“Dogwatch” explores toxic masculinity and the absurdity of war with humor and style

In the running for the first prize at the Swiss international documentary film festival Visions du Réel, Gregoris Rentis’ first feature film “Dogwatch” is a breathtaking and stylized triptych that follows the stories of the mercenaries Yorgos, Costa and Victor.

All three work as private guards hired by ships passing through the so-called high-risk zone of the Somali coastline to protect their cargo from pirates. But what was a necessity in the late 2000s no longer makes sense a decade later due to the steady decline in hacker attacks.

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The resulting absurdity of their continued training and presence on land and sea shines through in this film laced with moments of slapstick comedy imbued with a hyper-charged masculinity.

Variety caught up with Rentis, who explained that his doc spanned seven years as he faced the challenge of finding a shipping company willing to allow them on board, get the all-clear from maritime safety, and launch his characters. His inspiration came from his uncle, Victor, one of the first private mercenaries in the region.

“The first spark was trying to understand his life. Mercenaries live on the border, they don’t conform to society, so this kind of trade is a way out. It is difficult for them to connect to life on earth,” he explained. “Initially these guys went into this business for a number of reasons: the money was good, but I think it was more for the prestige, the ability to tell their stories, a job that has l look cool.”

While he said it was important for him to highlight the slapstick element in this world of action, what intrigued him was its “machismo” and exploration of male body imagery. . “For me, it’s a film that asks the question of what it means to be a man today, this idea of ​​having to be the strong guy with muscles and tattoos and the biggest gun: it’s absurd “, he said, comparing it to playing war. when he was a child.

Only two female characters – the mercenaries’ partners – appear briefly in this male-dominated documentary, but “it was very important for me to have a female presence,” Rentis said, “it anchors the film; he starts the movie and ends it.

Rentis drew on his experience in advertising to give the document its clear structure and neat appearance. Editor Chronis Theocharis (“Golden Dawn: A Public Affair”) brought “the perspective and calmness that was needed,” he said. “I imposed on myself a set of rules – a kind of manifesto on how to shoot a scene – because I knew that I was going to have to make decisions on the spot and create a unity between the different parts of the film. So I wanted to have a camera on a tripod, center framed, for this idea of ​​toxic masculinity to manifest in a deeper way,” he said.

While some scenes show on-the-fly intimate moments with the mercenaries and their families on earth, others are director-prompted re-enactments. “In my mind [the characters] are co-authors: I would see them doing something and we would recreate it together, like the drills for example. I would ask them to show me how they prepared and they would walk me through the stress tests,” he said, adding that he was largely inspired by action movie mythology.

“They would say very openly, ‘We love ‘The Terminator.’ ‘ My uncle said his dream was to be the bad guy in a movie, and when the good guy killed him, the whole movie theater would cheer.

His goal, however, was not to mock or criticize the industry, but to show his human side. “What really struck me from the beginning was that they all told me that if they were Somalis they would be pirates: they sympathized with the other side, there was this mirror effect : one could not exist without the other.”

He said he sees his film as a cautionary tale of Western society’s goal-oriented obsession: “These people are defined by a cause – a kind of external justification for what they do – but while we are busy proving ourselves to the outside world, real life is beyond us, and when we come back after many trips, adventures and months of absence, finally what do we gain from it?

Rentis is currently working on his next project, a feature film about the sexual abuse scandal in the Greek Olympic gymnastics team inspired by the Larry Nassar case, titled “Sydney”. Filming is due to begin in 2023.

“Dogwatch” is produced by the company Byrd de Rentis, the production company Asterisk by Vicky Miha and the Parisian company Good Fortune Films by Clément Duboin, in co-production with Topcut Modiano and Arctos SA, with the support of Eurimages, Aid at the CNC World Cinemas, the Greek Film Center, Creative Europe Media, the Greek Film Center, ERT and ARTE.

Former candidate of VdR-Pitching and Arcs Work in Progress, the world of cinema was presented in preview at Visions du Réel on April 10 in the major international competition for feature films. Syndicado manages worldwide sales.

The winning film of Visions du Réel will be announced on April 16. The festival will run until April 17.

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