Chemistry Without Borders: Director’s Insight on the Hit Film, Worlds Apart
by Chris Salboudis
Worlds Apart, a film which was featured at the 2016 NYC Greek Film Festival in October, was officially premiered in New York on January 13th at the Village East Cinemas. The event was sold out on opening night and continued to have rave reviews throughout the week. Actor and director Christopher Papakaliatis, J.K. Simmons and other world-renowned celebrities, including Kathleen Turner, were present at the premier on January 13th. At the conclusion of the film Mr. Papakaliatis and Mr. Simmons held a Q&A Session moderated by Professor James Demetro, Director of the NYC Greek Film Festival.
We had the opportunity to chat with a few members of the audience as well as Professor Demetro in the jam-packed theatre lobby on opening night. “It’s a very special movie!” he said as the audience filed into the theatre in anticipation. “People are discovering it, and I think it has good potential to be a hit with non-Greek audiences as well as Greek audiences. It’s very gratifying to see that a sold out crowd tonight on the opening night of the film! I understand that tickets have been selling briskly, and that’s good. I’m very glad that the community is coming out tonight to support it and that’s a good thing.”
Worlds Apart incorporates three separate love stories spanning across three generations – who, while close, exist worlds apart. Each of the relationships is between a Greeks and a foreigner, and each evolves in its own way. The film provides a perfect play on classical Greek traditions and contemporary social, financial and political concerns and uses the theme of relationships, love and the family unit as the keystone, locking in the significance and reality of each character’s experiences as they unfold throughout the film. As realistic and brutal as some parts of the movie do get, Mr. Papakaliatis believes that each storyline of the film projects images that are important to communicate to other countries so they can connect with the Greek experience.
To date, the film has been very well received both in Greece and in the US because the characters are all very relatable regardless of the viewer’s age or generation. “Basically the whole movie is divided into the stories of three generations: The 20-year-old student, a young Greek girl in a big dead end with her life; the working class generation in their 40s – my generation – who are very stressed in their personal and professional lives; and of course the generation in their 60s. Also, the movie has a lot of ‘Greece’ in it, but in way that is easily decoded by a foreign audience. It doesn’t only contain references that only Greeks would understand or relate to.”
In an exclusive interview at the Greek Press Office shortly before the official movie release, Christopher Papakaliatis tells us more about the process of producing and distributing this poignant film in the midst of the Greek Crisis. When asked how challenging it was to release a movie in the US in the middle of the crisis Mr. Papakaliatis explained that there were several factors that affected distribution. First, that it has never actually been easy to distribute a Greek movie in the US, which receives such a high volume of foreign films every year, with no certainty that they will be successfully received by the American public. “Every year the process becomes a little more difficult for one reason or another, regardless of the crisis…. Now that we also have the financial difficulties, creating a movie demands more effort to fund it. But… I believe that when we want something very much we will always find a way, especially we as Greeks. Under the most adverse conditions we manage to tell great stories, it’s in our blood and nature.”
This is not his first attempt to distribute his work to the American public. When asked what changed from his previous efforts four years ago, Mr. Papakaliatis simply smiles and says, “I am four years older! Yes, something has changed a bit for everyone, but I always have the same desires and the same agonies.” The process of formally being granted the privilege of foreign distribution is something that truly touched Mr. Papakaliatis, but also a source of anxiety. “Worlds Apart is my first official foreign film distributed in the US and I hope everything will go well. I hope we are going to be able to show the good part of Greece.” Mr Papakaliatis says that he has always used his work as a means to show and promote Greece. “Even the times that I didn’t know if the movie will be abroad, even in the Greek series I’ve made, even in the movie If that was all made in Plaka… I feel films are a ‘passport’ for my audience.” Following the Los Angeles premier American distribution companies will manage film distribution state by state based on the ongoing success of the film, as is the case for all foreign movies.
Worlds Apart in its entirety is designed from an anthropocentric perspective, which Mr. Papakaliatis is always careful to include in his films. “In the movie we see foreign citizens that visit Greece and fall in love, not only with the Greek character, but with Greece in general.” There are also several bilingual passages throughout the film. “The script was designed for a foreign audience to watch it.” The movie is mainly a combination of Greek and English, with some Arabic phrases added in parts “I wanted the languages present in a certain way and in certain doses to make sure the audience could understand and follow the film easily.”
According to Mr. Papakaliatis, love – and the language of love both spoken and silent – is the central driving force behind the movie. “Love and the anthropocentric aspects of the film have, I think, more power than any political message. It’s the answer to any type of crisis…. The political things may hurt us, but they pass. People are ‘traveling,’ dreaming, feeling… becoming more sensitive over the fairytales of an artist while the fairytales of the politicians cause suffering. It’s a big difference.”
When asked what the Greek characters in the film represent, he says each of the Greek characters in the film have characteristics of a classical Greek hero, especially the magical chemistry between Maria Kavoyianni and J.K. Simmons. Their tragicomical dialogue is a lovely display of the inherent values that Papakaliatis feels we, as Greeks, posses. As Mr. Papakaliatis explains, “Maria Kavoyianni and J.K Simmons are a good example of two actors who have chemistry with no cultural ‘borders’ – a good love story is never restricted by borders. They manage to connect with out speaking the same language, understanding each other perfectly, which is everything I wanted conveyed through this relationship. It was my first time working with foreign actors and it was a great experience. J.K. Simmons, who is a very big Hollywood actor, I have to say is one of the most simple, clever and perfect professionals I’ve had the privilege to work with. He is a very easygoing person. He loved our country very much and stayed 10 days he couldn’t stay more! I took him to as many of the good places as I could!”
At the conclusion of our exclusive interview, this author confessed to loving the philosophical complexity of this remarkable movie from start to finish and recommending it to all the students and young professionals in her network as a “must see” film. We all look forward to hearing of this film’s continued success and to see what Mr. Papakaliatis has in mind for his international audiences in the years ahead.