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Filmmaker Lilena Marinou Speaks with TNH about Her Life and Work

The National Herald

Lilena Marinou. (Photo by Martin Blanco)

NEW YORK – Lilena Marinou is a filmmaker and photographer based in New York City, originally from Athens, Greece. She graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Film & TV Production in 2019. While working towards her degree, she worked at Elara Pictures. Marinou was a field producer on the HBO comedy series How To with John Wilson and is currently working with producer Oscar Boyson. Recently, she was involved in a yet to be released Yorgos Lanthimos project. Her directorial debut, titled Oh Yeah, has been selected by several European and U.S. film festivals and garnered award nominations for both directing and cinematography.

Her most recent music video for Raia Was' You Are premiered on Pancakes and Whiskey and includes many Greek elements.

Among her impressive photography is a series of photos from Mati, Greece following the fires, which appeared in Lomography https://www.lomography.com/magazine/340959-photographer-lilena-marinou-greece-fires-on-lomography-film.

Marinou spoke with The National Herald about her work and life in New York amid the coronavirus pandemic.

TNH: Did you always want to go into filmmaking and the arts in general?

Lilena Marinou: I feel passionate about many crafts, but filmmaking is one of the few things that sincerely makes sense in my head. There’s something quite marvelous about its shape-shifting quality. It is easy for me to imagine a life in film, more so than just making a career out of it. All art is emotive, but I become so gloriously absorbed by filmmaking because there isn’t a constant. Particularly in independent filmmaking, you’re not just a director, or a producer, or a cinematographer. You wear many hats; sometimes you’re a storyteller, other times you’re a psychologist, a diplomat, a cheerleader, a publicist, an insufferable mess... and somehow, at the end of the day, you create a story. To tell you the truth, it’s intoxicating.

TNH: What inspires you and your work?

LM: I am moved by people. I like to hear stories just as much as I enjoy telling them (if not more). Kindness is tremendously inspiring for me, and so are creativity and ambition. I find myself most content when I’m surrounded by people who have found a good balance between these qualities. Yet it is also quite exhilarating to experience individuals who are at the extreme ends of these spectrums, like being altruistic to a fault, or intolerably arrogant, or quixotic. I learned to love people better by dwelling upon the subtleties of their characters, both in their strengths and flaws.

Of course, women and sexuality have played a major role in shaping who I am as an artist. My first film, Oh Yeah, explored what sexuality is for young women. I believe it should be seen as a playground; celebrated and enjoyed as a place of freedom, playfulness and aliveness rather than a source of guilt, submission or embarrassment. No matter what project I work on, I almost always circle back to or in the least find inspiration in women and sexuality.

TNH: How has the pandemic affected your work?

LM: The film industry was hit extremely hard by COVID-19, with productions and festivals getting postponed or canceled, and movie theaters closing down indefinitely. On a mental/creative level, the answer to this oscillates on a daily basis for me. Sometimes I feel grateful for the isolation I was forced into because I became better about being on my own. I also experienced some clarity about who and what matters in my life. A lot of creatives are learning to fall in love with the minutiae of life but that is something that I always loved - it was my main creative motivation. I think I may have had a poorly timed mental breakthrough, because right before the lockdown was enforced I had promised myself to continue appreciating the delicate nuances in my life while also trying to be more daring, thinking more about big-concept scenarios… there was a beaming force of life inside of me. It was difficult to muzzle said force, but I hope it grows ten times stronger by the time this pandemic is over.

TNH: How has your experience been in New York?

LM: Magical (granted, it took some time to get here). At first, it was as daunting as it was exciting. The flighty quality of being in my early 20’s combined with the grandeur of a city like New York at times made the world feel too monumental, too impermanent, too out-of-reach. But as the years went by, I started to feel a growing sense of belonging. It’s one thing to appreciate a city, but quite another to feel it as your own. New Yorkers and aspiring New Yorkers alike are energetic, ambitious, a little crazy, tough, but extremely kind. They’re a reflection of what it’s like to live in this city. It is by no means an “easy” place to live in, especially due to its financial burdens, and in many ways, it is hindered by the backward systems imposed by the rest of the country. And yet, you won’t find people like the ones in New York anywhere else in the world. Every borough has a character of its own, its idiosyncrasies and romanticisms, its beauty and its ugliness. As an artist, there’s nothing more wonderfully inspiring than that.

TNH: Was there any culture shock coming from Athens to the Big Apple?

LM: Oh, food habits! I was shocked by how casually people ate by themselves. Up until moving to New York, eating was like a social ritual to me, and doing it on my own was out of the question. I still feel uncomfortable when I eat alone sometimes. Initially, I was also astonished by how little everyone cooked; then I started working while simultaneously completing my degree. That quickly put my criticism to rest.

OH YEAH from Lilena Marinou on Vimeo.

TNH: What are you working on next?

LM: SOMETIMES (when it’s dark outside) is a short film I directed, which wrapped the weekend before New York’s lockdown and is about to embark on its festival run. Eerily appropriate for our climate, it is about the duality that comes with fear, a grounding familiarity and an asphyxiating need to liberate from it.

I am hoping to shoot a couple of limited size music videos in the coming months, carefully dipping my feet into productions again after months of inactivity due to the pandemic. There are two short films that I’m currently developing with much excitement, one on why certain people seem to thrive after experiencing trauma while others are completely debilitated by it. The other is about my late grandmother.

I recently started a radio show, Gazaki Gia Kafe, on Elara FM playing Greek contemporary music in the hope of contributing to the Support Art Workers movement. The radio station has ceased broadcasting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and I am eager to witness how this nation-wide revolution will transform us. I absolutely recommend you check out the eclectic shows of my fellow radio hosts which are available to stream on elara.fm - a lot of love was poured into them - as well as donate to the BLM links available on the website.

More information about Lilena Marinou is available online: https://www.lilenamarinou.com/.

Follow on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lilena_marinou/.