NEW YORK – Highly original, allegorical, and a bit disturbing in its timeliness, Apples, directed by Christos Nikou, who also wrote the screenplay with Stavros Raptis, is Greece's official entry for an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. It references a hypothetical pandemic - which is part of the scenario - at a time when another pandemic has changed everyday life and upset the balance of the world.
The film garnered rave reviews at international festivals and Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett took on the role of Executive Producer, giving an aura of Hollywood to a film that speaks to the hearts of viewers in 50 countries and has surpassed its initial expectations.
The film was presented by the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival in association with UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture in a free online screening beginning on Sunday, January 17, for 24 hours, for U.S. film critics to watch.
Stavros Raptis spoke with The National Herald about the procession of lobbying for the Oscars and about his work and the cinematic effort that will continue in the coming years.
TNH: Mr. Raptis, first of all, reading about a pandemic in the description of the film, we automatically wondered if the current global pandemic has anything to do with the timing of the film's release.
Stavros Raptis: The script was actually written several years earlier. This idea was conceived six years ago. It took us a year and a half to finish the script, as the writing was done in parallel with other works. Then we needed some time to approve the funding. So the fact that it was released during the pandemic was a clear coincidence.
TNH: How did the idea come about to write a film without referring to Greece specifically?
SR: We wanted the story to be global and to involve viewers in any country, not to have a specific country element. It is essentially a metaphor, a metaphor that can be understood, anywhere in the world, by any spectator. It was not our goal to choose an impersonal city and period, but it helped the story a lot. In the end, we realized that there was no reason to specify the place and time.
TNH: Where was the idea of the script based and what are your goals towards the viewer?
SR: It was an idea of Christos Nikou, the director of the film and co-writer of the script. The first idea that remained until the end is the question of whether a person can overcome his memories, if the memories identify him, and if he can leave them behind. Based on this, we created the whole condition of the pandemic: A pandemic in which people develop amnesia, but something like the pandemic we are experiencing today. In this context, a person who has suffered from amnesia tries to regain his memories, based on a program suggested by the hospital where he is treated. The title of the film (Apples) is seemingly quite far from the story, but it is connected, because the protagonist has a habit of eating apples, which help, among other things, the memory.
TNH: So you start the script of a film that you want to address to an international audience. Was it your goal - albeit secretly - to receive an Oscar nomination?
SR: No, never, we had no such intention. Every filmmaker wants it, but it was not a goal. I think it was a coincidence, because of the pandemic but also because of the film's selection at the Venice Film Festival. The screening was at the opening ceremony. This was a "vehicle" to be heard more and find distributors in other countries. The rights have been purchased in 50 countries so far. It was something we never imagined would happen.
TNH: An executive producer joined the project with a very well-known name: Cate Blanchett. How did this collaboration come about?
SR: Cate Blanchett saw the film in Venice. She asked to talk to Christos Nikou and arrange an appointment. In fact, she was interested in becoming a producer on the film and undertaking its promotion in the United States, both for the Oscar campaign and for its release in cinemas. She has already started the promotion with interviews and everything else that is planned. This was also something completely unexpected for us.
TNH: At what stage of the selection is the film currently and how far is the road to the Oscars?
SR: Of course it is not over yet, it is a process that is still open. There are currently 140 films and 10 will be selected to advance to the final selection of five, which will be nominated for Oscars. The time when the members of the Academy will start voting is approaching. The 10 and then the final nominations will then be announced.
TNH: After all, is the difficulty of financing the main problem for the promotion of Greek cinema abroad?
SR: I do not think we are behind in terms of possibilities. In the last 15 years we have seen many Greek films have been awarded at festivals, have been purchased to be screened in other countries. The problem, however, is that most of them are smaller productions and therefore less rich in image and dynamics. Let's not forget that Greek is generally a difficult language for the international audience, even through the interpretations of the actors. Undoubtedly, however, the potential exists. The difficulties lie in the financing of the production but also the subsidies from the State.
TNH: Is there a new feature film in the works, after Apples?
SR: Yes, we have started the script right now. We are in the middle of writing. It is the same team, with the addition of an English screenwriter. If all goes well with the pandemic and the financial plan, we will start shooting next winter.
TNH: In closing, tell us a bit about yourself.
SR: I was born and raised in Patras, until I finished school. I went to Athens to study cinema. I work on movies and television series. My main job is casting director in movies and commercials. They are done in parallel but on a smaller scale.
Positive reviews from the media
Apples is a co-production of Greece, Poland, and Slovenia and is supported by the Hellenic Cinema Center. According to a recent forecast by Variety magazine, Apples has risen to 16th place among films from 70 countries, which aspire to be in the top five nominees for the Oscar for Foreign Language Film, while The Hollywood Reporter named Apples among the three best foreign language films of 2020.
The film stars Aris Servetalis, Sofia Georgovasili, Anna Kalaitzidou, and Argiris Bakirtzis.