INTERVIEW: Eleonora Pesci curates THE PURSUIT OF WHOLENESS at Close-Up

In the third of a new series of posts with our friends at Close-Up Film Centre, RADIANT CIRCUS chats to guest curator Eleonora Pesci about THE PURSUIT OF WHOLENESS, a programme which pays tribute to seminal avant-garde filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos (07 to 09 DEC).

TWICE A MAN screens at Close-Up (07 DEC).
TWICE A MAN screens at Close-Up (07 DEC).

[RADIANT CIRCUS]:
RADIANT CIRCUS exists to help people find their way to more adventurous moving pictures. What has your personal film journey been like?

[Eleonora Pesci]:
I think it all started early in high school, when I would help a friend of mine checking tickets at her dad’s cinema back in Turin, Northern Italy, where I grew up. This would allow us to get to see as many films as we wanted for free, which back then was a dream come true. When that cinema became one of the venues for the Torino Film Festival – it must have been 2006 or 2007 – I discovered a whole new world of independent films that hardly get released in Italy.

Although I went on to study Classics at university, the yearly “date” with the Torino Film Festival was always there for me: I would impatiently wait for weeks ahead of the announcement of the programme and then learn it by heart to make the most of those ten days of pure cinematic immersion. I found myself increasingly thinking about the people working behind the festival, and simply dreaming about bringing films to an audience that might not, otherwise, have another chance to see them. But I had never had a proper, academic film education and did not know how to enter the industry.

Not long after I finished my classical studies, I found out about the film curating MA at the National Film & Television School in a moment when I was already thinking of leaving Italy for a while, so it seemed to me like the perfect opportunity to pursue the career I had been fantasising about for a long time.

How did your programme at Close-Up come about?

The film programme THE PURSUIT OF WHOLENESS is my graduation project for the Film Programming and Curation MA. I see it as a perfect sum of two of my greatest passions, ancient Greece and cinema in its most radical independent form, as it explores the influences of the former on queer and experimental films.

A first section of the programme has already screened in mid-November as part of Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest, where I curated in partnership with the festival the experimental documentary OBSCURO BARROCO (2018) by Evangelia Kranioti and the French feminist experimental film DOUBLE LABYRINTHE (1975-76) by Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki.

Since the early days of my work on the programme I knew I wanted to try and include some works of Greek-American avant-garde filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos. Given that his films can only be shown on 16mm prints, I immediately thought of Close-Up as the perfect venue for the final part of my programme.

What drew you to these particular films?

This is a rather close-knit section of the programme that aims to pay tribute to Markopoulos and look at his reinterpretation of ancient Greek myths.

TWICE A MAN (1963) and THE ILLIAC PASSION (1964-67) are respectively inspired by the myth of Hyppolitus and the tragedy PROMETHEUS BOUND, and this is the first and most obvious reason why they fit in a programme such as THE PURSUIT OF WHOLENESS.

Another reason is how difficult it is to actually see these films, which do not exist in a digital version. It is rewarding beyond words to have people, who are even very passionate about avant-garde cinema, coming and thanking me for organising these screenings as they never had a chance to see a film by Markopoulos.

This idea of a rare, even unique, film experience is much rooted in Markopoulos’ own ideology and, on this note, I am even more pleased to have included in the programme the short documentary DEVOTION. This film was realised by London-based film critic Georgia Korossi in the occasion of Temenos 2016, when the IX-XI cycles of Markopoulos’ ENIAIOS (c.1948-1992) were screened in Greece. Cycles of ENIAIOS are only screened in a specific site once every four years and DEVOTION, among other things, is an extremely precious take on Markopoulos’ theories about film exhibition, so I think it completes the programme with great harmony.

Are there any common themes or approaches that made you select the titles in your programme?

The filmmakers whose works I included in my programme seemed to have extremely different goals and concerns in mind, from the socio-political urge in OBSCURO BARROCO to the purely artistic intent of Markopoulos, passing through the work on the subconscious of Katerina Thomadaki and Maria Klonaris, that did not aim to be recognised as politically active at first but ended up becoming a feminist manifesto.

What fascinated me from the very beginning is that, in spite of the differences in their artistic – and personal – journeys, all these filmmakers have been strongly informed by their common Greek heritage in cinematic quests that somehow all revolve around representation of gender or sexuality. I found even more fascinating, but troubling at the same time, that they looked back at the ancient past, whereas the more recent history of Greece has shown much less open-mindedness.

What does it mean to you to have your programme screened at Close-Up?

I have been aware of Close-Up’s programming, commitment to independent and experimental film exhibition and incredibly rich film library since the very early days of my move to London. This commitment includes of course their deep specialism in film projection, which is absolutely necessary when it comes to showing the work of a filmmaker like Markopoulos, who, as I hinted at, was meticulous, to say the least, about the exhibition of his work.

For all these reasons, I think that Close-Up is the perfect venue for this specific part of my programme and I was absolutely delighted when they welcomed it with such warm enthusiasm.

DEVOTION screens at Close-Up (07 DEC).
DEVOTION screens at Close-Up (07 DEC).

What goes into bringing films like these to the screen? What were the biggest challenges?

Looking back at the way this programme has shaped up, I can say I was extremely lucky in the sense that I always found myself dealing directly with the rights holders of the films and, at the same time, I encountered a large number of extremely generous people who believed in the project and really did everything to help me make it possible. This especially regards the filmmakers Katerina Thomadaki, Robert Beavers and Georgia Korossi, but also the people who agreed to come and enrich the screenings with introductions and Q&As – such as Helen de Witt, Cécile Chich and Mark Webber.

Being a student project, I have been working on a relatively modest budget, and the biggest challenge was certainly to be able to work around that in order to be able to screen films whose standard screening fees are not as modest. But the fact that I was given the chance to partner with Fringe! for the first section of the programme and with Close-Up for the second one, is certainly the main factor that made those films affordable.

What would you say to people who might not know these films or the filmmakers? How can we get more people out of the multiplex to give these kinds of films a try?

I would certainly stress the rarity of this kind of event and encourage them to embrace something slightly more unusual, once in a while.

There is so much about Markopoulos, his films and his Temenos project that might attract different people for the most different range of reasons, that can go far beyond my personal passion for his rewriting of Greek myths: his peculiar version of 1960s New York and some of its most iconic, underground personalities (Andy Warhol is really just the tip of the iceberg…), his wild experimentation with the editing, his ground-breaking, deeply sensual and the same time intellectual portrayal of homosexuality.

Then there is the chance to glimpse the Temenos project through Georgia Korossi’s DEVOTION, to find out about this magical, remote site in the Peloponnese, chosen by Markopoulos as the place to screen ENIAIOS, and the sense of pilgrimage that permeates the quadrennial screening event. I think it’s a great opportunity for those who have already been there, those who have only heard of it or even people who have literally just been introduced to it.

This all said, I think there is an audience out there that can be potentially reached and intrigued by these art films, and it is probably larger than what we would expect. I do not think, instead, that there is necessarily a clash with what we call the “mainstream”, whatever that means. I do not want to think of that, because I personally am someone who finds great value in both forms of cinema and I certainly do not want to give up either of them. To me it is just a matter of making sure that events that are undeniably more of a niche-kind get enough visibility to reach out beyond the boundary of their “natural” audience: London especially seems like such a breeding ground for new audiences.

What are your ambitions for the future? What will we see from you next?

Now that this MA is coming to an end, I am more convinced than ever that film programming is definitely what I want to pursue, and especially if I stay in the UK I would love to go on and build more experience in the festival environment. But a long-term dream of mine would be to go back to Italy one day and perhaps make an incursion in distribution, as I feel that too many brilliant films never make it to the big screen compared to what I see in the UK.

What’s your biggest screen wish for 2019?

It’s an impossible one, but after having worked on THE PURSUIT OF WHOLENESS for several months I cannot think of anything different: can we please have the next edition of the Temenos moved up to summer 2019? I really miss Greece! If not, I might as well just finally go to the Thessaloniki Film Festival…

… and that’s the meat of it!

Films in London: THE ILLIAC PASSION at Close-Up, part of THE PURSUIT OF WHOLENESS (09 DEC).
THE ILLIAC PASSION screens at Close-Up (09 DEC).

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Featured image: TWICE A MAN screens at Close-Up (07 DEC).

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