Aspen Shortsfest Best Comedy prizewinner ‘Postcards from the End of the World’ may be the short film for our moment
IF YOU WATCH. . .
What: Shortsfest Award Winners Program
When: Online through May 25
How much: $12
More info: The encore program will also feature Best Animation winner “And Then the Bear,” Best Comedy winner “Postcards from the End of the World,” Best Documentary winner “A Youth,” Best Drama winner “Bablinga,” Best Short Short winner “Something to Remember,” Audience Award winner “Flower Punk,” Ellen Award winner “Bag,” Best Student Short winner “Heading South” and Youth Jury Award winner “The Manchador.”
Filmmaker Konstantinos Antonopoulos never imagined viewers would describe his short comedy of the apocalypse as “timely” or “familiar.” But, of course, few people thought they’d experience a global pandemic this spring.
The Greek filmmaker’s 23-minute “Postcards from the End of the World,” which won the Best Comedy prize at the virtual Aspen Shortsfest during the early days of the global coronavirus lockdown period, has been drawing attention and praise as viewers see it through the lens of their current experience.
It tells the story of a couple, Dimitri and Dimitris, on a beach vacation with their children in the Greek Isles when human civilization collapses. It imagines a situation similar to the one we’ve read about in news stories in recent months, like the ones about American couples stranded on their honeymoons in the Maldives and Sri Lanka as U.S. borders closed in April.
“What we see in the film is the idea of reality collapsing for people and this feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow invading the lives of the characters,” Antonopoulos said in a telephone interview from home in Athens, Greece. “Now that’s something we’ve all experienced to a degree. So it’s become more relevant. It’s funny and it’s tragic.”
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“Postcards” has become a virtual festival hit, garnering attention for its absurd relevance and winning prizes from Shortsfest, Canada’s Saguenay International Short Film Festival and several European festivals this spring. The filmmaker learned his film had won the Shortsfest prize while under an enforced quarantine in Athens, during which he had to text authorities in order to be allowed to leave his home.
“It started winning awards and getting more attention,” Antonopoulos said. “It was one more surreal element in a surreal situation.”
Aspen Film is bringing the buzzy title back to streaming this weekend as it hosts nine award-winning Shortsfest films for an encore online presentation from May 21 to May 25.
The inspiration for “Postcards” came from the 2015 Greek debt crisis, which broke while Antonopoulos was on vacation in the Cyclades islands (also where he shot the film in 2018).
“The banks were closed down, no one knew what was going to happen,” he recalled. “Whatever you had in the bank might disappear. Your life could change the next day. I had never experienced that and I was observing people.”
He saw some rushing to supermarkets and stockpiling, many freaking out, while “others really didn’t give a damn. They were on the beach and swimming and the weather was so great you couldn’t believe anything could be wrong.”
Westerners from developed countries, he realized, couldn’t know how to act when faced with a breakdown in organized society. The juxtaposition of the idyllic Mediterranean beach punctuated the disconnect, and the film was born in his mind.
“Reality we never question, but even in our case it can collapse,” he said.
He took notes for months and worked on drafts of a script that might capture the idea with the comic tone he hoped for. It clicked when he inserted a narrator with an arch and droll voice (in the opening moments of the film the narrator of the bored couple says “It was their 34th vacation together”). After that, he wrote his final draft in just a few days.
Along with the odd resonance of the film in our moment and the pleasures of its bone-dry humor, “Postcards” is an ingenious magic trick of independent, low-budget filmmaking. Antonopoulos manages a way to tell the biggest story you can imagine — the apocalypse — while using just one location, no special effects and few props other than beach umbrellas and towels (though a few guns do show up eventually). The unseen apocalypse plays out on a human level through the confused and panicked Dimitri and Dimitris, with ominous touches like a static-filled television. He uses the wild and rocky island terrain to great effect, subtly shifting its sandy beach environs from peaceful to menacing as the family realizes there may be no way off the island.
As a Shortsfest award-winner, “Postcards” qualified for Academy Award consideration in the Live Action Short category. Antonopoulos is excited by the prospect of campaigning for the Oscar, even in this upside-down year for the film industry.
“It’s a fun thing to think about,” he said. “And even to pursue.”
The enforced quarantine in Athens was lifted in mid-May, allowing Antonopoulos to move more freely about the city. He has been heartened by the Greek response to the virus.
“I’m surprised Greece didn’t collapse once more,” he said. “COVID was relatively contained here. It was the first time we’ve done something right in a long time.”
Antonopoulos spent his quarantine writing. He’s at work on a follow-up short as well as his first feature film, both set in Greece during the Byzantine Empire. But don’t expect him to make a traditional swords-and-sandals bore.
“It sounds a bit crazy, I assume,” he said. “The historical genre tends to be pompous and expensive. I want to make minimalist, weird, funny and tragic tales that take place in Byzantine times.”
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