Innovative Greek Film “Flickering Souls Set Alight” Sets Light on ALS

Iakovos Panagopoulos
Iakovos Panagopoulos on the set of “Flickering Souls Set Alight”

The film “Flickering Souls Set Alight”, a harrowing look at a man living with ALS, won the Audience Award for Short Film after it screened at the 2019 Los Angeles Greek Film Festival (LAGFF).

It was clear many audience members were touched by the film’s portrayal of this disease, as well as how it affected the lives of the patient and those around him. The extremely innovative way in which “Flickering Souls Set Alight” was shot also made us curious about the team behind the movie and their own inspiration to pursue this project.

We spoke with Iakovos Panagopoulos, the writer and director of “Flickering Souls Set Alight”, who worked closely with cinematographer Petros Antoniadis to create a truly unique cinematic work.

Read the full interview with Iakovos below:

First off, tell us a little about your background in film.

I have a long practical and academic background in film. I studied at the University of Lancashire, then taught at Blackpool College, and also taught filmmaking this year at Ionian University. I am working on a PhD titled “Revisiting Contemporary Greek Cinema Through a Reevaluation of the Historical and Political Aspects of Theo Angelopoulos Work”.

In this lesson, I am basically trying to look at current issues and problems in society through a modernist lens similar to Angelopoulos’ work. In contrast with the popularity of the “Weird Wave” in Greece, I am instead trying to reframe issues through a different perspective.

How did the idea for your “Flickering Souls Set Alight” come about?

Flickering Souls Set Alight
Still from “Flickering Souls Set Alight”

I had to do a project for the final, practical part of my Ph.D. in film. I wanted to personally describe the feeling of being able to feel everything but not being able to react to anything.

When I was young, I had a personal experience where I suffered through really severe pneumonia in the hospital. I was in an induced coma for a long period of time, and when they woke me up I could understand everything but could not react or communicate for a long time.

Additionally, there have been a lot of films about the crisis in Greece. I wanted to show an aspect of it on a more personal level, as well as a metaphor for it.

I felt this reflected the passivity that has taken hold of many Greeks witnessing the crisis in their country over the last few years. On a less metaphorical level, this film shows that there is no real help from the state for people suffering this way.

Tell us how the team for this project came together, especially your collaboration with cinematographer Petros Antoniadis.

Petros Antoniadis was a distant acquaintance before this project. However, one day I met him at a cafe and told him about the concept for this film and how I wanted to shoot it differently. He called me a few days later to tell me he couldn’t stop thinking about the movie and we had to go ahead with it.

He had the idea to shoot it in a square format.

How did he achieve this unique square format for the film?

Petros Antoniadis
Petros Antoniadis on the set of “Flickering Souls Set Alight”

What Petros did is, instead of shooting a 16:9 frame (or even a 4:3) and cropping it left and right, losing a tremendous amount of information in the process, he thought of the anamorphic format in a different way. By turning the anamorphic lens 90 degrees sideways (to the sensor) he could compress much more information vertically (adding instead of losing pixels) and capture a much greater frame (it almost looks like a 6×6 photography format). This is actually a pretty revolutionary technique on an international level. It hasn’t really been done before in the narrative world. For more details on the how and why feel free to visit: https://www.petrosantoniadis.film/project/flickering-souls-set-alight/

The reason Petros came up with the idea of the square format is that in the houses where these patients are, I noticed the only wall they could see was made into a wall of memories. All day, they’re looking at a wall of photographs of family, friends, experiences, wonderful moments from the past. Additionally, the film needed to feel claustrophobic as all the characters are trapped in a contracting universe.

Petros did a great job of transmitting this perspective in the film frame itself, which is in a unique format. The film gives the audience a sense of the ALS patient’s viewpoint.

Did the innovative method of shooting affect the length of the shoot?

It’s actually funny you mention that, because two years of research went into this shoot, one year of pre-production to make sure we got everything right, and then the shoot itself took three days.

We were fortunate because we had some of the best crew members in Greece on the project, including the Alahouzos brothers. I was also working with the actors for two months prior to the shoot, focusing on using the Stanislavsky method since the film is not so reliant on dialogue.

I would like to thank each one, crew and cast, for their tremendous amount of work, for the love they showed to the project, for overcoming all the obstacles and going above and beyond to deliver.

What was the reaction towards your short film at LAGFF?

Flickering Souls 1
Another image from “Flickering Souls Set Alight”

Great; it felt extremely rewarding. The Q&A was incredible because the audience was so touched and moved by the film. One of the women asking questions actually started crying from what she had seen.

For patients of ALS, unfortunately, there is currently no hope for recovery. The patients and their families are dealing with a very difficult situation. So it’s important that these stories are shared and seen.

What was the best part of winning the Orpheus Audience Award for Short Film?

I was very happy to get the award, mostly because I think it will raise more awareness for people living with this horrible disease. They really don’t get much support from the state, especially after the economic crisis.

I went into an area where all the buildings were falling, and they had one floor set aside for patients like this in horrible conditions. People with illnesses like ALS have been one of the hardest hit groups in the current financial situation.

What are you thinking of for the future?

I just submitted my Ph.D., and then I will be researching and teaching in Greece. I won an EU contest which is enabling me to shoot another short film I want to make in Greece this fall. Also, I am starting to write a bigger project I am passionate about at the moment.

In general, I am always driven to make films and share stories about social and political issues like this. So for the future, this is the direction I want to keep going in – sharing important stories that affect peoples’ lives.