Costa-Gavras "Being a Political Filmmaker"

The Greek-French director, screenwriter and since 2007 president of the Cinémathèque Française. He is known for films with overt political themes, such as the political thrillers Z (Academy Award for best foreign language film) and Missing, for which he won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.


"I have never wanted to change the world. My only desire has always been to tell stories that have touched me deeply. I never forget that when people go to the cinema, they are there to see a show, not to listen to a political or academic speech. My films are often described as ‘political’, but they are primarily human stories, with characters who take political or social positions. Their common denominator remains resistance; daring to face the things that aren't easy, ethical or fair."





Costa-Gavras (short for Konstantinos Gavras), was born on 13th February 1933 in Loutra Iraias to a Greek mother and Russian-born father. When he was 22, Costa-Gavras left Greece for Paris where studied at the Sorbonne and then at the Institute of Higher Cinematographic Studies (IDHEC). After graduating he became assistant to filmmakers such as René Clair, René Clément, Henri Verneuil, Jacques Demy, Marcel Ophuls, Jean Giono and Jean Becker.  

Cinema plays a key role in society: I believe it is one way of getting to know the world and the Other. Artists, when they address thousands, sometimes millions of people, therefore have responsibilities: they have a direct impact on those people. The same applies to directors: they must respect the logic and ethics of history without manipulating it for dramatic reasons or to make it more appealing to audiences. Afterwards, what happens happens. You can never control everything or have everything.We put our trust in each person's conscience and talent.


While his first films The Sleeping Car Murders (1965) and Shock Troops (1967) were crime thrillers, they nevertheless reveal Gavras’s exceptional ability to lead actors. The following trilogy Z (1969), The Confession (1970) and State of Siege (1973) brought Costa-Gavras to stardom. The multi-award winning Z presented an innovative approach to the reconstruction of political cases.

Z is another story of contradictions! At first, no producers, distributors or funding partners wanted to touch this film. I was told that there was no love story, no women, that some characters appeared and then disappeared, that Yves Montand (supposed to be the big star) wasn’t present enough... The film was fighting an uphill battle, because it wasn’t set up to be a successful feature film according to the usual metrics. However, the actors all agreed to work on it, under unusual conditions. It was a major surprise to see that although the film wasn’t a success in the first few days, word of mouth worked and attracted a large audience.In the end, the film was in cinemas in Paris for 40 weeks. Today, the film is still shown on television often and people still talk to me about it a lot. Sometimes, in the cinema, we run into unpredictable, uncontrollable miracles. I believe that it would be better to trust the creators than the people who fund the projects.


The phenomenal success of his films also resonated in Hollywood, where Costa-Gavras made the Ku-Klux-Klan themed Betrayed (1988), the acclaimed drama Music Box (1989), and Mad City (1997) starring Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta. In his more recent movies The Ax (2005), Eden is West (2009) and Capital (2012), he focuses on universal socio-politic issues. In 2018, he published his memoirs Va où il est impossible dʼaller (Go where it’s impossible to go). His new film Adults in the Room (2019) is about the 2015 Greek economic crisis. "Looking back on the Greek economic crisis, we tend to forget it was triggered by the governments who had ruled the country for the 30 years previous to its onset in 2008. It was the incompetence and cronyism of New Democracy (the right-wing party) and Pasok (the Socialist party) that allowed the 320-billion-euro debt to accrue. Greece’s colossal debt is impossible to repay and everyone knew it. However, with no qualms whatsoever, France and Germanycontinued selling products (cars, arms, defense systems etc.) to acountry they knew was in deeply in the red. And the European Commission allowed this to happen. In 2015, Michèle [Ray-Gavras] was producing a film in Thessaloniki during the Greek bank closures. On July 14th she sent me an interview with Yanis Varoufakis in The New Statesman with a short note: «There is a film here».From the start of the crisis, I could tell Greece was embarking ona long drama - one of many it has known since its foundation in1821 as a nation-state. The idea of a film was born once I became aware of the poverty and powerlessness in which much of the Greek people were trapped." said Costa-Gavras.