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Athens News Interview

04-05-2011 16:07

Title: Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned

Interview by: Despina Pavlaki

A part-time philosopher challenged 52 Athenians to reveal their innermost secrets and will be drawing the curtains of his online confessional once a week for the duration of a year.

Movie theater operator, bar owner and part-time philosopher Alkis Gounaris recently decided to add another dimension to his multi-faceted personality by taking on the role of online confessor. It all started with David Lynch’s Interview Project (http://interviewproject.davidlynch.com), an impulsive 20.000 mile roadtrip through the American heartlands that resulted in the discovery of hundreds of people who David Lynch and his son, Austin, felt they needed to share with the world. Alkis Gounaris decided to flip this novel concept on its head and allow people to come to him instead in order to discover themselves.

Athens News: How did you come up with the Confession Sessions (confession-session) concept?

Alkis Gounaris: Me and my son Kostas had seen the online interview project David Lynch had done with his own son and really liked it. I recently got into writing documentary scripts, so I proposed the idea to the production company I was working with and they were instantly smitten. But I didn’t just want to do interviews. I’m also an amateur philosopher and as one of my degrees happens to be on ethical philosophy I was very interested in exploring dilemmas and the ethical values that affect our decision making process. That’s how I settled on the confession format, because it implies a certain amount of guilt and it’s about sharing a secret or something you feel is important. I already owned a bar in Exarcheia (Dasein, 12 Solomou St) that would provide the perfect backdrop so we though why not?

How did you get people to tell you their secrets?

When me and my brother fist opened Dasein I decided to work behind the bar just to get a feel for our clientele. It didn’t take long to realize that alcohol would get people talking. Most people would talk about small, insignificant things that for some reason they experienced very intensely. I guess Tyler Durden (the main character in David Fincher’s film Fight Club) was right after all. We're the middle children of history, we have no great war, no great depression. Our great depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. And the minute we realized that we felt the need to discover some kind of meaning to the things we do by telling our story to inconsequential listeners, be it taxi drivers, bartenders, hairdressers etc. That was the most fascinating part of the project: watching people discover new meaning in the experiences by sharing it with the camera.

How did you chose your ‘sinners’?

At first we turned to friends and Dasein regulars. Whoever liked the idea would then tell one of their friends and that’s how word got around. We started shooting in November, we did two confession sessions a week for the duration of three months and we’re still in the editing process. The brief was pretty simple: we would ask participants to tell us a personal story that wouldn’t exceed 5 minutes, but since confessing has a dual meaning - it’s not just about confessing a sin or a secret, it can also mean admitting guilt when charged with an offense - each person interpreted it in their own way. Most ‘sinners’ chose to confess something that tormented them, so to speak. Something they regretted doing or not doing. There were three dominant issues: death, family and sexuality. According to Foucault, the relifious practice of confession is more or less to blame for all our sexual guilt and what we generally consider to be a sin. So I thought it would be interesting to explore what makes people feel guilty.

Can you describe a typical confession session?

We’d offer participants a cup of coffee or a drink, to loosen them up. Some were easier than others.  Most people already knew what they were going to say and, I have to admit, the ones who came prepared were usually the best. Others showed up wanting to share something painless and I had to force the juicy bits out of  them, but at least 20 out of the 52 confessions were really heartfelt. Tearing up was standard procedure. I always stood behind the camera, allowing the person to develop a direct relationship with the lense. At one point we had considered putting me on camera as well and make it a little more chatty - kind of like Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes – but that would instantly eliminate the confession element so we decided against it. As I said, I only intervened when someone had a hard time getting it out or I felt they were hiding something. The confessions started screening January 1st and will continue to air once a week throughout a year, we usually update the site with a new installment every Monday but you can still see the previous ones anytime you like. The footage is going to be used in three different projects: one is the online Confession Sessions, the other is a documentary called Only The Words Continue directed by Kalliopi Legaki which already screened at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival and the third is an art installation that will combine both. But that’s still in the future.

Throughout the whole process, did you ever feel the need to make a confession of your own?

Not really, but I got director Kalliopi Legaki to do it although she wouldn’t hear of it at first! She put up a pretty good fight, but eventually ended up sharing a very moving story about her first sexual experience. I wouldn’t really know what to say if I had to do it myself. I like to think I’m a pretty open person and I have no regrets, come on, ask me anything!

What do you do when you’re not giving absolution?

I started out as a professional athlete [sailing and surfing], which eventually landed me in advertising and marketing via a number of specialty publications I contributed to as an editor. But at some point the media world really wore me down and I decided to write a book, just like 7 million other Greeks! In the process I realized I was missing some vital skills so I decided to study Philosophy, both as a personal release and a way to improve my writing. I was already 35 years old at the time. Somewhere along the line, my father, who was in the summer cinema business, decided to retire so he asked me and my brother if we were interested in taking over. He worked in marketing as well and was equally tired of the advertising scene so we decided to go for it. We opened Dasein bar because the cinemas only work in the summer and we needed something to do on winter nights!

You can get your weekly Confession Session fix, directed by Kostas Gounaris, right here: confession-session. Celebrity ‘sinners’ include actresses Evelina Papoulia and Michelle Valley (Dogtooth), poets Haris Vlavianos and Vassilis Amanatidis, filmmakers Kalliopi Legaki and Loukia Rikakai and more...

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