Artist Feature: Lilena Marinou

Lilena Marinou is a young, inspiring filmmaker and photographer who has been New York-based for the last four years after moving here from Athens, Greece. She graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Film & TV Production in Spring of 2019. While progressing towards her degree, Lilena worked at Elara Pictures, while, in the past, she assisted psychotherapist Esther Perel. She was a field producer on HBO comedy series How To with John Wilson and is currently working with producer Oscar Boyson. Recently, she was involved in a yet-to-be-released Yorgos Lanthimos project which we are much looking forward to here on peri-Tēchnes.

Lilena’s work is versatile while her main area of focus is women. Through the lens, she seeks to approach what it is to be a woman in every way. Her work addresses even the most challenging of topics in a thoughtful and considerate way, yet with playful undertones that warm the viewer to the issue at hand. In discussion, she mentioned that playfulness is a technique she has given much weight to as it lightens up the atmosphere around a topic and makes it easier to discuss. She wants her work to make the viewers feel comfortable, safe and excited thus creating room to open towards conversation and exploration.

This is evident in her short film Oh Yeah which explored the realm of self-discovery in female sexuality by drawing parallels to exploring joy in the playground. The film had a successful festival run, and the artist has now entered another short film for a new festival run, SOMETIMES (when it’s dark outside) that explores the oftentimes suffocating fear of the well-known and the intrinsic need it creates to reach beyond the comfort zone.

Lilena mentions feeling incredibly lucky to be have worked at Elara Pictures, founded by the Sadie brothers whose films are pushing the industry to new levels and explore new techniques and imagery, as well as the creative circle around them. Being around the Sadie brothers was a formative experience for her – a wake-up call, that in a way, pushed her past what she was strictly taught through academia, and to explore new avenues.

Lilena produced a series of photographs that depicted the aftermath of the devastating fire at Mati, Athens in 2019. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Aside from the playfulness in her approach to her films’ subject matters, Lilena has developed her own unique and captivating visual vocabulary. Her work is heavily inspired by people, and her film stills focus primarily on the physical presence, even when an individual is missing from the frame. Her focus on the person and the physical presence is Lilena’s way of seeking to approach her subject and share their story. This is steady throughout her entire practice including her photographs, which are strongly linked to her short films, and the music videos she directs and produces.

Lilena finds that music videos allow her to explore additional creative freedom especially when working with unsigned artists. She notes that “it is a great experience as you oscillate between the musician’s narrative and your own, proposed one.” Her most recent music videos are for the equally talented New York-based Raia Was. Truly, the two artists could not have made a better match.

Still from the music video with New York-based musician Raia Was.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

When discussing life, work and cultural identity in New York, as fellow expats are wont to do, Lilena notes that while New York may be tough, an artist can find many opportunities in New York, and can be trusted in spite of being young which is, unfortunately not always the case in areas of Europe where age is synonymous to experience and quality. Greece, in particular, tends to value many years in the field, and extensive apprenticeship whereas New Yorkers often take a shot at energetic, motivated and passionate youth ready to explore new avenues. What is interesting, however, was that while raised in multicultural and cosmopolitan Athens, Lilena had not realized how important her own cultural background was to her until becoming part of the Greek diaspora. New York, she says, “leaves a lot of room for a person to be foreign and to have a strong cultural background as well as letting it inform your work.” What she has valued and admired in her fellow Greek artists the most is how hardship led to a strong resourcefulness and flexibility without ever losing hope and a sense of joy.

Still from the film SOMETIMES (when it’s dark outside).
Photo courtesy of the artist.

Lilena has certainly taken her time in New York very seriously and has shown such a deep and progressive body of work that one can’t help but look forward to what is next. New York has been a place where she feels helped her shed all the layers students come out of school with, while keep the best ones and simultaneously grow into her own voice and practice. Aside from the Lanthimos project due to go public once health regulations allow, she is already exploring her next short film while also considering how production will change with new restrictions. One thing is certain, the result is bound to be creative.

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