Athens Calling 2012
A New Report On Greek Cinema

By Yannis Sakaridis 

Raindance Film festival Call for SubmissionsGreece has been in the headlines around the world for the past four years, all for the wrong reasons. Thousands of people lost their jobs, shops were shut down one after another, people have 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 eighteen years. So, you could say, I came to the right place, at the wrong 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 of my generation.

It feels that Greek film makers are more eager and focused, in a country that is ready to go into economic default and has a constant crisis for the last few years. As for inspiration, there is so much going on outside in the streets, that even the best or most outrageous ideas are overturned by reality the next moment.

Some of the filmmakers don’t waste any time waiting for Government money, for a European co-production or a “decent” budget. They go out to shoot their films with help from friends and colleagues.

They even put their own, their families’ or their friends’ money, they borrow, beg, in many cases underpay or don’t pay at all crew members, in order to make a film.

 There is a new era in Greek cinema, which for me starts, with Panos Koutras’ Berlinale 2009 world premiere of the brave and emotional Strella. That screening changed the way  domestic critics, international film professionals and festival programmers saw Greek cinema.

Call for Submissions To RaindanceThe three major European festivals Venice, Berlinale and Cannes have been the barometers of Greek cinema for decades. Theo Angelopoulos, Costa Gavras, Nikos Papatakis, Micheal Cacoyannis, Nikos Koundouros, Jules Dassin, Pantelis Voulgaris, George Panousopoulos, Nikos Gammatikos, Konstantinos Giannaris to name just a few, have shown their films there. These festivals once more didn’t fail to embrace and award Yorgos Lanthimos’ Oscar Nominated Dogtooth (Un Certain Regard) and Athina Rachel Tsangaris’ Attenberg (Best Actress at Venice), the first complete masterpiece of this era in my personal opinion.

As an update from my 2010 Raindance list of “10 Greek Fillmmakers to watch”, we have a lot of progress: Yorgos Lanthimos’ Alps (produced by Maria Hatzakou and Athina Rachel Tsangari) went to Venice and picked up Best Script Award, Argyris Papadimitropoulos and  Jan Vogel’s powerfull film Wasted Youth opened the Rotterdam festival and traveled around the world, Man at Sea by Konstantinos Giannaris and Amnesty by Bujar Alimani (produced by Thanos Anastopoulos) went to Berlinale, J.A.C.E by Menelaos Karamaghiolis (produced by Fenia Kosovitsa) went to Tokyo and Thessaloniki (best actress award) and Babis Makridis L went to Sundance and Rotterdham.

Some fine examples of this generation also are Yannis Economides’ Soul Kicking, Philippos Tsitos’ Plato’s Academy and Unfair World (best direction and best actor at San Sebastian), Alexander Voulgaris’ Roz, Angelos Frantzis’ In the Woods, Alexis Alexiou’s Istoria 52, Thanos Anastopoulos’ Correction, Constantina Voulgaris’ Valse Sentimentale, Dora Masklavanou’s Coming as a friend, Stella Theodoraki’s Ricordi Mi, Margarita Manda’s Hrysoskoni, Giorgos Georgopoulos’ Tungsten and Vardis Marinakis’ Black field.

There are many reasons behind the “success” of this new era. These films show a diveristy in style and reflect a “different” representation of reality (if any), making them more exciting to discover and follow. The return of well-educated film professionals from abroad and the persistence of the Greek Film Centre to support the younger generation mixed with some “John Cassavetes style” of DIY indy film making, worked well in some cases.

However, credit must be given also to the dynamic presence of producers - such as Yorgos Tsourgiannis (Dogtooth), Christos V. Konstantakopoulos (Knifer, Attenberg, Take Shelter), Eleni Kossyfidou (Strella), Amanda Livanou ( L ) and Yorgos Karnavas (Wasted Youth) - who showned a lot of commitment, dedication and took personal financial risks.

Within this social turmoil Greek filmmakers also got together in March 2009 bringing about the imergence  of “Filmmakers of Greece” (FoG), a body that consists of more than 200 directors, producers and screenwriters, all exchanging ideas and protesting in order to have the long overdue ‘new’ national film law passed” (read more at http://fogfilms.org/).

The new law, “which is crucial for the survival and evolution of the Greek film industry”, was brought to the Greek Parliament by the Minister of Culture, Pavlos Geroulanos and voted in January of 2011, thanks to the pressure of “Filmmakers of Greece”.

Its’ benefits have been slowed down though, by the lack of funds and the general dismantling of the social benefits, art institutions and government resources. Also, festival presence of these films doesn’t necessarily mean box office success in our local cinemas and abroad.

Many believe there is a great danger that the “renaissance” of Greek cinema will eventually run out of steam, if the economic depression, along with our Government’s surrender to the foreign borrowers, doesn’t stop soon.

Home grown film makers move to US, UK and the West, in order to find better conditions to make their next film or for other cases “just to survive”. Lanthimos, the first proven auteur of our generation, has already expressed his desire to make his next film in UK. But, I strongly believe that it’s more important now, than any other time, to make films here.

At present, I am writing and directing my debut feature “Apt. 12”. Like anyone else we are working on a tiny budget, with a lot of support from friends and family. I have to mention here that, my script started in Eliot Grove’s scriptwriting course and that I have attended John Truby’s master class in Raindance.   

Yannis Sakaridis

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About The Author

Yannis Sakaridis studied cinema and worked in London for 18 years. He was a member of the London Film Makers Co-Op where he directed experimental shorts and has worked as a film editor on ten feature films, film trailers for Warner Bros (Eyes Wide Shut, The General), and a large number of documentaries for BBC and Channel 4.

He has written and directed award winning short films Squadding, Buskers, Decay, La Valeta, Poem for countries, Mausoleum, Truth.

He moved to Athens in 2007 where he now works. He is currently producing his first feature film.

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Athens Calling: A New Report On Greek Cinema 2012