greece that we felt when we were living there and a bit with the romantic idea of a Greece in its heyday on the ancient times. This idea of the rise and fall is common in my stories and films. I really feel interested in that way of building a story. You know, the Greek Myth of Sisyphus, that he pushes a rock towards a mountain and when it’s on the top the rock just falls out again and again. I like this idea, it’s pure human nature and complements that rise and fall of culture and times. So in the end, the time I was living there helped me a lot and give me a different vision of all that chaos, because I saw Greece like I was there since ever, so I had detachment from being foreigner, but I also carry that feeling of being part of that culture, part of me was already Greek.”

🎤The movie “Aegean” is centralized the refugee crisis, which is a sensitive topic to talk about. Haven’t you scared of getting misunderstood by people? What kind of a strategy or ideology did you adopted while you were creating the script?

“My first thought was if I could take that risk. It’s a very sensitive topic and really hard to talk about it, because you need a significant background on those matters to talk about them. Luckily, I had a team on my side that was in the centre of this crisis and helped me to write and develop this film. I co-wrote this film with Pedro and later with Raul, and we were able to accept the risk because of this previous background. Otherwise, it would be complicated, because if we were doing this was because we wanted to contribute in our way to help these people, to give voice to these people, and without that background, it would be impossible to do it. Pedro was working with these refugees for a long time, and that helped us to create a real and strong dialogue with them. In the end, is the way you tell people these stories, the way you communicate with your audience, for me that is very important. And never, but never, be afraid how people will accept it because if you are taking the risk, take it with you till the end because you’ll see it will worth it. When you are giving voice to them, you need to give it a real voice, to not censor their speech and to be the most accurate in the montage of the film. That it’s very important, and for me, what you hear in the film is what we heard on those apartments in Athens in March of 2018.”

🎤We all know that directors would be never fully satisfied with their own works. What would be the scene that might irritates you?

“I don’t believe in that thing that a film is never finished. What I believe is that, since we are humans, we are evolving every single day and because of that we look back, and we think that we should have made that different or in any other way. Of course, that by technical difficulties, one scene or another become different from what we imagine when we wrote it, but that’s part of the job, and we are used to it. I don’t think very often about what didn’t go as we thought, I’m just worried to do it right in the next film. It’s imperative to understand your own mistakes, but don’t lose too much time sorrowing on them.”

🎤If you were about to call someone out by name, who would you prefer to watch the movie with you?

“I would like to watch this film with the Portuguese president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, he’s quoted on the film on the second story, because he was in Athens at the shelter where we shoot the film, just one week before we were there. In fact, I was talking with Pedro Amaro Santos the months before on doing this documentary, and that visit of the Portuguese president was the final step for us to really start to shoot this film.”

🎤The ones who contributes to the process of making the movie were already your friends. Did it made the things easier for you to be understood? How was the communication between you and them?

“We actually became friends on the shooting of ‘Aegean’, but was an interesting process to get along with these people in the process of making a documentary like this. But since we speak the same language and some of us had the same background in film studies, it was easier to be understood and work on it.”

🎤You lived in Thessaloniki for a while. What pushed you to go deep inside of that specific topic? What was the turning point for you to choose it?

“Was a case of being in the right place at the right time. Some months after my arrival in Greece, I met Pedro trough common friends, and after that, we were messaging each other about this topic and how he wanted to do something more with these stories. In the end, I and Raul take the train to Athens, and everything started. Of course, I was surrounded with this reality, but most of these stories are concentrated on the Greek islands and in Athens, so I didn’t have the physical contact with them because I was living in Thessaloniki, in the north of Greece. That’s why we went to Athens to shoot them, and that was the beginning of it.”

🎤I want you to stay between your individual self and your director identity: Could you please tell me your observations regarding to Greek people and their relation with refugees?

“I remember when we were in Athens last November, a lot of people come to us to ask what we were doing with the cameras and all that apparatus. We were explaining to them that we were shooting a film about the refugee crisis in Greece. Their answers were quite neutral. Some of them wanted to help but didn’t know how. Some tried to help and didn’t succeed, and some were just aware but didn’t want to be part of the cause.”

🎤Did you get any financial support from any sources for the production of the movie?

“We had some help with transportation and accommodation from the European Union through the Erasmus+ program and also from JRS Greece, but the rest was from our own pockets through our production company, Waves Of Youth.”

🎤What is the most fascinating thing about experiencing the Mediterranean life?

“What I liked more in Greece and its Mediterranean heritage was that it’s a mixture between European and Asiatic cultures, you know? I like how they met each other in the middle and form this Greek Mediterranean identity. Also, the food, the sea, the mountains, everything fulfilled me the time I was living there.”

🎤Are there any more projects that you are getting prepared for?

“We are beginning talks for some new things, but it’s still at a very early stage. Some new extras from ‘Aegean’ maybe came out, but we are still thinking about it. We have some things that we didn’t use in the film that we would like to put out. Let’s see. I am also writing a new short that I hope I can shoot in the next year and some photographic projects, too. Let’s wait for 2020. Thank you!”

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