TIFF Encounters: Yannis Veslemes, director of Field Guide to Evil

From the 1st till the 11th of November, the Thessaloniki International Film Festival (TIFF) took place. Balkan Hotspot was there to talk to some of the movie makers. This third and final article is about our encounter with Yannis Veslemes,  one of the directors of the movie The Field Guide to Evil.

The Field Guide to Evil is a feature-length anthology horror movie. Eight directors each created their own part of the movie, taking place in their respective countries, and featuring local folklore, mythology and legends.

One of the countries featured is Greece, where a Christmas goblin crashes a party. This piece was directed by Yannis Veslemes. We sat down with him to ask him more about his involvement in the movie and Greek folklore.

Yannis Veslemes

You directed one of the short movies in the special film project The Field Guide to Evil. How did you become part of this project?

The producers decided they want eight directors from all around the globe. All 8 of us are associated with Tim League, one of the producers. I was also in his festival, Fantastic Fest, five years ago, with my first feature film Norway. Most of us had previously developed our first feature film and were between the two features. And most of us had our debuts associated with the fantasy genre and the arthouse genre.

The movie takes place in 1984. Why this specfic year?
This is something that actually has nothing to do with the film. It has to do with my previous film that was set in the Greek 80s, in 1984, where the protagonist was played by the same actor who played Panagas, the leader of the bunch. I like the atmosphere of the 80s decade.

The atmosphere of the movie, with all that chaos and celebration and violence very much reminded me of Mad Max. Was this some sort of subconscious inspiration for you?
Yes, of course, the aesthetics of the film are influenced by these kind of movies: Mad Max, or fantasy rip-offs of Mad Max, or Conan and the Barbarian and things like that. I am a huge admirer of these kinds of movies, the rip-offs. They are supposed to be futuristic, and they have these kinds of outfits, very similar to the Mad Max aesthetics. So yes, for this film I was watching these kinds of rip-offs all the time.

Yannis Veslemes
Promotion image of The Field Guide to Evil

In connection to the theme that you chose for your short movie… How did you become inspired? Is there any specific folk mythology connected to movies?

There was total freedom from the producers for choosing the local folklore, and develop it in our own way. I had this need to touch more than one of the folklores from my country, as I was interested in a variety of things. Finally, I chose everything, and so the film feels a little bit packed and dense. It has a lot of details, a lot of characters and a lot of voices. And a lot of folklores.

I am from the north of Greece, from Kastoria, and there is this tradition here in the north of wearing outfits which come from ancient times. They expand this pagan tradition through carnival festivities, which is against the orthodox Christian tradition that we have here in Greece. I combined this tradition with the Greek edition of the goblin we have, in the same time, also during Christmas. But in the days that I’ve been here I’ve heard that these kinds of carnivals actually exist, that sometimes they happen and are combined with the tradition of the kallikantzaros, the Greek goblin.

Yannis Veslemes
Yannis Veslemes

Can you tell us a bit more about the myth of the goblin?

The myth of the Greek goblin is that they are harmless little devils. They come out for twelve days around Christmas and go inside houses and eat food like baked cakes, and they mess around. They have a rough image and they are very ugly, but they are completely harmless. So it was very easy for me to make this creature a victim of this brutal macho man. You feel for it when he has just been tortured.

And then the other tradition has to do with Dionysian festivities and hedonism. I combined that with the goblin and made his blood like wine, and they want to sacrifice this goblin. This is a new addition to the folklore.

Your movie is hitting the theatres now. Have you noticed any specific reactions from the Greek audience?

Yes, it is funny, because the way they talk in the movie is a hybrid of Greek from different areas. For the way the sergeants talk, I took pronunciations from all around Greece, from the north and from the south. I combined words that are used in the south with northern accents. So it’s a little hard even for the locals here to understand what they are talking about. It’s funny how they react to the language, which in the English translation is a bit more obvious. I mean, I can even translate you this phrase, “Let’s fuck this goblin up”… what the original says is “Let’s make this goblin get wet”. There are a lot of these kind of details, but I did some screening tests before, and I understood that you don’t need to understand everything they say. So it’s actually a half-invented language.

When you were writing the script, were you also considering the location?

This was the hard part of making the movie. It was shot in an isolated part of an island, Tinos. Tinos has a huge orthodox tradition, it’s supposed to be the island in Greece with the most churches devoted to Holy Mary. So it was funny to do a paganist thing there. And it was a very isolated place. We had to open roads to take the trucks down for the people who worked. I saw the spot years before during a vacation. So I said, I really need to shoot something there, and I adapted every aspect of the story to that location.

Still from The Field Guide to Evil

You also shot some parts in a cave. How was that?

The cave is actually not on the same island. It’s somewhere in Attica, in Athens, and it’s closed for visitors. It is an ancient cave, from Roman times, from when Christianity was forbidden. Christians used to go there in Ancient Rome to do rituals, and then during the 80s death-metalheads used to go there to do ‘neo-rituals’, let’s say. So they closed it. And they have these artifacts from the 5th century before Christ with very nice sculpturing. You see glimpses of it in the film, actually. 

Your film was very special in terms of special effects. Was it difficult to apply them?

Yeah, actually it was very difficult. There were a lot of budget and time restrictions and limitations. I don’t like totally realistic effects, I like to have prosthetics, or CGIs that look a little bit artificial and goofy. And then, because I was influenced by these kinds of late 70s, early 80s rip-offs of fantasy or the Mad Max films, I wanted to have this kind of colourful, psychedelic, photographic style of the effects. 

Watch the trailer for The Field Guide to Evil here, and find more TIFF Encounters here

Interview by Filip Grác; transcription, editing and publishing by Sacha Bogaers

Post Author: Sacha Bogaers

Sacha Bogaers
I am 23 years old and moved from Sweden to Greece for ten months. My main interests are human rights, activism, and art. I also love writing about LGBTQ+-related topics and social justice.

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