Vassilis Xiros is a career diplomat at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 2002, having held the position of the Consul General of Greece in Shanghai from 2015 to 2019, as well as the Deputy Head of Mission at the Greek Embassies in Seoul, South Korea and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He was born in Athens, studied Chemical Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens, and did his thesis on the philosophy of science.
He has published a novel in Greece (“H ερωτική αφύπνιση ενός νέου της επαρχίας”, Kedros Publications), composed and recorded a music album in South Korea, and wrote/directed/produced the first even Greek-Chinese co-production “A Day in the Life of a Teddy Bear”.
- You’re a multi-faceted and multi-hyphenate personality. You’re a chemical engineer, a diplomat, a music composer, a writer, and now a film director. Which one does really represent you?
I am a career diplomat with artistic interests! But writing and filmmaking are apparently not just mere hobbies, I’ve put lots of time and effort into them, I can say it’s my calling. I certainly have the ambition of shooting more films in the future. Still, I’m very happy that I am not obliged to make a living out of them.
- A day in the life of a Film Director.
Referring to the production phase, first of all, there is very little sleep, I would already wake up from 4 am and start planning the day ahead. I would be picked up from the hotel between 6 am and 7 am (even if the director is supposed to arrive last on set) so we can start shooting by 9 am. The shots and most of the technical details have already been discussed with the crew in advance, the main focus during the shooting is the acting. The shooting will go on for as long as there is daylight, with the necessary meal breaks. Then, we may continue, depending on whether we have a night or indoor shooting on the schedule. Towards the end of the day, we would look for an opportunity to have a crew meeting to plan the next day.
- A day in the life of a diplomat.
Office hours are between 9 to 5; there is certainly a bureaucratic aspect to the job, I wouldn’t want to bore you with it. Still, I don’t think a good diplomat should just stay in his office. I was trying to have meetings with people from all walks of life that I could possibly work with in the future, for promoting Greek interests. Some days of the week I'd have to attend an evening function: dinners, receptions, promotion events...quite often, I'd be the speaker myself. It’s more tiring and less fun than it may sound.
- How’s life in Shanghai?
Shanghai is a busy city, but at the same time very humane. I’d often choose to commute with a bicycle, among the many ones scattered around the city streets - indeed there was a distinct pleasure biking around the old quarters of the town on a Sunday afternoon. I’d often visit some favourite coffee spots in my neighbourhood too. Being a regular made me feel more of a local. It’s also nice to feel there is absolute security at any part of the town, any time of the day.
- How did you come up with the movie title “A day in the life of a teddy bear”?
I chose the title because it may raise curiosity among the viewers and also because there is a nice sound to it. But ultimately, it is quite literal: there is a teddy bear that plays a central role in the plot and we are pretty much following him throughout one day of his life. I wouldn’t want to say more to avoid spoilers!
- Was it easy to shoot in Shanghai or there were some unpredictable incidents?
It's easier than expected, considering it's a city of 27 million people and that we did have some shootings in crowded locations. Apparently, we had a filming licence by the local authorities, but we still had our cameras confiscated once when shooting in the middle of a street. Another time I remember that our protagonist was expelled by a hotel since he was not carrying his passport, an incident that caused quite a commotion. But overall, we had minimum disruptions and a great understanding by the passers-by, the ones that were not extras anyway, as they would usually avoid looking at the camera.
- Was it your life in Shanghai that inspired you to do this film?
Yes, very much so. Shanghai is the background, it set the tone and the ambiance that are omnipresent throughout the film. The locations of the film were chosen because of my personal connection with them; I had spent lots of time walking around the city. Yet, some of the themes and topics were brooding in my mind for a longer time. Particularly this notion of the transience of time (and, by consequence, human relations), is a recurring theme when living in another country.
- What is the difference between Chinese and European cinema?
As a general trend, one can say the Chinese cinema is more commercial, even though that doesn’t mean that there are no independent or arthouse films made in China. In Europe, one can find all sorts of genres – yet I think that since Europe cannot compete with the US when it comes to blockbusters, our cinema is inevitably more centered around social themes. Europe is an "old" continent, and this maturity is reflected in our films.
- Let’s go back to your first novel. What is it about?
It is about a boy growing up in the Greek countryside in the 70s and discovering about women and love, before the advent of all of today’s media and information. Somehow this condition simulates the conditions experienced by young men in most of human history when love-making was very much enshrouded in mystery for a novice. I tried to encapsulate all this heartbeat and agony but also the ecstasy of the discovery, all wrapped in a nostalgic aura – think of “Malena” or “Cinema Paradiso”, to give you some cinematic examples.
- How do you perceive and filter today’s societal needs?
I believe there is a need for more human contact, particularly after all the isolation and fear we've been through the last couple of years. I really hope we can find the courage to return to the status quo ante. There is also a lot of uncertainty in the world, we are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the future.
- Make a wish.
I wish for people to start going massively to the cinemas again – it’s not as trivial as it may sound. I’d also wish they read more books, but I’d be pushing my luck with this one.