a dutiful daughter blown away by a cow in heat
Born in a family of professionals in Athens, Greece, I was raised to become a lawyer. Every time I even considered an alternative career, like psychology or becoming a flutist, my father, a very successful lawyer, would first demonstrate to me how uninteresting that profession was in real life and then eloquently argue in favor of Law. I had intuitions, he had arguments, and every time he won out. So right after high school I was admitted in the prestigious Law School of Athens University (European Law Schools are not graduate institutions). Being a dutiful daughter, after four years I got my degree with honors. The next step was to take the Bar exam and start working at my father’s law firm. I was in panic. I just couldn’t see myself as a lawyer. “I need to study more,” I said trying to win time since I couldn’t win arguments.
I won a scholarship, crossed the Atlantic, and landed at Yale. Very soon I was in the Ph.D. Program of the Psychology Department, doing research in learning and memory. The Ph.D. however proved to be just a cover, for I was behaving like an undergraduate, taking courses in American Poetry, Comparative Literature, Anthropology, Film Studies. In my “sophomore year,” I found myself enrolling in all possible film courses: from hands-on How to Use a Camera to Film Theory and Analysis. For the first time in my life, I was meeting people who were making movies as a profession. I was thrilled. I had a passion for movies since I was a child, but I had always thought of it as a hobby. Suddenly I realized that film making could be a profession. At the mature age of 25, I found Lux et Veritas at Yale!
Being a dutiful daughter though, I finished my Ph.D. Only then I took a year-off to Argentina with Romolo, my Italian husband-to-be, also a Yale student. We sold our car and I used this money to make a docudrama about La Boca, the Genoese neighborhood of Buenos Aires where tango was born. The documentary was sold to the Italian Province of Genoa. I was in heaven.
Back to Greece, I kept coming up with legitimate excuses to postpone taking the Bar exam. This time it was my two sons: Andreas, a toddler, and Stefano, a newborn, that “prevented” me from becoming a lawyer. And yet, I did find plenty of time to make educational videos for Greek high schools. I took every opportunity I was offered, with topics ranging from The Mystery of the Cycladic Idols to The Art of Using Condoms. I was happy to combine my academic background with my artistic aspirations. But, I was also reaching 35 and my last chance to take the Athens Bar exam was coming up. A cow in heat, however, blew this last chance away for good.
Location scouting for one of these educational videos, I visited a slaughter house. The artificial inseminator, who was accompanying me, said that he had to inseminate a cow first, because if the animal was not in heat the insemination wouldn’t work. “How do you understand when a cow is in heat?” I asked with uncontrollable laughter. “Oh you should come and see,” he answered seriously. “It’s more than obvious. It’s revealing.” And this is what I did. The cow’s unexpected sexuality released so much energy in me that in a few days I wrote the outline of my first screenplay: The Cow’s Orgasm, “a cheeky tale of a couple of country girls trying to lose their virginity inspired by a cow in heat,” as VARIETY wrote when the movie was released. It was an instant box office hit in Greece and I became an instant feature-film director. Suddenly all Greek producers wanted to make movies with me.
I wrote and directed another four features in a row: The Mating Game (1999), Risotto (2000), Honey & the Pig (2005), and Little Greek Godfather (2007). They all became box office hits in Greece, often getting more admissions than American blockbusters released at the same time. VARIETY kindly followed my steps and included me in all its shortlists on European Cinema: Ten European Directors to Watch (2000), Critics’ Choice: Europe Now (2001), European Mavericks (2003) and several others.
By 2008, Andreas and Stefano were in the States for college and I had considerably more time to dedicate to my work. I decided to try my luck in television for the first time. Since I had always shot in 35mm film, shooting in video seemed like wild experiementation to me. Also, although prestige lies in directing movies, the money is in tv series, at least in Greece. In the last three years, I directed three series, 20 episodes each: litsa.com (2008), Dreamcatcher Season 1 (2009) and Dreamcatcher Season 2 (2010). They were all very successful, getting above 20% of the audience share.
What now? Like in my 20s, I feel ready to move out of Greece and develop projects that need different landscapes to grow. Once again a matter of intuition rather than argument.