by Thomas Abeltshauser
The mood in Warehouse C at the old port area in Thessaloniki is intensely heated this afternoon. Again and again there are strident interjections, the speakers on the podium are yelled down. Almost tumultuous scenes take place here though this is not about the exploitation of dock workers but about the seemingly dry topic of film funding.
There's a lot going on in the Greek cinema industry, as was revealed at the 58th edition of the country's most important film festival that took place from 2-12 November. The main subsidies of the local film industry come from two pots: the Greek Film Center and the state television ERT. And both are currently in distress themselves. On 24 October, Vassilis Kostopoulos, CEO of ERT, resolved the commission of experts without giving any reason just before it was about to announce the next round of funding. One week later, on the day of the festival's opening, the Minister of Culture Lydia Koniordou fired the head of the Greek Film Center, Ilektra Venaki.
These are just the latest shocks of a catastrophic situation for years, which makes public funding of film projects increasingly difficult. It is barely recognizable anymore who bears the responsibility in this chaos. The Association of Greek filmmakers and producers ESPEK now used the festival in Thessaloniki as a platform to draw attention to the grievance. It probably won’t change much.
The seriousness of the situation is also reflected in many of the Greek productions in the program, most of which were created during a phase when the taxation of cinema tickets for the funding of new projects was stopped and the GFC was incapacitated for months. These films were made with little resources and often under self-exploiting conditions. And many of them show, more or less explicitly, how the political and economic conditions of the crisis, which has lasted for years, play into the private sphere and burden everyday life and relationships. For example, in HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Christos Georgiou sends a police officer and his anarchist daughter, who are on opposing sides during the not always peaceful demonstrations in Athens, to a country house for family therapy - and the whole nation with them. In Pavlos Iordanopoulos’ minimalist PEOPLE, non-actors talk directly to the camera about traumatic experiences and violence against protesters, as well as queer mid-twenties who break with their parents and others who despair at the circumstances.
SON OF SOFIA
|Not all films are circling the ongoing crisis, some contributions also reflect the historical context, such as the classic drama POLYXENI on the situation of the Greek population of 1950s Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, in which a Greek-born adoptive daughter tries to oppose against the arbitrariness of the Turkish authorities and their moral ideas. One of the most outstanding films of the festival, Elina Psykou's SON OF SOFIA, recounts the private and political upheavals after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc against the backdrop of the 2004 Athens Olympics. The protagonist is a Russian boy moving to his mother who had already emigrated to Greece earlier where he realizes that she has married a much older, authoritarian general. Psykou shows this double loss consistently from the perspective of eleven-year-old Misha and combines the coming-of-age story with surreal fairytale motifs without losing sight of the political dimension.|
|The Greek Film Center is not only criticised on the podium, but also onscreen. In the refreshingly self-deprecating satire TOO MUCH INFO CLOUDING OVER MY HEAD, an overly anxious young director has been trying to make a film for years and not least fails with the funding of the film which was promised three years ago but has still not been paid. Debut director and lead actor Vassilis Christofilakis has turned the political-economic and personal crisis into one of the most original Greek films of this festival and was awarded three times, most prominently with the FIPRESCI Prize for best Greek film. The reaction of the Greek Film Center at the award ceremony on Sunday evening seemed like an inside joke: the film was awarded the best debut and received EUR 5,000 from the GFC, after Christofilakis was refused any funding for years. Afterwards, he was promised support for each of his projects from now on. The young director, who had returned to Athens after completing his studies at film schools in the UK, takes it, as in his film, in good spirit. And already has new plans.|
Too Much Info Clouding Over My Head
He could become the new hope for Greek cinema. While filmmakers such as Yorgos Lanthimos (DOGTOOTH, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER) and Athina Rachel Tsangari (ATTENBERG, CHEVALIER) are celebrated internationally, the local audience is hardly interested in the films produced here. And the international success is increasingly turning into a problem: Lanthimos and Tsangari, with their quirky surreal art cinema, became a reference that many emulate instead of developing their own handwriting. The ironic final punchline of the festival: a total outsider shoots a black and white film about a failing filmmaker, finances it with EUR 16,000 from his own pocket and with the help of friends and family and is the big winner in the end.