Athens calling

By Yannis Sakaridis 

Greece has been in the headlines around the world for the past 2 years, for all the wrong reasons. Thousands of people lost their jobs, shops were shut down one after another, people lost faith in politicians and we are in the verge of another major upraise in the streets of Athens. It’s been that long since I’ve come back to Athens after I have lived in London for 18 years. So, you could say I came to the right place at the right time.

It's the right time for Greek cinema, though. The social and political turmoil brought inspiration, more passion and synergy to the independent filmmakers.

This year’s internationally acclaimed movies such as Giorgos Lanthimos’ Cannes’ winner and BIFA nomination for Best Foreign film, “Dogtooth”, Panos Koutras’ Berlinale selection, the brave and emotional “Strella”, Athina Rachel Tsangaris’ Best Actress winner at Venice Festival masterpiece “Attenberg”, Syllas Tzoumerkas’ debut and Venice official entry “Homeland”, and Angelos Frantzis’ Rotterdam’s favorite “In the Woods”, are five of more than seventy films produced here in Athens in the last two years.

Filmmakers don’t waste any time waiting for Government money, for a European co-production or a “decent” budget. They go out to film with help from friends and colleagues. Very recently we had Argyris Papadimitropoulos’ and Jan Vogel’s “Wasted Youth” in the cutting room, Giorgos Lanthimos shooting “Alps”, while Nikos Grammatikos wraps filming his doc “Looking for Medea”.

Three directors who could pull much bigger budgets, Lanthimos in the wake of “Dogtooth”, Papadimitropoulos after his debut box office success of “Bank Bang”, and Grammatikos with award winning previous works such as “The King” and Toronto official entry “Agrypnia”.

“Wasted youth” has quick reflexes on the social issues that caused social turmoil in Athens on December 2008. A 16 year-old skater, who tries to understand the world from a safe distance, and a 30 year-old, who is part of the system, collide head on.

“Looking for Medea” connects Euripides’ classic to modern Greece, through the directors’ systematic research on the play, rehearsals, dramatizations, unique street interviews and analysis.

“Alps”, instead, is the story of a hospital night nurse who provides peculiar services to families that have lost their loved ones. She is part of a group called Alps, whose members offer, for a certain fee, to replace the recently deceased in their random everyday exchanges with the mourning families.

We are also waiting with anticipation three films by award winning and diverse in style directors, Constantine Giannaris’ “Man on the sea”, Layia Giourgou’s “Red sky” and Menelaos Karamaghiolis “J.A.C.E.” all in post-production.

As for myself, I have a movie in development, “America Square”. It's a story of a café owner who embarks on a quest to find the truth on his friend's murder. His approach is unorthodox and sometimes funny too. A "detective story" about a modern man's moral redemption.
I started the script in Eliot Grove’s scriptwriting class, while I was in London and also attended Truby’s master class in Raindance. We are now in pre-production with plans to shoot in Athens in May 2011. Protagonist and co-writer is “Attenberg” actor Vangelis Mourikis. 
   
From the Greek films released this year we have seen a number of different genres: a Zombie movie starring Billy Zane in Giorgos Nousias’ “Evil - In the Time of Heroes”, dramas such as Vardis Marinakis’ stunning looking “Black field”, Yannis Ikonomidis “Knifer”, Margarita Manda’s “Gold dust”, comedies such as Philippos Tsitos’ Locarno’s Festival winner for Best Actor “Plato’s Academy” and Renos Haralambidis’ “Four Black Suits”.
The social turmoil brought the Greek filmmakers together in March 2009.

“Filmmakers of Greece” (FoG) is a group that consists of more than 200 directors, producers and screenwriters who protest in order to have the long overdue ‘new’ national film law passed. A law that is crucial for the survival and evolution of the Greek film industry and its position amongst Europe and the rest of the world”, as quoted in the site of the group (http://fogfilms.org/).

The new law for Greek cinema, which is now being formally discussed in the Greek Parliament, has the full support of the FoG but a strong resistance by the old fashion unions.


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About The Author

Yannis Sakaridis studied and worked in London for 18 years. Member of the London Film Makers Co-Op where he directed experimental shorts. Worked as a film editor on ten feature films, film trailers for Warner Bros (“Eyes Wide Shut”, “The General”) and documentaries for BBC and Channel 4. He wrote and directed 10 short films. “Mausoleum” premiered in Raindance Film Festival 2004 (Orange Best Shorts, Drama Film Festival,) and “Truth” 2006 which is shot in Athens premiered in Raindance Film Festival 2006 (Honorary Prize from the National awards, Tiscali Best Shorts Selection, Special Jury Prize and award for Best Music in Drama Film Festival ). His debut feature "America Square" is scheduled to be filmed in May 2011. He started writing the script in Elliot Grove’s scriptwriting class and also attended Truby’s master class in Raindance. America Square has won the Best project award in the Crossroads Co-production Forum, Thessaloniki International Film Festival.

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