As Sally Potter travels around the world with 'YES'
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ATHENS - 30 September

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I first heard about the Athens film festival at a dinner given for John Berger and his daughter Katya after they had given their joint lecture at the National Portrait Gallery about Titian. Orestis Andreadakis was there; it transpired he was the director of the festival and he invited me to come to Athens with YES and to give a ‘masterclass’. I eagerly accepted, not least because it would give me the opportunity to see my dear friend Leda Papaconstantinou.

We met when I was eighteen and she was five years older (strangely, she still is) in a performance group run by the theatre director Thom Osborn. One of the performances consisted of sticking rubbish to the pavement on a windy day in Tottenham Court Road. But the first show Leda and I participated in together was a banquet in a cavernous, damp, dark space in St Katherine’s Docks, by the River Thames, in the days before such buildings became developer heaven. The audience would sit at a long table in the gloom and be served food by us that we would have prepared earlier. A cold, green soup if I remember. That was about the sum of it.
Later, she performed in two of my earliest mixed-media works and I performed in hers. We became close friends, the kind of closeness that can be picked up within minutes, even after a year’s absence. She returned to Greece some years later and we vowed to see each other at least once a year, no matter what. It hasn’t always worked out, though in some years we have managed several encounters. But two years had slipped by this time and a visit, with its ceaseless talking and laughing, was overdue.

When I arrived in Athens it was raining. There was something magical and melancholy about seeing a city designed for heat, the stone buildings glowing with held sunlight, now running with water. Orestis met me at the hotel and was apologetic about the rain. He needn’t have been. I unpacked and waited for Leda. We fell into each other’s arms and the talking began. We went out to eat in a deserted café in the meat market. Huge metallic trays swimming with potatoes and beef, or salt cod and tomatoes.

A couple came into the café. From the back she looked oddly young, like a caricature of girlishness, wearing a flouncy skirt, a large straw hat, and gesturing gaily. Her companion was an older, grizzled man, grey and bearded, at ease in his skin. When she turned around in a flirtatious pirouette she revealed the ravages of cosmetic surgery, an enormous pouting mouth, taut skin, staring eyes which flickered continuously towards her reflection in every available pane of glass or shiny surface. Leda and I glanced at each other, knowing we would discuss later the politics of ageing, of disguise, and the traumatized look that cosmetic surgery brings with it. At one point we caught the man staring at us. ‘What beautiful faces you have…’ he said, ‘…such strength’ (looking at Leda) ‘and you -’ (looking at me) ‘- like a Victorian painting.’ His companion turned and stared at us and forced an anxious smile. “Yes, yes’ she echoed, her eyes dark with anxiety. I wanted to puke all over him for his cruelty.

The next morning it was still raining. I set off for the ‘masterclass’ at the French Institute. The class was primarily for the young festival jury, mostly students and beginning filmmakers from various countries, and their friends. I began by saying that the term sat uncomfortably with me, as I always liked to think of myself as a beginner. We had a good session.

That evening the film glowed in the pristine light of the new projectors in the cinema and the Greek subtitles had obviously been done well as the audience laughed, cried and sat attentively throughout. The Q&A went well and I was reminded, again, of the beautiful surprise at meeting people who have followed the work over the years, the unknown audience with whom I have, it seems, been having a long, satisfying conversation, those intimate friends I have never met, the beloveds, the darlings.

Later, at the closing party, I endeavored to photograph Orestis with my cell-phone at the same moment as his image in his television show – dapper, in a sharp suit and tie - appeared on the projection screen behind him.

Leda and I left for Spetses the next day. She drove me around in her three- wheeler Piaggio (me in the back). We talked non-stop for three days. Just as our early works went largely undocumented – the present moment being the only reality - I did not take any more photographs, except of some orange blossom in the blue light of a hot afternoon, and of her trusty vehicle, just for the record.

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The 'masterclass'

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Orestis Andreadakis

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Orange blossom

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The trusty vehicle

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Leda in 'The Building' (1970)

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Text © Sally Potter. All pictures © Adventure Pictures unless otherwise indicated