Sibling directors explore identity and faith in ‘Fishbowl’

Still from "Fishbowl"
Still from “Fishbowl” (Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures/Fishbowl)

“I remember thinking, ‘If you’re the most perfect person, but you choose the wrong religion, do you still get to go to heaven?’” said Stephen Kinigopoulos.

Kinigopoulos co-wrote and, alongside his sister Alexa, co-directed the new movie, “Fishbowl,” which was released on Amazon and other video-on-demand platforms Oct. 27. Raised by their Jewish mother and Greek Orthodox father, this directing dyad used the film to explore their own complex issues of identity and faith.

Set in 1999 in the small, secret-filled town of Bishop, Stephen Kinigopoulos described their film as a “coming of age, drama-suspense-thriller about girls searching for their identity and their father in the midst of him preparing the girls for the Rapture in an unorthodox manner, so they can be a family together again in heaven.”

Alexa Kinigopoulos stated that the film drew from the confusion they felt regarding their religion and identity. “We were never pressured by our parents, which we’re very thankful for,” she said. “But I think there was a pressure we felt from our peers, and a pressure that we put on ourselves, to identify with wrong and right, and religion, and your identity, and sexuality.”

Growing pains

The pair grew up in Pikesville, and then later Ellicott City, raised by their father, George, who works in insurance and financial planning, and by their mother, Janice, who has worked as a hair department head on productions such as HBO’s “The Wire.”

Their mother’s connection to the film industry was of course their initial exposure to the field, though Alexa Kinigopoulos explained that it wasn’t until around high school that they realized they wanted to be involved professionally in film production.

“There is always a moment in a young man’s life,” said Stephen Kinigopoulos “when you realize you’re not going to be a pro-athlete. … And then you’re like ‘Oh [expletive], what am I going to do?’”

His experiences with his mother’s productions and his sister’s decision to pursue film school helped him to realize he held similar interests.

In time, the medium of film would prove an outlet for the questions they had surrounding their identities. “We were kind of in this limbo and didn’t commit to one more than the other,” said Stephen Kinigopoulos. “So, for example, Alexa and I weren’t bar or bat mitzvahed, but all our friends were. And then, on the Greek side, a young Greek male in the church is usually an altar boy. I wasn’t an altar boy, but all my friends were.

“So it was like this, ‘Am I not too Jewish enough? Am I not too Greek enough?’ kind of thing,” Stephen Kinigopoulos explained.

On set

Stephen Kinigopoulos described how they both prefer to get to work early, as they were raised believing “you’re early, you’re on time, and if you’re on time, you’re late.” He added that it helps establish the tone and energy of the set. Routine responsibilities, he explained, included drawing preproduction storyboards, checking in with the wardrobe department and making sure the set met their standards.

Stephen Kinigopoulos’ favorite moment at work, he said, is the point when all of the things that came from their imagination came to life on the set and the film.

“The moment where all this stuff comes together,” Stephen Kinigopoulos said, “the location, the wardrobe, the actors, and the camera’s ready to roll, that I think is the best moment for me, and to do it with my sister, … it’s the most rewarding.”

While siblings often have a reputation for fighting over the remote control or the front seat during a car ride, Alexa Kinigopoulos described her professional relationship with her brother in very positive terms.

“I feel like I work better with Stephen than I do with most people,” Alexa Kinigopoulos explained, saying that their personal connection and history together keeps them in tune. “There are very few times where there is a disagreement; we’ve just always made sure that it’s not in front of anyone. … I know everyone can’t work with their family, but we’ve gotten it down pretty well.”

Stephen Kinigopoulos surmised that the tone and energy of his working relationship with his sister had a way of trickling down to the production crew as a whole.

“The fact that on set we have three family members who are very close, the set is going to feel like a family environment,” Stephen Kinigopoulos said, referring to himself, his sister and their mother, who handled the makeup and hair for “Fishbowl” and for some of their music videos. “It shows on set and in the films, too.”

Alexa Kinigopoulos said their Greek heritage was very important to both her and her brother, but described the Greek Orthodox religion as “intimidating” and not necessarily supportive of an inquisitive nature.

Still from "Fishbowl"
Still from “Fishbowl” (Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures/Fishbowl)

“[The characters’] religion in the film is their practicing of the Christian faith, and there’s a lot of questioning of the Christian faith in the film,” Alexa Kinigopoulos said. “One thing that I appreciated about Judaism growing up was that it was maybe a little less intimidating, because I felt like I could ask more, whereas maybe sometimes Christianity, it’s so overarching and there were times where maybe I couldn’t really ask ‘why?’”

Alexa Kinigopoulos said that they push back against that attitude in the film, concluding that “it’s good to question, especially for kids. It’s good to question what they’re told, and it’s good for them to understand why, and not just, ‘This is the way.’”

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