Apr 23, 2014
The filmmaker behind Papou
Papou is an indie film by first-time director Michael Angelo Zervos, a Greek Orthodox Christian in the USA. He talks about his feature, life and challenges of working in Hollywood.
Written by Chris Vlahonasios
Edited by Kyri Fuss
“If a story sounds good, I'll consume it”, the words of Michael Angelo Zervos. A young filmmaker and founder of Mother and Midwife Pictures, a film production company based in Detroit, Michigan. He is also the creator of Papou, Zervos’ first feature-length which tells the story of a young boy dealing with the reality of losing his grandfather to cancer and his quest to live forever. For Zervos, Papou is the product of many long, hard years of working in the film industry, and a successful crowd-funding campaign.
Born in Michigan, Zervos was educated at Northville High School. He spent a year at the University of Michigan studying business management before transferring to Grand Valley State University to complete the degree. Although his intent was to work at his family's insurance agency, his interest in film production beckoned him to pursue additional schooling and in 2012, he attained a second degree in Fiction Filmmaking at Grand Valley. Zervos then moved to Hollywood to work as an intern at two companies, Anonymous Content and The Cimarron Group. It was then after this period of invaluable industry experience that he decided to take a leap of faith and make his first feature.
Inspired by the work of Stanley Kubrick, Coen brothers and P.T Anderson, just to name a few, Zervos is more interested in original stories than copying something done before. As in Papou, Zervos sees all his works as exploring important thematic truths. When asked about this aspect of his work he said:
“I never push themes onto story but rather if a story has a natural synergy with said themes, they are simply absorbed into it.”
Zervos wants to make films that encourage the audience to “seek truth rather than distraction”. Zervos films are about engaging with the audience and hopefully achieving his goal of creating a lasting and meaningful conversation enabling the audience to question their own lives, and this is reflected in Papou.
The idea for the film came from Zervos’ own observations of the death of his own grandfather, as experienced by his younger siblings. Zervos, like all Orthodox Christians, sees death as a time of reflection and prayer, but ultimately a time of joy, as the departed loved one has joined God. In Papou, Zervos expands and explores this grieving process. In the film, the grandfather reveals to his family that he has been diagnosed with cancer, but decides not to tell his grandson, Demetri. The grandson begins to ponder ways that he and his grandfather might be able to live forever together. Through the eyes of Demetri, a young boy with a wild imagination, we watch as he grapples with his own mortality.
As a Greek Orthodox Christian, working in the film industry has had its challenges. Since entering the competitive world of filmmaking and harsh-reality of Hollywood, Zervos sees constant conflict between Faith and film.
“People of Faith have had a hard time in Hollywood. They are often relegated to the outskirts, personae non gratae within The New Age Club. When they are portrayed in film, they are often [shown] extremely ridged, unchanging, uncompassionate people who find themselves at odds with more “likeable” characters. When they work in the industry, they cannot openly talk about [their Faith] without endangering their career, unless [it is] already established. Then it is viewed as a tolerated personality quirk (such as, Matt McConaughey or the hermit director Terrence Malik).”
However, despite the industry’s intolerant attitudes towards Christianity, Zervos still sees a bright future. He continues to work in the industry with the hope that one day he will obtain the position all directors strive for: uninhibited artistic freedom. Zervos, like many filmmakers, feels the film industry – like all creative industries – imposes too many creative restrictions and obstacles on the artist. Zervos hopes that one day he can break through these barriers. But Zervos is quite philosophical about the whole situation and even his reasons for becoming a filmmaker:
“One of the greatest challenges…is the balance between needing to create and wanting to create. We need to create because we need to eat, we need a roof over our heads…We want to create because it gives us meaning and allows us to express ourselves and engage with mankind. The two can and are often at odds with one another because what we need to create can be critically opposed to what want to create.”
When one watches the Papou trailer, without seeing the actual feature-length, one can tell it will be a powerful film. It deals with the emotional themes of terminal cancer, death, loss and grief all within a tight-knit Greek family. The fact that the film examines the process to losing a loved one through the eyes of a child will alter the audience’s perspective on how they view the topic of death.
Zervos hopes to distribute the film across the globe, and is now in the process of submitting to various film festivals.
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OFA blog would like to thank Michael Angelo Zervos for kindly giving up his time for this interview.
OFA wishes him every success in his film career and the launch of Papou.
To learn more about Zervos’ work, and to view the Papou trailer, click below:
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