Athens 2016. The complexities of immigration are rendered when four lives collide with Amerika square as a backdrop. Two Greek friends, along with a Syrian ex-military doctor, an African singer and a human trafficker each experience the refugee crisis in Athens. Mixing a kinetic visual style with ripped-from-the-headlines storytelling, “Amerika Square” by Yannis Sakaridis casts an unflinching gaze at the mass migration economy—where “borders are business.”
Yannis Sakaridis was born in Athens. He moved to London at the age of 19 to study Photography and History of Art at the London College of Printing and Film, University of Westminster. A member of the London Film Makers Co-Op, Sakaridis has directed experimental short films and has worked mainly in London as an editor on seventeen award winning feature films and on many documentaries for British television. After eighteen years in London, Sakaridis returned to Athens where he wrote and directed the award-winning short film Truth (2006). His first feature film Wild Duck (2013) had its world premiere at Toronto IFF 2013 and was in the official competition sections of the film festivals in Busan, Chicago, Sao Paulo, Beijing and Thessaloniki. “America Square”, his second feature film, was voted best Greek film for 2017 by the Greek Federation of Film Critics. The film, lauded by the international film press as "one of the best European films to date on the subject of immigration in all its painful implications", was also selected as Greece's official Academy Award entry for 2017, winning several distinctions at international and Greek Festivals.
Yannis Stankoglou, Xenia Dania, "Amerika Square" (2016)
Yannis Sakaridis talked to Greek news Agenda* about the adaptation of Yannis Tsirbas’ novel on which the film is based, noting that together with his excellent cast they worked hard on the plotline and that the documentary-style editing provided the final touch to the film. Finally, Sakaridis explains how he overcame the limitations of a very tight budget to accomplish this film.
“Amerika Square” is a loose adaptation of Yannis Tsirbas’ novel Victoria Doesn’t Exist. Would you like to describe the process of script writing?
Once the “Via Veneto” of Athens - the favourite place of artists, film makers and wannabees like Maria Callas in the 50s and 60s - America Square is one of the liveliest areas in Athens. When I first arrived in Athens in 2008 after 18 years in London, I found America Square very familiar and I was fascinated by the multicultural references: The hectic, hot, colourful Athenian cityscape, which unveils a passionate, fragile world that lives on the edge of the society.
Vassilis Kukalani, "Amerika Square" (2016)
Tsirbas' novel, which is set in the area and develops brilliantly the "banal racist" Makis character (played by Makis Papadimitriou), together with the real story of the Syrian refugee (Vassilis Koukalani) and Billy (Yannis Stankoglou) the tattoo artist, served as the basis of our script.
We worked and discussed both characters and the story line with the actors and we also improvised whilst filming. I do work a lot on editing and shaping the performances, and the final edit is the final draft of the script.
You edited the film yourself. How did you achieve this strong, atmospheric build-up?
We always wanted to have a fast paced triptych story using the three narrations of the protagonists and the parallel documentary style editing. Minos Matsas' excellent score gave the right tone and the emotional impact to the narrative. The initial thought was to give a lot of space to the actual Square and treat it as another character.
Yannis Stankoglou, Makis Papadimitriou, "Amerika Square" (2016)
Two of the central characters of the film reflect the ways Greeks have responded to the refugee crisis: xenophobia vs solidarity. What do you think the economic and refugee crises have taught the Greek people so far?
Greek people became more mature in the last five years. We have seen changes that other nations see in decades. A lot of people realized it and moved on.
Two friends, Billy and Nakos, who grew up in the same building, come from a similar economic, social and cultural background and went to the same school, react in completely different ways towards these crises, raising questions about the importance of balance and control in people's minds.
Alexandros Logothetis, Ilias Logothetis, "Wild Duck" (2013)
The economic crisis is a point of reference in both of your feature films, “Wild Duck” and “Amerika Square”. How do you think it has influenced contemporary film production and how have you handled it?
Greek cinema in the last 10 years has traveled around the world more than ever before, making Greek producers more open to European co-productions as a consequence. I made a super low budget first film working with friends, trying to get the best possible result with only a few resources. Moreover, my prior experience as an editor in fifteen feature films and many documentaries, brilliant actor friends and contemporary social issues as subject matter also helped a lot.
What are your future plans?
I am working on a feature film called Omonoia as well as a period drama biopic.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
** Special thanks to Anna Georgiou, Head of Press and Communications Office at the Embassy of Greece in Berlin.
Read also: Dissecting the Amerika dream, Amerika Square: a modern-day Casablanca (Sakaridis interview w/h “Neos Kosmos”), “Refugees are victims of a corrupt system well orchestrated in destroying” (Sakaridis interview with Cineuropa), Hollywood Reporter film review.
To mark 160 years since the opening of the Athens Gasworks factory, Technopolis City of Athens presents a major exhibition chronicling Greece's industrial development: “160 years made in Greece. Industry, Innovation, Novelty” runs from January 18 until March 25 2018, telling the story -for the first time to that extent- of industrial development in Greece from 1860 until 1970.
The exhibition’s scientific advisor, Christina Agriantoni is Professor Emeritus of the Department of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology, University of Thessaly (Volos, Greece). Her fields of research are industrial history, urban history, business history and industrial archaeology of Greece and Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Her publications include: The Beginnings of Industrialization in Greece (Οι απαρχές της εκβιομηχάνισης στην Ελλάδα τον 19ο αιώνα), Athens, 1986; Syros and Hermoupolis (Σύρος και Ερμούπολη. Συμβολές στην ιστορία του νησιού, 15ος-20ος αι.), National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens, 2008; and A collective portrait of Greek industrialists (in: Entreprises et Histoire: La Grèce et l'histoire des enterprises, 2011).
Rethinking Greece spoke* with Christina Agriantoni about the Greek industrial sector´s contribution to growth, the waves of industrialization in Greece, the industrial boom of the 50’s and 60’s, Greece's biggest industries, the process of deindustrialization after the mid 70’s and finally, Greece’s industrial prospects and comparative advantages today. As professor Agriantoni points out: "The history of Greek industry is not known. So we wanted to share this story, show that it had ups and downs like everywhere, and that companies have taken risks and found ways to face the difficulties. [...] About 45% of the companies presented in the exhibition are still operating; so the history of the industry in Greece is not over, it does not only belong to the past, but also to the present and to the future."
The prevailing stereotypes for Greek industrial development are that it was lagging, anemic and its contribution to the economy negligible. Would you like to comment?
There is some truth in these stereotypes, but like all stereotypes, they obscure historical reality. The truth is that Greece has indeed remained a predominantly agricultural country until the Second World War: in 1939 industry’s contribution to GDP was estimated at about 10% and 60% of the population was employed in agriculture (this percentage was 80% in the 19th century). It is also true that Greek industry has always lagged behind the continuous technological progress launched by industrialized countries. All this does not mean that the industry was anemic or unimportant for the economy. It has simply developed according to a different pattern. These stereotypes are due to a long-standing habit of evaluating the industrialization of each country compared to the "first comer" model, namely the British model.
This way of thinking is outdated. Today, we know that each country has experienced its own type of industrialization; in Greece, industrialization is characterized by two main elements: First, it is labor-intensive (as was recently the case in Asian countries), as opposed to the British or American pattern of capital-intensive industrialization. Second, the industry developed in Greece almost exclusively in certain cities –preferably port cities– which formed a kind of enclave, islands of modernity surrounded by a countryside that remained traditional. The differences between cities and countryside (or even between different regions added to the country as its borders progressively expanded) were very marked. Therefore, statistics, in terms of national averages, which are used today to study homogenized and fully urbanized economies, have no sense for earlier times. We must also remember that in each region added to Greece (Thessaly in 1881, Macedonia and Thrace in 1912), the weight of agriculture was even greater than in the territory of the previous frontiers, which re-ruralized, in a way, the country –in terms of national averages.
Finally, it should also be noted that, especially during the inter-war period –when the greatest number of refugees from Asia Minor settled in rural areas– the Greek state systematically pursued a policy favorable to agriculture, in order to ethnically homogenize new territories. This has contributed to the conservation of an overpopulated, feebly productive agricultural sector, with high rates of underemployment.
Industry’s contribution to the economy becomes much more important after the Second World War. It is in fact the industrial sector that leads the economic development of the country, with annual growth rates of 8.6% in 1953-62 and 11.5% in 1963-73, while average GDP growth for the whole period 1953-73 was 6.9%. For example, the share of the broad industrial sector (including construction) in GDP increased from 20% in 1950 to 34.5% in 1973, and that of the processing industry in the strict sense increased from 11,6% to 21% between 1953 and 1973. In contrast, the share of the agricultural sector in GDP decreased from 28% to 15.5%; Greece was no longer an agricultural country.
Which were the most important waves of industrialization in Greece? When did the industry reach its highest point of development and what were the historic conditions that made this possible?
All the waves of industrialization in Greece transpire during periods of enlargement of the internal market, which occurs either because of accelerated urbanization or because of the addition of new territories. This shows that actually, the narrowness of the internal market has been a major impediment to industrial development in Greece (prohibiting, inter alia, mass production), insofar the efforts to orient local industrial production towards exports had failed very early. The waves of industrialization were also part of the phases of expansion of the international economy: Greek economy is sensitive to the fluctuations of international markets, to which it was linked early thanks to its agricultural exports. What is more, in the economy of this small country, foreign trade plays an important role, since internal trade by itself is insufficient as a stimulator of economic activity.
So, Greek industry takes off during 1860-1875, when the mid-century strong growth of the European economy reaches its peak, and the port cities dedicated to foreign trade are thriving. The second wave of industrialization, between 1890 and the eve of the (Balkan and world) wars, is a much bigger one, coming after the marked global economic recovery of the Belle Epoque, but also the first rural exodus in Greece. Then follow the expansion phases of 1918-1921, 1924-1927 and 1933-1939. All these surges are very often curbed by external "accidents", namely wars, regional crises and the international economic crisis (1929-32).
The prevailing conditions in Greece from the end of the nineteenth century, namely, the relative abundance of labor (decline of the agricultural sector, and then, arrival of refugees from Asia Minor after 1922) and a relatively protected internal market, first by the devaluation of the drachma (1890-1905) and then by tariffs, have shaped in a lasting way the face of industry: labor intensive, small, non-competitive, paying low wages and addressing the domestic consumer market. Still, larger, better organized and technologically advanced companies, were not lacking, but they were the minority. The peculiarity of this dualist structure of Greek industry –a structure that is found in other countries too– was that it leaned heavily on "small" industry (artisan stores or small factories) throughout the inter-war period.
1950-1975: The biggest wave
The biggest and most sustained wave of industrialization in Greece undoubtedly occurred in 1950-1975. First and foremost, this is a long period of peace and stability that follows a period of war, once again prolonged in Greece (Civil War, 1946-49). It is also a period of very marked global growth (the postwar economic boom). In Greece, reconstruction and very rapid urbanization (the countryside is emptying for the first time) have certainly favored industrial development, as well as the expansion of infrastructure (including the national electricity network) financed in part by the Marshall Plan. The 1953 currency reform ensured monetary stabilization, a beneficial factor for the economy as a whole.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it was the first time that a coherent industrial policy had been applied in the context of a mixed economy, with marked state interventionism, as was the case in all industrial countries around the world at that time. This policy included (1) a series of measures aimed at the motivation of investments and especially at the attraction of foreign capital, (2) the creation of public bodies dedicated to the support of industry and the direct participation of the State in some companies, (3) the obligation on banks to dedicate some of their resources to the financing of industry, and eventually the creation of a bank specialized in long-term industrial credit, and finally (4) the indexation of wages to the evolution of productivity.
Apart from the aforementioned spectacular growth, another important development of the era has been the restructuring of industrial production: between 1953 and 1973, the share of intermediate and capital goods (the so-called heavy industry) in the total industrial output rose from 26% to 45%, while the share of consumer goods decreased from 62% to 42%.
After the mid-1970s and throughout the 80s, Greek industry starts to decline. Deindustrialization has been a pan-European, even international phenomenon, but were there any particular characteristics in the Greek process of de-industrialization?
The dynamism of the 1950-1975 period failed to eradicate all the weaknesses of the Greek industry. Even though several big companies had become exporters, the competitiveness of most remained weak. Overall, productivity in the industrial sector had grown at an annual rate of 9% in the 1960s, reflecting the effort for technological modernization, but, even though productivity was reaching the level of foreign competitors, it was still insufficient. The Association Agreement with the European Economic Community, signed in 1961, provided for a long transitional period, which allowed the perpetuation of a protective environment; the adaptation of the industry to the new conditions was insufficient when the Accession to the European Community (1979) entered into force in 1981.
The overwhelming majority of companies were small and family-based, which is not a disadvantage in itself, but becomes one when management practices remain archaic. Very few companies had adopted modern management techniques. Statism had the side effect of allowing patronage mentality and practices to persist. Lastly, easy access to bank financing had led to excessive debt, which had been further increased in the early 1970s, when several companies, especially the larger ones, had embarked on new investment plans. In sum, the transformation of the industry was not complete when in 1971-73, the disturbances of the international economic environment - the dollar crisis and the first oil crisis- first sounded the alarm. The favorable economic conjuncture decisively ended with the second oil crisis of 1979.
However, the specificities of the Greek case, which have aggravated the negative impact of global economy’s upheavals, have more to do with socio-political circumstances. The "Metapolitefsi" (the era after the fall of the colonels' dictatorship in 1974 and the transition to democracy) saw an outburst of demands from broad social strata, calling for a fairer sharing of the fruits of growth. A sharp rise in inflation (24% in 1974) also fueled the protests. Actually, this outburst was due to the fact that all social protests had been practically persecuted until then, not only at the time of the dictatorship but also during the previous period, when the consequences of the civil war had generated an authoritarian state that controlled syndicalism and engaged in anti-communist repression. Faced with this situation, the right-wing governments of the 1970s, and more systematically those of the center-left after 1981, began to satisfy almost all these demands.
So, at a time when it was necessary to concentrate all efforts in improving business competitiveness and to open the market, wages began to rise faster than productivity and the public sector was being constantly expanded (nationalizations of the 1970s, massive hiring in the following decade). One after the other, several big companies began to fall under the control of the banks and the state during the 1980s; their management, not always entrusted to competent persons, was not immune to the prevailing anti-business sentiment, cultivated by the populist yellow press. Any restructuring effort would have meant layoffs, and that was out of the question for the government at the time (and yet it was at that time when large parts of the industry disappeared, but this mostly concerned industries in the provinces that were not so visible). Resistance to privatization, that started in the early 1990s, is still very much alive.
Right now, industrial activity accounts for 11% of Greece’s GDP, could this percentage be further increased? In which sectors do you believe Greece has an advantage?
The recovery of the industry began in the 1990s; from a macroscopic point of view it can be said that the aforementioned deindustrialization was part of a restructuring process, very long and painful indeed, but its results are obvious: the decline of traditional and labor intensive industries (textile manufacturing, for example), naturally attracted to low-wage countries, and the emergence of a new industrial structure centered around the advantages that our country could offer.
The agri-food sector has maintained its workforce; the same can be said for the metal processing industries (especially aluminum), energy, the chemical industry (petroleum), but also information technology and its applications, all these are still successful sectors that seem to me to show the way forward. No doubt the recent debt crisis (and also the sudden fall in the construction sector), combined with market depression, have partially halted the growth of these sectors.
Among the developments that give us hope, we must note the emergence of a new generation of entrepreneurs, who are fully aware of the constraints of our times, competent in technology and management, employ highly skilled scientists and are ready to open up to world markets and abandon traditional practices. Companies that have successfully passed the test of recent upheavals, have been able to turn to exports in time, ensure partnerships and finally to become a part of transnational supply chains. Greece currently has a number of globalized industrial groups. I cannot predict whether the industry's share in GDP will increase; in any case, as the "fourth industrial revolution" is underway, the term "industry" is to be redefined.
What were the criteria of selection for the industries presented in the “160 years made in Greece” exhibition? What is the principal message you would like to communicate to the visitors?
The space and the time available imposed us limits. So we had to make choices. We first introduced a time limit: only companies that were founded prior to 1970 were included (but we followed their evolution until the end, if they continued to operate after that date). We used that criterion because the 1970s were the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the Greek industry. Then we selected the companies to present (about 120), according to three further criteria: the first is innovation, which has to do with the products themselves, as well as production processes, work organization, management and staff relations. Needless to say, the overwhelming majority of the companies chosen according to this criterion innovated by introducing new products, the diversification of production having been an unavoidable necessity for Greek companies in the process of expansion.
The second criterion focuses on pioneering enterprises, meaning those that were the first to introduce a new industrial branch in the country, something that always represents a significant risk. Finally, the third criterion is longevity, which we consider a feat, given the difficulties that industrial development has encountered too often in our country.
As for the message we wanted to convey, Ι must first of all say that the history of Greek industry is not known. So we wanted to share this story, show that it had ups and downs like everywhere, and that companies have taken risks and found ways to face the difficulties. The exhibition wants to transmit another message as well, which was not planned but which emerged as a result of our research and the final composition of our sample: about 45% of the companies presented in the exhibition are still operating; so the history of the industry in Greece is not over, it does not only belong to the past, but also to the present and to the future.
* Interview by Ioulia Livaditi and Nikolas Nenedakis
This year, Animafest Cyprus - Views of the World inaugurates Animafest Cyprus – Junior Edition, that will take place in Nicosia at Melina Merkouri Hall, 14-17 March 2017, with the support of ASIFA (Association International du film d’ Animation / UNESCO CICT) and the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media of Greece in the context of its audiovisual production enhancement policy.The main goal of the Junior Edition of Animafest Cyprus is the development of its outreach programmes in the field of education and thus the support and cultivation of Animation in Cyprus. The programme includes curated children’s animation films by independent artists and studios from around the world, as well as the work of Cypriot artists, educational programmes, seminars and lectures. The programme includes creative workshops for students and professionals on Character Design for Animation with Katerina Pantela and on 3D modeling with Andreas Rossides.
Two International competition programmes will be screened. The award for best film (500 euros), sponsored by the Bank of Cyprus, will be decided by a vote by children and young people in the audience.
Interview with the founder
Greek News Agenda* asked graphic and animation artist Yiorgos Tsangaris, initiator of Animafest Cyprus – Junior Edition, president of ASIFA Cyprus and founder of the Countryside Animafest Cyprus to say a few words about Animafest Cyprus as well as the Junior Edition.
What are the characteristics of Animafest Cyprus?
Animafest Cyprus, as one of the longest-running film festivals in Cyprus, is undoubtedly a major contributor to the creation of a new culture for film festivals as well as the appreciation of animation in this country. It is renowned for the high quality of its programming, for its wide and enthusiastic audience and for its active presence in the cultural scene throughout the year. In the context of the festival, we have international and national competition film programmes, parallel screening, tributes, exhibitions and masterclasses by distinguished international artists. The festival has strong bonds with the major cultural institutions in Cyprus, and as the official animation platform of this country, it is supported by the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Cyprus. In recent years, the festival has been showcasing the work of a new generation of Cypriot animation filmmakers and is committed to creating opportunities for training and for the development of new productions.
Animafest Cyprus, since its inception as a high-quality cultural activity taking place in the countryside, has been bringing together people from all walks of life for 17 years. This innovative characteristic has contributed significantly in the appreciation of the countryside and has revitalized small rural communities. We believe that the festival has contributed significantly in creating an interest in animation in Cyprus among a very wide audience--a fact that makes Countryside Animafest Cyprus stand out internationally.
The Festival has an intensely active international activity. In 2013, a national ASIFA chapter was established in Cyprus, as a result of the successful growth and international standing of the festival, which is renowned for the high quality of its programming and its wide and diverse audience. Furthermore the Festival is in partnership with other important International film festivals and animation studios.
What is the goal of the Junior edition?
This year we inaugurate Animafest Cyprus – Junior Edition, which focuses on education, from preschool level through to professional training. The main goal of this new edition of the festival is the development of its outreach programs in the field of education and thus the support and cultivation of the field of Animation in Cyprus. The programme will present curated children’s animation films by independent artists and studios from all over the world, as well as the work of Cypriot artists. This new edition will also include lectures, tributes, exhibitions, children’s competition programmes, workshops and specialized masterclasses in new technologies.
Interview with Joan Zhonga and Effie Pappas
The Festival will also host two distinguished Greek filmmakers, whose films have been selected for the competition programmes:Joan Zhogka with his film “EthnoPhobia” and Effie Pappa with her film “To Elephantaki” (Little Elephant). Joan Zhogka and Effie Papas will talk about their work on Saturday March 17. Greek News Agenda* interviewed Zhonga and Pappas about their work and the ability of animation to promote cultural diversity in times of crisis.
Cultural industries have been globalized over the last decades as more cultural goods and services are traded and cultural production is flexibly organized across national borders. Do you believe that animation culture is able to promote both intercultural understanding and cultural diversity in times of crisis?
J. Z.: For me animation is the medium that can connect people, cultures and nations because it uses a universal language. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you could be 5 or 60, it still has the same magic and appeal to it. Let’s not forget it’s the only medium where real life objects come to life and where animals can speak. Whether you are creating an experimental animation or a film with a narrative, it has a universal appeal and people from around the world will have the same response to it no matter what language they speak. It’s also a great way for artists to communicate important messages in a simple way. In times of crises like the one we’re experiencing at the moment, animation can be used to bring people together. That’s been my goal since I started making films and that’s the message that I’m trying to get across with my film Ethnophobia. People create the differences that divide us; the reality is we are all much more similar that we think. And only by opening a cultural dialogue we can minimise those differences and live united.
E.P.: Animation is a branch of the film industry and art industry as a whole. Each film is an art piece that has been sprouted from one’s creative mind and in that way it inevitably shares stories and characteristics which represent the intercultural values, morals, beliefs or troubles of one’s heritage. I think audiences need stories to which they feel somehow connected to or are curious to see how people get through difficulties they encounter.In that way it makes it even more intellectually stimulating to have a story which doesn’t hide its references, location or place of origin. Times of crisis are usually great in terms of firing the engine to tell these stories passionately and creatively; it is however very unfortunate and a missed opportunity if these voices cannot be heard due to financial reasons. This is where the global market should be responsible and help by offering equal finance opportunities which then lead to promoting cultural diversity.
"EthnoPhobia", Joan Zhonga
Greece and Cyprus are small niches of the global cultural market. Are they in a position to participate in the animation industry worldwide?
J. Z.: The reality is that the animation industries in Greece and Cyprus are very small when you compare them with countries such as the US, the UK or France. But in the past five years, huge steps have been taken towards the promotion and showcasing of Greek talent and there’s been greater support from governmental institutions. More Greek animation films have been excelling in festivals around the world and ASIFA Hellas has been organising a lot of screenings in cinemas where a wider audience that isn’t so familiar with it can get to know the Greek creators. Moreover, for the second year in a row, ASIFA Hellas will have a booth at Annecy festival (the biggest animation festival in the world) presenting all that Greece has to offer to the international market and making initial contact with producers for potential co-productions. Things are definitely moving towards the right direction and the world is learning about Greek animation. We have a long way ahead of us but taking things one step at a time is the best way to achieve our goal.
E.P.: In terms of artistic endeavours, intellectual stimulus and inspirations, I think Greece and Cyprus have amazing stories to share. Now, obviously by not having any film academies or animation schools it makes it very hard to compete with companies and creative teams of other countries with an established body of work over decades. However, over the last years there has been a very positive change and tremendous effort from Animation Festivals, Workshops and publications to promote Animation and get more artists to join the community. The effects of that effort have already begun to flourish and the proof is the multiple participations and recognitions in Film Festivals worldwide, as well as Greece’s contribution in this year’s animated success, “Loving Vincent”. I’m positive that with continuous efforts and the relevant financial support, Greece and Cyprus have the potential to make it on the international scene.
"Little Elephant", Effie Pappa
Tell us more about your own vision, storytelling and techniques used in the animated films that you create and distribute.
J. Z.: I have to admit I’ve been very blessed in my life. Throughout my 36 years of experience I’ve used various animation techniques in my films, paper cut-outs, puppets as well as 2D and 3D animation. In the 90s, I realized that nobody was making films using plasticine, so I thought it was a good way to make something different and distinguish myself from other animators. Since then, I’ve stuck with plasticine and clay as it’s cost effective and a material which allows you to change the shapes of objects on the spot. The animator has a unique relationship with plasticine, you can see your fingerprints on the characters and it has a more real feel to it. You can also be very creative with it and it’s a material children recognize and can connect to. I derive inspiration from my experiences and everyday life. I want to tell stories that are important to me and I want to make the audience think especially when it comes to social and political issues. As a filmmaker I try to inspire and open a dialogue with the audience through my work in hopes of making a difference in people’s lives.
E.P.: I love directing stop motion because of its physicality and the ability to be on set versus in front of computers all day. I feel it creates a different bond to be able be surrounded by bigger crew, to work with handmade sets, animate a miniature puppet or even simply moving actual lights. I’m trying not to be biased though and I’d rather say every story has it’s own best expressed technique and perhaps that’s why my stories are not told using the same medium. Recently the stories I’ve been writing are for live action while my latest film in production is a combination of Rotoscoping with 2d elements. There are several stories that I want to tell, however most of them are under the same thread of family bonds and values of others that come from a place of sharing stories of inequality.
* Interviews by Dr. Aikaterini Lambrou, Head of the Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in Cyprus.
Read also via Greek News Agenda: “EthnoPhobia”: a Greek animation film against racism
The weekly French news magazine L'Obs and daily Greek newspaper Kathimerini organised a “Days of Athens” forum, themed “Greece: The paths of hope”, on February 8- 9, 2018. The forum, hosted by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, brought together a number of notable figures from the fields of politics and economy in Greece and France, who discussed various issues concerning the relations between the two countries and the current situation within the European Union. Our sister publication, Grèce Hebdo*, acquired interviews with the main participants: Matthieu Croissandeau, editor-in-chief of L'Obs and co-organiser of these days of debates, and Hubert Védrine, former Foreign Minister of France and author of the book Save Europe. The discussions focused on the relations between Greece and France, the political issues of a common future, as well as the particular role of the European Union in this context.
Interview with Mathieu Croissandeau, editor-in-chief of l'Obs
Why such a conference organized by l'Obs today in Athens, in the heart of Greece?
L'Obs has a special history with Greece and Athens. This is the second time we have organized such an event, after the one we had five years ago. We are close to Greece because it is at the origin of our culture and we share an incredible number of values. The country has suffered since ten years ago because we know we imposed an austerity program that was dictated the the population has made colossal efforts, led by the the governments. It seemed important for us, ten years after the start of the economic crisis, to come back to Greece and make an assessment of the State, its economy and its society. At the highest point of the crisis, in the summer 2015, L'Obs engaged itself with a very powerful cover title: "Never without Greece". We never considered Greek people to be cheaters or lazy and we always defended the place of Greece inside the European Union.
Even if Greek people had the occasion to denounce the austerity measures imposed by the European institutions, during the referendum of July 2015?
I hear what you are saying but the place of Greece is, for us, absolutly and without any debate, in Europe. Then, how these measures have been applied, dictated or imposed, these are questions we would like to ask during these two days of debates. The reform agenda that has been carried out allows, in a macro-economic point of view, to look at the first results: growth is coming back, - certainly not at the same level as before the crisis - but the indicators are rather good, like the one concerning the public deficit. But do Greek people realize all the progress that is being done? The answer is no. These macroeconomic issues mainly reassure the investors, the public market and the European partners. Nonetheless, a gap between the first positive indicators and the reality lived by the population still remains. We are also experiencing this phenomenon in France, even if we have not consented to the same measures as the Greeks.
It was therefore important for us to come back with a perspective that was to show that this is not only a debate about Greece. The Greek case allows us to think about our relationship with Europe and about how the European institutions are functioning. A well-known English footballer, Gary Lineker, once said: "Football is a simple game, twenty-two men chase a ball and at the end the Germans win". We can ask each other if the role of Germany in the management of the Greek crisis is not, in a way, a parable of this. It means that, in the end, it is one who hits the table the hardest that wins. Overall, the reform agenda set up by Alexis Tsipras has been dictated by a consultation and discussions that took place between the European partners.
The fact is that he was elected on an anti-austerity program by the Greek people, what does it mean to you?
Indeed, it poses a true democratic question about what is the democratic control concerning the way these negociations are taking place in Europe. For example, like with the Eurogroup, we can clearly see there is a democratic part that escapes us. We don't attend these meetings, we don't know everything about the issues and the people decide only every five years through the European Parliament or through national polls. This question of democratic control is really at the center of our concern.
The other question that is being raised deals with the efficiency of this economic policy led by the European institutions. Are the austerity policies imposed on Greece efficient? We said it, it fills macroeconomic barometers and, sometimes, it helps reduce unemployment like it did in Spain and Portugal, but the question is to know if there are other ways of doing it. Was it necessary to make Greece pay? Wasn't there a punitive side to the measures taken? These are questions that need to be asked.
Finally, the third issue is linked to the question of the democratic control and deals with transparency. The European system is badly known by its people, some decisions are taken either in private between heads of governments and states, or under the weight of lobbies at the European Commission. There is a question of transparency that arises. All these issues, democracy, efficiency and transparency, are issues we wanted to bring, beyond the Greek case, to the center of the debate through this conference.
Besides the cradle of the democracy or the Greek philosophers, what is, for you, the particular relationship between Greece, France and Europe?
For Greece and Europe, it is very clear. We know it, the name of "Europe" comes from Greek mythology. Europe is obviously Greco-Latin because, as you said, Greek philosophers and democracy ; all this was born in Greece and flourished around the Mediterranean rim and on the European continent. Romans, having taken up these principles, made the civilizational bases of Europe inspired both philosophically and politically by Rome and Greece. It is also spiritually inspired by Judeo-Christianity. All of this obviously intersects and is central to our civilization.
Behond that, France and Greece are living an old love story like history can teach us. We can see huge places established by the Franks on the Crusades route, like in Monemvasia or in Mistra. There is obviously a footprint linked once again to history. If you take the 19th century, with what we call the "philhellenism", intellectuals were committed, like the writer Victor Hugo or the painter Delacroix, during the country's independence war against the Ottoman Empire. France was inspired by what Greece inspires beyond its borders and what it represents. At the end of the colonels dictatorship, in 1973, France was in favor of the entry of Greece into the European Union. It wasn't obvious at the time, but it was a strong political move to say that Greece was a part of Europe.
Concerning business, a lot of French companies invest in the country. In tourism, it goes both ways, but a lot of French people come to visit Greece, and still during these years of crisis. Exchanges between France and Greece are numerous, on cultural, political and tourist levels at once.
Don't you sometimes think that we tend to hide the centuries of Ottoman occupation and its influence by maintaining only a spirit of philhellenism?
Yes, we often tend to digress by considering that the Ottomans were occupiers. Of course they were for the Greeks, but they also left huge footprints and marks on Greece’s history. We hear less about it, indeed, because we have a very European-centered point of view and because the relationship with Turkey is not great at the moment.
Interview of Hubert Védrine, former French Minister of Foreign Affairs
How could hope in Europe be revived, in order to make Europe attractive again?
It is a very vast topic, and it does not only concern Greece. We have to keep in mind that, no matter what is being said, construction of Europe has never been the result of popular demand. This hope is sustained by small groups. What we say now about European integration is largely reinvented, a kind of fairy tale, where Europe made peace after WWII, while Americans and USSR made peace in Europe. It is the Atlantic Alliance that protected half of Europe and the founding fathers of Europe were in favour of the Atlantic Alliance, protected by the United States against the Soviet threat, this is obvious. That is why the European community was an economic alliance, to begin with, protected by NATO and organized as a common market.
It is only since the legendary period of Mitterrand/Kohl/Delors that new concepts appear. Here again, it does not by popular movements. Let us remember that the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, whereas all the big powers were in favour, ultimately there was just one crucial point to override. Therefore we won’t recover a spirit that did not exist. We have to convince the public again.
What are the issues facing Europe and what would be the solutions to bring back "hope"?
There are anti-Europeans everywhere. I am not talking about Eurosceptic groups. Media should not mix up these two terms. They are not the same. Eurosceptics can change their mind whereas anti-European from the Far- right or Far- left parties are not going to change. The sceptics, those who are discouraged, to whom we made a lot of promises like a social Europe or those who react to what Jean-Claude Junker himself calls an "excessive regulation", are not anti-European but they are upset by what Europe has become.
The future is to convince this part of the society to swing back to the pro-European side. If we manage this, the European project will get back its strength. If we don’t succede, in the best case, it would be stagnation. To suceed, it is not sufficient to advance traditionnal pro-European arguments. In 1992, in France, saying Europe is peace, youth and future did not win any votes in favor of pro-Europeans. We have to give what the people are asking for. A certain identity, sovereignty and security. Nevertheless, it has been thirty years that the elites reject all this by saying it is disgusting, awful and extreme, whereas these are normal and ordinary requests. If there are no reasonnable answers from pro-Europeans, there is a threat that anti-Europeans will increase in numbers.
How would you imagine European Union in ten years and when could we consider a completion of the construction of Europe?
I don't believe in a breakdown scenario. Nobody wants to follow the UK example. There is also a risk of regionalism that would weaken Europe greatly, but it is not a general case. I don’t belive in the worst case-scenario. I also don’t believe in a scenario of an « outburst » like the federalists expect. I don’t believe at all in this huge "outburst" that would change everything. No nation in Europe would accept to give up its sovereignty in favor of the Commission or of the European Parliament.
I believe in intermediate scenarios, more or less good. The German government can respond positively to Emmanuel Macron on certain points like the improvement of the eurozone, a Europe that protects to some degree, a vigilance concerning foreign investment and about less social dumping. Not a complete revolution but some improvement. We can be reasonnably optimistic on this basis. But we should rethink our approach by comparison with the rest of the world. I am going to show my true French colours, but seems obvious to me that Europe should become a major power. So it can exist opposite the United-States, China and Russia, or at the very least so that the others do not decide for us.
*Interview by Hugo Tortel. Translation from French by Johanna Bonenfant and Hugo Tortel
A thriller at heart, "Rosemarie" is a film about duality and ambiguity, with many unexpected comic elements; and that's where its charm comes from. A rather dysfunctional character, who loves arias and haloumi, Kostas hovers between art and reality in contemporary post-crisis Cyprus, which also tries to find its way in a glocal setting. Film and theatre director, screenplay writer and playwright Adonis Florides lives and works in Limassol, Cyprus. “Rosemarie” (2017), his second feature film, premiered at the “Cyprus Film Days International Film Festival” where it received Best Film Award in the “Glocal Images” International Competition section. "Rosemarie" also won Best Film Award from the Greek Film Critics Association at the 58th Thessaloniki Film Festival 2017. Florides has also written and co-directed the feature film “Kalabush” (2004) and the short “Espresso” (1998) which have been screened at many festivals around the world, receiving various awards.
Talking to Greek News Agenda* Florides explains that his postmodern take, intertwining different genres, comes from his interpretation of the world as tragicomedy. As regards Cyprus, a hidden central character in the film, he elaborates on the inherent contradictions of contemporary Cypriot society, the dualities that form Cypriot identity, many of which are reflected upon his main character.
Yiannis Kokkinos, "Rosemarie" (2017)
“Rosemarie” is an intriguing mixture of genres. Drama intertwines with hints of thriller, comic twists and ancient tragedy. Could you elaborate on your choices?
I always tended to be motivated by the tragedy hidden behind each comic situation and vice-versa. This is the way I understand and interpret the world; as a tragicomedy. Thus, when I first started working on the screenplay, it came out naturally. I did not think much about intertwining genres. At a later stage though, I did realize that I was actually doing it and I felt rather uncomfortable for not sticking with the rules of a specific genre. This was one of the reasons it took me so long – almost ten years – to finish it. I tried a couple of times to re-write it in a more conventional way but I felt I was betraying my initial motivation each time. At some stage I decided that I would stop censoring myself and instead of worrying about it, I would work consciously in order to incorporate the right amount of drama, suspense and humour in order make it work and, at the same time, to stay true to what I wanted to say. It was an adventure which I enjoyed, although I knew the risks involved. In order to make it work, it was of paramount importance to give the film the right pace, both in terms of the external as well as the internal rhythm of the shot. And rhythm in film-making is to get the right thing to happen at the right moment. Dismissing the “grand narratives” by deconstructing and intertwining solid genre forms is certainly a post-modern approach. But this did not happen consciously, at least not when I first began working on the film. Still I believe the film tells a story in a rather conventional way, built on a firm 3-act structure - with plot, character and theme contributing to each other.
Andreas Vassiliou, "Rosemarie" (2017)
Cyprus is a hiddencharacter in your story. You use as a background notion the economic crisis that hit the country in recent years. How is contemporary Cypriot society presented in your work?
I always remember Cyprus being in some sort of crisis. War, conflict, nationalism, corruption, power struggles, the battles between civil society and the norms of patriarchy, expressed mainly through institutions such as the church and the education system spreading down to the very heart of society, i.e. the traditional family. Add to this a deep post-colonial syndrome that has never healed and which has been growing out of control in a complicated post World War II geopolitical environment, and we get the whole picture. The crisis of capitalism in 2013 - which affected Cyprus in a rather dramatic way - was just another manifestationof this seemingly endless circle of crises. So yes, one could conceive the film as an allegory of contemporary Cypriot society that cannot, or does not want to, find a way out of this seemingly endless vicious circle. This was not fully intentional to be honest. However, I wasn’t particularly puzzled when a young spectator of the film sent me this message on Facebook, “…it is a film about a society locked and trapped behind the firmly shut doors of the traditional family, that steals everything from the generations to come, its future, its dreams, its beaches, its forests, its natural wealth. It is a film about a society that does not hesitate to condemn its children to mental death, to drive to madness those who are still morally decent …”
Yiannis Kokkinos, "Rosemarie" (2017)
What are your cinematic influences and how did you incorporate them in your film?
At some point I realised that I had included in the film direct or indirect references to cinematic moments and images that I personally enjoyed or was moved by, ones that I felt have had some impact on my life. I decided to keep them and consciously elaborated on this idea. The first issue at stake was to incorporate these moments and images into one aesthetically solid and self-contained film that tells a story in a simple – but not simplistic – way. This was a risky endeavour. The second was to create a “psychological reality” in which both character and audience can “exist” in an abstract world enclosed in a poorly maintained modernist block of flats. Viewers often isolate and point out different aspects of the film that correspond to different cinematic aesthetics, moments, or images. This is more than welcome and I enjoy the various ways that 'Rosemarie' communicates with the audience. However, to me the film is a thriller at heart.
Yiannis Kokkinos, "Rosemarie" (2017)
Arias and halloumi. Soap operas and high brow culture. Would you like to talk about the glocal pendulum in Rosemarie?
I have always been interested in connecting this rock I live on, its history and culture, with the rest of the world. “Duality” has always been part of our life in many ways, as it is in many areas of the world that are in a transitional state. In this sense, it is both a global and a local phenomenon. In our case we are both Europeans and Middle Easterners at the same time, though we tend to forget the latter. Linguistically we are torn between the “standard” Modern Greek and the dialect and as socially diglots we use distinct ‘high’ and ‘low’ varieties of the language/ dialect depending on the circumstances. We are also split between being ourselves intimately and being someone else formally; split between “traditional” moral values and hypocrisy; split between 'being' cultured or successful and our recent past in a remote village where we have abandoned a crippled brother; between glossy life on a TV screen and tacky real life. This island-rock is even split ethnically and torn apart geographically. Unfortunately, we tend to acknowledge only one aspect of all these “dualisms” at a time, also ignoring what is in between their two poles. This is done in order to project a “cleansed” persona that fits our understanding of an imaginary world. At the end of the day, this split is between self-consciousness and self-denial, and we often prefer the latter. The problem is that self-denial is at most times based on some sort of guilt. Kostas goes through this transition, covering the distance from one side to the other, confronting a shocking experience. As the poet says, 'There is another world and it is in this one'. At the same time Kostas is a tragi-comic, rather dysfunctional character, “…torn between art and reality”. (This was mentioned in the rationale of the International Jury of Cyprus Film Days, where the film received Best Film Award in the International Section).
Adonis Florides on set, "Rosemarie" (2017)
What was the public’s reaction to the film?
The impression I got is that most of the audiences in Cyprus were enthusiastic and generally reacted in a very positive way. The film inspired lively discussions. It appears that the use of Cypriot dialect and the imagery of a Cyprus stripped of its tourist attractions and sunny beaches contributed to this reception. I think the public appreciates this endeavour at the heart of Cypriot life, with a winter backdrop. Elsewhere reactions were mixed but were mostly positive by the general audience, especially by film critics. The real test will come in March when the film is screened in cinemas in Cyprus.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Cultural and Creative Industries (CCI) worldwide, as mapped out at the first comprehensive study conducted by UNESCO in December 2015, are significant in political, social, and economic terms. They have been the cement that binds together not only hearts and souls, but entire societies and nations. In a world that faces frequent disruption, upheavals and armed conflicts — economic, social, political and technological — creativity and culture have been the common link throughout history, connecting the past, present and future of humanity.
But culture and creativity are so much more than that; they are in fact essential catalysts for development. They are an economy — nearly 30 million people across the world make a living out of them. With 29.5 million jobs, CCI employ 1% of the world’s active population. Graphic design activities are part of the visual arts sector and an important art, but are also tools in other cultural industries such as advertising, publishing, gaming and animation.
Conference on Graphic Design and Visual Communication, Graphic Stories Cyprus
The 4th consecutive Conference on Graphic Design and Visual Communication of Cyprus, Graphic Stories Cyprus, opens its doors for another creative weekend from 09 - 11 March 2018. Graphic Stories Cyprus is an institution established in the last four years in the field of visual communication as well as the consciousness of creative professionals and students of Cyprus and abroad.
A key objective of the conference is the transmission of specialized knowledge and experience from lecturers to the public, as well as the interaction entailed. With this in mind, the 4th Conference on Graphic Design and Visual Communication, Graphic Stories Cyprus, with the support of, among others, the Hellenic Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media, will welcome on Friday 9 March 2018 some of the most prominent professionals in the field for its scheduled lectures, which will be held at the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation in Nicosia. The conference includes workshops for professional and children, as well as exhibitionsaiming to promote contemporary issues that Visual Communication deal with, to raise questions and to explore possible answers. On the occasion of the Conference, Greek News Agenda interviewed* the founder of the Conference Angeliki Athanasiadi, British designer Rob Snow and General Secretary for Media and Communication of the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media Lefteris Kretsos, offering an insight on the current state of visual design in Greece and Cyprus as well as Greek policies for its support.
Why this Conference? Interview with Angeliki Athanasiadi
Visual designer, Angeliki Athanasiadi, Founder, Creative & Art Director of Graphic Stories Cyprus talked to Greek News Agenda about the incentives and initiatives of the Conference and offers an insight on the current field of Greek and Cypriot design.
Numerous studies and articles state that the contemporary Greek design scene is flourishing despite the intense fiscal-economic crisis the country has been facing since 2009. How can the necessary opening of Greek and Cypriot design to the world be achieved?
With the means provided by modern technology, the world-wide commercial chessboard is now accessible from every point on earth and by every professional. The cultivation of a climate of extroversion, along with the creation of the necessary structures and institutions by the state, can contribute positively to this end. Designers are distinguished for their ability to find solutions to often difficult problems, which is what we call creativity. And it is a fact that during the period of economic crisis, design has been booming. A wealth of skilled professionals existed, but what was missing until now was the design and implementation of a national infrastructure policy at national level to enhance access to information, distance communication, empowerment of the economy and improvement of competitiveness and promotion of economic and social cohesion. I hope that the fertile seeds sown today will soon bloom and bear fruit.
Initiating and holding Graphic Stories Cyprus since 2014, despite prejudices and obstacles, what were the incentives and main objectives?
For many years in Cyprus there have been no such independent initiatives aimed at cultivating the value of visual communication. Our motive was to bring together the designers of the island and to awaken their professional consciousness, not only in terms of individual benefit but also in relation to the general welfare of the field of visual communication.
Graphic Stories Cyprus is not just a celebration of the applied arts, it is the annual Conference on Graphic Design and Visual Communication in Cyprus, which aims to bring visual communication to the forefront and demonstrate its value to the community. It also aims towards the cultivation of artistic education and the development of critical perception about modern graphic arts both at local and international level. At the same time, it contributes to the promotion and the exposure of visual communication and artistic creation, not only in Cyprus but also abroad and encourages the networking with cultural institutions, organizations and contemporary art groups abroad. The organization of exhibitions, conferences and workshops aims to show and promote the value of visual communication to the public, creating culture and values and interaction with society.
Do you believe in the cooperation between private talent and initiative and state policy or it is actually unnecessary?
I believe that encouraging and supporting private initiative, especially when it comes to the arts and culture, must be a state policy priority. The benefits of such a practice are multiple, not only for the creators but also for the state itself as a whole. Αrts are a prosperity indicator for a state and could offer progress in many areas. In education, arts cultivate the imagination and the skills of critical thinking, communication and innovation that are indispensable for a productive workforce of the 21st century.
Arts can play the role of a political catalyst, support a strong democracy, involving citizens in political dialogue, communicating in their own way important issues and encouraging collective problem solving. This enhances active citizenship and strengthens democracy.
From an economic point of view, new jobs are created through arts, business activity is stimulated, revenue from tourism is attracted, and a high-quality workforce is maintained. Arts have proven to be a successful and viable strategy for revitalizing rural areas, urban centres and people struggling against poverty.
And how are things in Greece? An insight by Rob Snow
Rob Snow, an acclaimed British designer, illustrator and one of the key lecturers, with an exhibition of his work hosted at the Conference, talked* about his experience on living and working in Greece.
As a British designer living in Greece, how would you describe Greece as a country going through an intense financial crisis and its creative cultural scene?
Not sure if it’s the place of an artist to write political commentary, but I feel Greece should never had joined the Eurozone. The whole thing is based on a weak ideology that all Europe could be equal, when in fact it is far from that. Standards of living, wages, cultures and even ways in which we all do business are inherently different, so cannot work with a single currency. If Europe was to take onboard the US method of state and federal government, but uphold the notions that all countries follow a set calibration of economic values, such as minimum wage, RRP on good, etc, then one thing would be for sure, Greece would be a very attractive country. Could you image getting the same wage as Germans, but with the cultural and geographic benefits of Greece? People would flock here.
For myself, I first moved when Greece still had its own currency, the drachma. Life then was wonderful, with people going out all the time, produce was cheap, people were always smiling. It was a very safe and pleasant land to think about bringing up a child. When the euro came along, there was an almost instant change. The realisation that we had to comply to a general standard was a big shock to Greeks. Costs rose rapidly, employment dropped and everyone was beginning to think about that ‘job-for-life’ mentality. As the years rolled by and the changes that needed to be made weren’t, then things got even tougher. Public spending was at such a level that the economy was breaking.
I started out here working in an art college. Over the 15 years that I worked there, I saw many changes that saddened me to the core, so I ultimately decided to stop. These were the standard of educational procedure, the standard of students applying, and the fact that money spent meant a guaranteed education. Arts, like everywhere else, suffer in this country. But I always used to tell my students the old adage that “It’s a bad artist who blames his tools.” Art here in Thessaloniki, has a home; a very small one, but still vocal. More so the music scene and many talented artists live and do work in the city. The big issue is that there is not that much scope to air this expression. Unlike the UK, where you can get lottery grants or art council fundings for personal, self-motivated projects, here there seems to be an onus on self-financing all the way down the line. It gets to a stage where artists are simply wall fillers in local cafes, trying to get noticed in the chatter of social media focused patrons.
Greece could rise again with the arts, but it needs to take onboard the new technology and methodology of the countries that do so much better at supporting their arts students, as do Germany, France and the UK. Better school curriculum for the arts, more emphasis of nurturing children’s passions in the arts and then local and central government funding for the development of better arts arenas.
What are your personal incentives and inspirations to design graphic art and projects?
I can’t describe this, as many a time I have tried to many a lending ear, but my life as a creative is dependent on the blood in my veins. That blood provides the transportation path for my passion that then fuels the inspiration that flows from my brain. There is not one-second my body doesn’t require that blood, there is not one-second I don’t think in a creative way. On a more down to earth level, I gain much of my incentive to see some good in the world. I love nature very much, and take two spells away from the annoying city to visit Mount Olympus, to gain much needed zen time. There I feel a completely different person; I feel alive. Nature is a very important key to me. Even down to the necessity of caring for plants on my balcony. There is something very wonderful in the tactile aspect of nature. Textures, feelings, warm, movement; all this can help inspire art.
I think if it wasn’t for the adoption of my companion dog Honey, maybe the strength of focus wouldn’t be so narrow as it is today, but nevertheless, the eye of nature is a very powerful incentive. Honey gives me a daily bond to that which I enjoy, so I thank her for our relationship by honouring my animal art in her name. It was when she was a puppy of about 2 months, is when I started my Animal Behaviour series, and if she had not distracted me at a specific moment, then maybe I would not have started it; fate being what it is.
My better creative achievements are those done for myself. They seem to me to have the right reasons and logic behind them in order to be initiated; like my Celebrity Sunday caricature series, it was born out of a desire to be better at digital art. I had never done a caricature before, even though asked many a time. So one Sunday I had a need to speed up my digital painting and also challenge myself to attempt a new skill: thus Celebrity Sunday was born. Three years later, I am getting a little following and people even request and commission work based on that achievement. Best plan is never think anything is a waste of time.
If, by openness, you are referring to the sharing of an idea, helping others in developing techniques and skills by explaining yours, then that is a very double edged sword. My history has been that I learn to do things. Regardless of it being my artwork, or doing a piece of cooking, DIY or whatever that I am doing. The brain has the greatest capacity to evaluate problems and then use its intellect to solve them. This after all is what the definition of intelligence is: the ability to solve problems. Being given solutions without that work effort makes the process disposable. What I mean by this is, “how many times have you showed a person how to do something and then some time later, they have come back and asked, can you show me that thing again.” It happens more times than not, because their cognitive brain function isn’t processing the problem, it is simply receiving the solution. The brain will then delete unnecessary data that is simple. Learning is more complex than receiving information.
I like to be open and helpful but I find there is a line that needs to be drawn (no pun intended). It’s funny you ask this, as just this morning I received a message on Instagram by a young creative asking what application I use. I told him Photoshop, but then the reply comes, “That is what I need, can you show me how you do your art.” I have to be honest and frank: I don’t set out to show people how I paint my images. I am not looking for competition. What I can show people is techniques, which is a different thing to style. This was apparent at last year’s Graphic Stories Cyprus workshop. I was showing how to do a caricature, using digital techniques and the end results of the students didn’t look like my style, they all looked different. That is because I wasn’t teaching my style. I have become quite adept at using tactile and digital media tools and I have done this by simply picking the pencil up, or the mouse and doing. I have never read a manual, or joined a class on drawing, but have achieved quite a lot. Use the principles of education in arts to learn technique, and then the rest of the time flourish to find a passionate style. The world doesn’t need a planet full of so-called creatives all doing the same look and feel; they want variety. This can only be achieved by looking deep into one’s right side of their brain and releasing the aesthetic abilities they have. If we return to the openness part of the question again: When it comes to design and art, openness can come best in discussion, whether that is debate or critique. People should be open to enter discussions or welcome criticism. Both forms are a great way to understand one’s position and a step to looking at how to improve one’s abilities.
What does the state do? Interview with Lefteris Kretsos on the policies to support Cultural and Creative Industries
Greek News Agenda interviewed* General Secretary for Media and Communication, Lefteris Kretsos, on the policy of the Greek state to support the Greek Cultural and Creative Industries.
Talent is the lifeblood of cultural and creative industries. According to urban economist Richard Florida, the “creative class”, including designers, artists and high-skilled intellectual workers, acts as an engine for innovation and urban development, structuring creative hubs and networks for the economic, social and cultural development of their native cities and regions. In this context how would you define the role of the state in implementing an effective supportive policy for the Cultural and Creative Industries of Greece?
Florida's research and theories about creative industries and the value of talent in the case of urban centre -based creative professionals are very interesting, to say the least. While I am not particularly fond of the term 'creative class' as it has been defined by Florida (and the specific demographics it is tied to) I think he is absolutely right about the creative industries having multiplier effects on a region, first and foremost in the financial sector. The audiovisual sector is an integral part of the cultural and creative industries: according to latest annual financial reports in the audiovisual media sector, the unimpeded transition to digital production, distribution and consumption in the audiovisual field is of critical importance and has the potential to offer a creative boost for a region's (even a whole country's) audiovisual sector with multiplier effects. These include the creation of jobs, the promotion of tourism, and the creation of high-value-added services. In the case of Greece, this is a long-needed boost that will significantly reduce brain drain (which has been a serious issue in Greece for the past decades).
All this is not possible without adopting statutory regulations and implementing policies that foster creativity and innovation while securing the safe transition of the country's audiovisual sector into the digital economy. The Ministry [of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media]'s aim is to create a fair and healthy media landscape while supporting our country's creative production, since these are inextricably linked, and both central to our country's well-being and economic growth.
Contemporary studies on Cultural and Creative Industries underline the fact that policy makers need to rebalance the current transfer of value in the digital economy in favour of online intermediaries in order to sustain the economy of cultural industries. Can you describe the Ministry’s activities towards this “digitalization”?
The new, converged digital landscape and the expansion of cloud services and OTT technologies have redirected the flow of content into new patterns. As more and more people have access to connected multi-screen devices, the demand for audiovisual content is greater than ever, with the audiovisual and media industries integrating digital technology and social media into their traditional production and distribution practices. The Secretariat General for Media and Communication, as the competent authority for the monitoring and implementation of the new, reformative media legislative policy in Greece, has taken steps for the adoption of development strategies and the implementation of targeted public policies.
Some of our interventions are:
- Launching the online registry ''e-media'', a national operational measure encouraging online media companies to register their activities online, for a transparent, balanced and fair function of the media industry and the main players active in non-linear environment. Part of the new online media registry is the 'Observatory for Plagiarism', a new software mechanism for protecting intellectual property of journalistic content published online, aiming to combat plagiarism and copyright infringement. (Law 4339/2015)
- Creating the road map to the transition to digital radio broadcasting and passing the law for digital radio licensing (Law 4512/2018).
- Introducing an investment incentive scheme (in the form of cash rebate) for the support of audiovisual production in Greece (Law 4487/2017). By embracing the whole spectrum of audiovisual productions, the incentive scheme is aiming to stimulate investment and promote quality works. Video games, whose aesthetics are tied to graphic design, can also be supported through our national incentive scheme. Officially defining video games as cultural products is just an example of a strategic regulatory action taken with digital technology and innovation in mind. Overall, we have worked towards the creation of a single and coherent audiovisual media and communication policy that will remain sustainable and up to date in the digital age, and will maximize the chances for our audiovisual field to thrive the way it deserves to.
- Calling for the creation of the Centre of Audiovisual Media and Communication (C.A.M.C.): C.A.M.C. will be responsible for the support of audiovisual productions in Greece through the implementation of the new incentive scheme. It will also undertake the project of digitization of the country's national archives and it will foster media literacy and research in the field of audiovisual media and communication. (Law 4339/2015)
* Interviews by Dr. Aikaterini Lambrou, Head of the Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in Cyprus. Aikaterini Lambrou will greet the Conference and inaugurate the Poster Exhibition “Writing, the origins of Civilisation” on behalf of the General Secretary for Media and Communication, Lefteris Kretsos on Friday, March 9th 2018.
Read also via Greek News Agenda: One more reason to film in Greece: A new legal framework of economic incentives, General Secretariat for Media and Communication boosting Greek Gaming & Animation, Lefteris Kretsos on bringing Greece on the global map of the Game and Film Making Industry, 10 Reasons to film in Greece, “Filming Greece”: our new series of interviews on Greek Cinema
See also the programme of the Conference here
Paganistic, loving life, humorous and boasting a unique filmic style, Dimos Avdeliodis’ films have left their imprint on Greek Cinema. Actor, playwright, film and theatre director Avdeliodis was born in 1952, in Chios, Greece. He has directed four highly acclaimed feature films, among which “The four seasons of the Law” (1999) has been repeatedly voted by Greek film critics as one of the best films of Greek cinema. Avdeliodis has taught film studies at Panteion University (1993-1998) and has also served as Head of Municipal and Regional Theatre of the North Aegean (1997 - 2000, 2003 - 2010). Through some twenty plays that he has directed he is continuously experimenting with new creative theatrical routes.
Avdeliodis told Greek News Agenda* that what drove him towards these art forms was the need for self exploration. He talks about his relationship with the island of Chios, his birthplace, explaining that giving Chios a leading role in his films was a repayment for the gift of beauty that the Island has given him. He stresses that art plays a unifying role and underlines the humanistic aspects of Greekness in his work.
What primarily drives me in art is mainly the need to get to know ourselves. This is a question that concerns everyone, not just the artists. The question that either tortures people or gives them hope relates to who they are, why they are and what the purpose of their existence is. This everlasting question has not yet been answered, because if it had we would’ve felt much better. However we don’t, because we have wasted a lot of time without answering this question. This question was initiated by Socrates and remains unanswered. So, the reason why, I believe, we are dealing with art is precisely to try to answer such questions. Art gives you the freedom of choice not only of the subject, but also of how work on a subject. Art naturally involves inspiration and talent. Inspiration is momentary, short-lived. Giving content to inspiration requires a rational procedure, a structure. Through art we can make the necessary corrections to communicate with others and see if we agree and find out if we all want the same thing. In case we don’t, what do I propose? I feel a great urge to communicate with other people on this basis.
Jannis Avdeliodis, Nikos Mioteris, "The tree we hurt" (1987)
In your films "The Tree we hurt"/ “To dentro pou pligoname” and the emblematic "The four seasons of the Law", the island of Chios is a central character. What is the role of Chios, your birthplace, in your work?
The relationship everyone has with his birthplace is purely personal. You either love or hate the place where you were born. Unavoidably we are shaped by our birthplace, so Chios, for me, is essentially my mirror. It was where I perceived my first images and sounds. I therefore made those two films as a repayment for this gift I received from Chios. It was such a generous gift that I wanted to pass it on to others, and by doing these films I was released from this weight of beauty. I wanted to relive only the pleasant experiences of my past and omit the ugly. This means that I’m not interested in nostalgia that is accompanied by pain. I revisit a scene to see it critically in order to be able to make corrections in my present life. This has always been the criterion for these films. Nostalgia is of course very important to human beings. Everyone wants to go back to their childhood, but that is impossible. Therefore, the only thing you can gain from this return is to restructure your current reality correcting the past.
What does art have to offer to people?
Here is what is amazing in art: A work written about 2,500 years ago or more will not wear out with time, as is the case with Medea by Euripides. I remember when reading Medea, it felt so contemporary. I do not think that any playwright could do it better today. The purpose of art is not to teach new things but to make us feel things. Experiencing feelings together with other people is a very important event. This makes art a unifying power, it connects people. In everyday life we tend to miss the profound importance and influence of art, whose role is to help people, to capture timeless human ideals. Who doesn’t want to be happy in life or help someone else when that gives him joy? Greek civilization has forged these values in all the forms of knowledge it has bequeathed us, from politics to art and the sciences; it is deeply humanistic, aims to help people attain happiness through knowledge and creativity. This is the gift of Greek antiquity.
"The trackers", dir. D. Avdeliodis (2010)
The concept of going back to the past is central both in your films and plays; going back in time and place. Do you feel uncomfortable with the present? Do you feel uncomfortable in the city you live in, the metropolis?
Not at all; this has only to do with the fact that I worship these works and I believe that they take an event, a horrific event at times, and transform it through art. For me it is clear that the patriarch is Homer, the originator of art. He set the canons to which everyone in Western culture and all around the world adheres. All cinematic and literary tricks are there in Homer’s oeuvre. The first imitators of Homer were the masters of tragedy. At a time of uncertainty, during the Peloponnesian War, they created drama, which is still the standard today, and these works continue long after with Hortatsis, essentially a child of Homer, who created the Cretan Renaissance, and his pupil and successor Vitzentzos Kornaros. They were all equally great masters. Along came Dionysios Solomos, who followed the same path, with Vizyinos and Papadiamantis afterwards at roughly the same period. These are the great masters that manage art as a tool to convey the excitement of life and how they can control or transform what happened in the past.
How do you feel about young people today and their creative efforts in the conditions of the crisis?
I've seen a lot of great things and the only certainty is that every generation tries to give its best; and it will give their best. We have to point out that these kids have been deprived of an essential education. We lived in the 80's in the virtual reality of television which shaped what we are seeing today. The kids who resisted this TV culture are the ones moving forward.
What is role of Religion in your artistic conception?
Religion has not concerned me much, in the sense that it is self-evident that in the Orthodox culture we lived and grew up in, it works fine to say "I'm very pleased to be an Orthodox" and sometimes not. We all know that; it's in our culture, so I did not focus on religion. The way I experience religion is on the basis that you have to do what’s good and that all people are essentially the same. When we do not know someone, we are afraid, but when we get to know them, we understand that they are not as bad as we thought. And really, since, all humans have been made by the same creator, how is it possible to make good and bad people?
"The Woman of Zakynthos", dir. D. Avdeliodis (2015)
Through your work you try to compose your own definition of Greekness.
Greekness, as I have said, does not concern Greeks alone but mankind in general. It cannot be restricted within the boundaries of Greece, neither as an area nor as a nation. It was solidified in the golden age of Pericles and has a strictly humanistic purpose to find human happiness. This is my definition of Greekness.
You taught film studies at Panteion University from 1993 to 1998 where you chose to teach Aristotle’s poetics. Why was that?
I followed the translation of Aristotle’s Poetics by Ioannis Sykoutris. For me Poetics is the most important work of Sykoutris. Poetics is the most complete definition of art and its purpose; it is the Bible of art. Thanks to Sykoutris, I could finally understand why naturalism failed in theatre. There were no naturalistic elements in ancient theatre. It does not have physical elements, no naturalistic elements that is, at all. It was no coincidence. Theatrical conventions entailed the costumes, the masks and the voice of the actors. No one knew who was behind the mask. Death, murders, war and battles never took place on stage. They didn’t want to show these on stage. They wanted to forget that through art; and that is wanted to teach my students.
Jasmine Kilaidoni, " Maran Atha" by Thomas Psiras, dir. D. Avdeliodis
Your direction of plays such as “Figures from the work of Viziinos”, and more recently Thomas Psyrras’ “Maran Atha” have been critically acclaimed. Your work with actors is based on a method you have elaborated. Could you describe it?
When working as theatre director my experience as an actor was very helpful. What is the art of acting, I asked myself. I slowly learnt how to manage the way an actor handles each phrase, so I elaborated a method of teaching the actor how to recite each phrase keeping a logical musical line. I focus a lot on the tone of the actor’s voice; by changing his or her voice, the actor can play many characters. Each phrase, each word must be stressed in such a way so as to transmit a certain frequency. There must be the correct rhythmic change, the elasticity of every phrase, in order to make sense. As a result, the audience may hear Viziinos or Papadiamantis in the katharevousa (pure, formal Greek) and it doesn’t feel difficult.
“Alexander the Great and the damned Dragon”, dir. D. Avdeliodis (2010)
Was your “Alexander the Great and the damned Dragon” a children’s play?
I do not believe in children's theatre. A theatre that is especially for children, most of the time tries to explain things to children, because there is the notion that children should be helped to understand what may be difficult concepts. This is a mistake, however, because children understand everything. There is no way you can fool a child. You may be able to deceive an adult, but you can never deceive a child. Therefore, it is better for a child to see a good show aimed at intelligent human beings, even if he doesn’t understand everything. In art we are interested in what the child feels.
* Interview by Florentia kiortsi and Kostas Mavroeidis.
** Special thanks to Angeliki Spyropoulou
Watch the film "The tree we hurt" by Dimos Avdeliodis:
Dimitris Kerkinos studied film at the University of Manitoba, Canada. His Ph.D dissertation was on “Society and Cinema in Cuba of the 90s” for the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of the Aegean, Greece. He joined the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in 1999. Since 2002, he has been programming the Balkan Survey Section; he's also Head of programming for the Documentary Festival since 2016.
Interviewed by Greek News Agenda* Kerkinos talks about the highlights of this year’s Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (2-11.3.2018) and reflects on the current status of Greek documentary since the establishment of the Festival in 1999 on the occasion of the Festival's twentieth anniversary.
What is the structure of this year’s Festival edition?
As every year, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival turns its focus upon the world that surrounds us and draws from its diversity and experiences. Through the selected films, the Festival programming aims to see beyond the surface of things, to reconstruct the reality which is creatively elaborated by film directors, enabling audiences to see a different picture than the one shown in mass media. The Festival also aspires to make spectators contemplate on issues that, in one way or another, are of interest to them.
Could you name some Festival highlights?
Regarding the international programming, we will screen 164 foreign films, 27 of them short. There will be 20 premieres - 8 world, 4 international and 8 European. We will also screen 78 Greek films, 25 of which are short. The main Festival tribute is to the prominent French film director Agnès Varda with ten documentaries. Her latest film, “Faces, Places”, shortlisted for the Academy Award for best documentary feature, will be the opening film. There will be a tribute to anthropologists – filmmakers Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing- Taylor with six films, in the Film Forward section. There is also a tribute to the year 1968, with films that either depict the events that marked this legendary year or try to reevaluate its legacy.
We are focusing on independent American filmmaker Sara Driver in the Carte blanche section. Carte blanche is a new initiative, in which the honored guest is invited to select some of his/her favorite films. This year’s Carte Blanche is the second of its kind at the Documentary Festival: the first was given to Dimitris Eipides. Sara Driver has chosen eleven important films. We have an all-night Marathon with music films about music bands of the 90’s. The International Competition section that presents the first or second film of directors, includes eleven films, two of which are Greek. And along come thematic sections: "Kaleidoscope", which includes personal stories and portraits, "Human rights", "History and Memory". "Habitat" screens environmental films but also films about the way humans intervene culturally on the environment. "Film forward" is a section comprised of films that experiment with form. We also have sections about Music, Cinema, Food and Children. Finally, the "Greek Panorama" showcases this year’s Greek documentary production, while, the "Brave New World" section will focus on films about technology and innovation.
This year’s edition hosts the films of many important filmmakers, including Claude Lanzmann’s “Napalm”, Frederick Wiseman’s “Ex Libris: New York Public Library” and Abel Ferrara’s “Piazza Vittorio”. There are two films by Barbara Kopple, “This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous” and “A Murder in Mansfield” and the latest film by Denis Côté, “A Skin So Soft”, Radu Jude’s “The Dead Nation”. We will also introduce filmmakers who are unknown to the Thessaloniki audience, such as Emmanuel Gras (“Makala”, which was awarded in Cannes Festival last year), Mila Turajlic’s “The Other Side of Everything” (Best Feature Length Documentary at IDFA) and Toni Ziera’s “Filmworker” among others.
What are the film selection criteria?
We are interested in films that highlight important contemporary social issues in an original cinematic way. We look for films that promote the art of documentary and showcase the new trends of the genre. Our intention is to open up to as many subject themes as possible.
It is the twentieth anniversary since the establishment of the Festival in March 1999, by Dimitris Eipides. What can you tell us about its evolution?
The festival has come a long way. I remember when the Festival had just been established, many could not understand what kind of films it would screen. Would it be some kind of National Geographic films? Would it be boring “educational” TV-like films? Back then, people could not imagine that documentary is a dynamic genre that can embody a different approach and use a creative narration that differs from the standard journalistic TV documentaries. During these twenty years, the festival has promoted the work of many renowned documentarists and has introduced to its public the films of many other important filmmakers. The Festival has thus played a major educational role and familiarized its audience with the new trends of the documentary genre. Nowadays, we can safely state that there is a highly educated public that appreciates documentaries and, to a certain extent, may prefer them to fiction. It’s been a long and creative course, and this year that we celebrate its twentieth anniversary we are very happy that our Festival is enjoying such a high international status.
The Festival, besides showcasing films and presenting the work of important filmmakers, has an Industry section as well, the Agora: the "Doc Market" that promotes films that are part of the program but also includes docs that are not part of it; the "Docs in Progress" segment that gives the chance to sales agents, distributors and festival programmers to discover first feature films from the Balkans and the Mediterranean countries; and the "EDN Pitching Forum" that presents projects from Europe and all over the world. Moreover, the Agora brings together Greek filmmakers with foreign producers and professionals, in an effort to help them find resources, collaborate in co-productions, in short, to find the means to complete their projects or promote their films. We can thus say that the Festival has decisively contributed to raising the production and quality standards of the Greek documentary. It’s not only the films screened that offer Greek filmmakers the opportunity to see how their peers abroad approach their themes; many professionals from all over Europe, the Mediterranean but also from the USA visit the Festival, both for the films and the "Doc Market". This proves that the Festival has gained recognition over the years.
"The Distant Barking of Dogs", Simon Lereng Wilmont, Denmark-Finland-Sweden (2017)
The Thessaloniki Documentary Festival has been one of the first of its kind in Greece. There are smaller festivals in other parts of Greece, in Kalamata, Chalkida, Kastellorizo, etc. Are they institutionally linked to Thessaloniki Documentary Festival?
No, there are no institutional links. People that are involved in other festivals may visit Thessaloniki and see the films. There is a dialogue between the Festivals, but not on a formal basis.
How does the Greek documentary fare in the Balkans?
Greek documentaries are blooming, both in quality and quantity. The number of productions as well as their quality has shown a significant rise. In the past, most Greek documentaries had a mainly journalistic TV approach and were produced having TV in mind. Nowadays, Greek documentarists are more daring and more international in their themes. They work on their subjects in a more creative and cinematic way, attracting not only the interest of TV but also of important festivals – which pay greater attention to cinematic language, to the way a filmmaker treats his or her subject. Their participation in acclaimed festivals is definitely an indicator of the quality of their films - which manage to present strong themes with artistic originality. Documentarists such as, Kimon Tsakiris, Apostolos Karakasis, Eva Stefani, Angelos Rallis, have been selected by IDFA, the most prestigious documentary festival in the world. But apart from them, there are more filmmakers whose work has attracted the attention of international festivals not only in the Balkans (as Dimitris Koutsiabasakos’ “The Grocer” which was screened in Sarajevo) but everywhere in Europe: for example, Christos Karakepelis’ “The House of Cain” premiered at the Berlinale while “Raw Material” at the Karlovy Vary Festival. Angelos Abazoglou’s “Mustafa’s Sweet Dreams” or “To the Wolf” / “Sto Lyko” by Aran Hughes and Christina Koutsospyrou or Evangelia Kranioti’s “Exotica, Erotica” and “Obscuro Barocco” all premiered at Berlinale. “Obscuro Barocco” was also awarded the Teddy Jury award at the 68th Berlinale. Marianna Economou’s “The Longest Run” in Leipzig, Maria Kourkouta’s Return to Aiolou Street in Oberhausen and Spectres are Haunting Europe in Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival and CPH:DOX, just to mention a few.
Greek Program: "Obscuro Barroco", Evangelia Kranioti, France-Greece-Switzerland (2018)
Could you name five of your favourite Greek documentaries?
Only five? Alright, here they are: “Exotica, Erotica, Etc.” by Evangelia Kranioti, 2015, “Raw Material” (Proti yli) by Christos Karakepelis, 2011, “National Garden” (Ethnikos Kipos) by Apostolos Karakasis, 2009, “Bathers” (Louomenoi) by Eva Stefani, 2008, “Ilias Petropoulos. An Underground World” (Enas kosmos ypogeios) by Kalliopi Legaki, 2005.
Did the flourishing of Greek fiction film during the last years somehow influence the Greek documentary genre?
What some critics called "Greek Weird Wave", concerned mostly Fiction. The films of the Weird Wave stress the personal over the political or the social, they are interested in a micro, rather than a macro history and are indifferent to the issue of Greekness. They record society’s pathogenesis and carry out a direct attack on its values. They highlight decayed foundations, hypocrisy, the lack of social vision, problematic functionning of families, contemporary identity and moral crises, the quest for a new (male or female) identity. They also involved a major shift in cinematic language. Up to that point there was a trend that followed Angelopoulos’ aesthetics, that is, historically oriented cinema that was poetic, allegorical and introverted. This has changed with Yorgos Lanthimos’ emergence. Contemporary Greek films use realism as a starting point in order to push it to its limits or to experiment with different forms, creating stylistic and hypbrids of genres, making purely arthouse cinema that has assimilated its influences. But all these changes in cinematic language were expressed mainly in fiction films and not in documentary. There wasn’t a similar change in Greek documentary as regards to the cinematic language. There are original and very creative Greek documentaries but there is not a distinctive wave, a distinctive style as is the case with Weird Wave.
During the last years digital technology has made filming easier. Has it influenced Greek documentary?
Digital technology has indeed made filming easier, but this cuts both ways. Anyone can make a documentary nowadays. The advantages of digital technology are very important, as they have lowered the cost of filmmaking, but the most important factor is still talent and skill; a talented director with a personal vision is still necessary for a good film.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Watch the 20th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival trailer:
Greek metal may not be too familiar with mainstream audiences, yet for the past years now it has earned a following in the world metal scene, with several bands enjoying international success with both their album releases and concert attendance. Since the 80’s, several bands from around the country have ventured into the genre, which is particularly popular in Greece, as was confirmed by a recent charting of the amount of metal bands per-capita worldwide. Black metal is one of the most highly represented sub-genres, while stoner, power and classic heavy metal are also widely performed.
POEM is a four-piece progressive/alternative metal group formed in Athens in 2006. After various changes over the years, the current line-up consists of founding member Giorgos Prokopiou (vocals/guitar), Laurence Bergström (lead guitar), Takis Foitos (bass) and Stavros Rigos (drums). Their music is characterised by a wide range of influences and love for experimentation. POEM have released two studio albums, The Great Secret Show (2009) and Skein Syndrome (2016), which have both met with critical praise, while their live performances in Greece and abroad (as headliners or opening for prominent artists like Ozzy Osbourne, Opeth and Rotting Christ) have also earned them stellar reviews.
February 23, 2018 marks the international release of their third studio album Unique, and on the very next day POEM embarked on their first European headliner tour along with Damnations Day (a progressive power metal band from Australia). Greek News Agenda met* two of the band’s members, front-man Giorgos Prokopiou and drummer Stavros Rigos, to talk about their trajectory and the contemporary Greek metal scene. Both have received extensive musical training from an early age, are music instructors themselves and are also involved with other established acts: Giorgos is also the lead singer of progressive rock band “Mother of Millions”, with whom he has released two albums, while Stavros, who joined POEM in 2011, was previously member of progressive metal band “Tardive Dyskinesia”, with whom he had also released two albums.
All members of the band have extensive studies in music. Is this the case with contemporary metal bands in general -as opposed to the often self-taught musicians that were more common back in the day- or does it have more to do with the stereotypes often associated with progressive rock/metal musicians as being more cultivated in this respect?
Giorgos Prokopiou: Well, if you want to play music and be serious about it, reach a certain level and do it professionally, you just have to study and to really invest your time and effort, whatever type of music it is that you do. Obviously, progressive metal is a highly technical kind of music, so all this applies even more in our case than if we had a more simple “brutal” style, and we need even more preparation. But it’s not about adhering to a certain “prog rocker” standard.
Stavros Rigos: Moreover, in the internet era, “self-taught” doesn’t even mean the same thing anymore; you can Google “how to” and find the instructions for anything. But, of course, that’s not really learning. It can take you through the early stages, but if you want to become a musician of quality you must really study.
So you do actually identify as a progressive metal band, or is it more of an outward description?
Giorgos: We didn’t actually start off with the perspective of playing music belonging to one particular genre. We weren’t even big fans of the genre to begin with, each of us had various influences, and I personally had an affinity for grunge music.
Stavros: You basically start creating music and see where it takes you and, when you come up with something, others suggest that it belongs to this or the other genre, so you’re like “if that’s what you would call it, it’s OK by me”. These are basically labels, and they are useful because they help people reach some kind of understanding, but they shouldn’t limit your expression or make you work having a specific outcome in mind.
Your first album is rougher, with a rather “raw” sound, while the second one features a more accomplished production, but is also more melancholic. What should we expect from your third, upcoming release?
Giorgos: Well, the style of this album actually places it somewhere between the first and the second; there are riffs alluding to our first work, and other -fewer- elements reminiscent of Skein Syndrome. It sounds as if this were our second release, and yet I think it is more mature as far as compositions are concerned, which is due to the circumstances of its creation. I believe we had the proper reactions to these circumstances, and this maturity makes for more forwardness in our work, making our songs more easy-listening but also more dynamic at the same time. Whereas our previous album did have a dynamic character and the atmosphere we wanted, but fell short on “aggressiveness”, something the band lacked until now, in my opinion, but we achieved it now through this album. Hopefully, our fourth release will encompass elements of all the previous ones and the result will be even better (laughs)!
Stavros: Also Laurence (Bergström)’s taking over the position of lead guitarist played an important role…
Giorgos: And same goes for Takis (Foitos) on bass, as they both contributed to the musical compositions Laurence didn’t take part in the composition process for the previous album.
So how does this process work exactly? In previous interviews you have said that the final compositions are basically the outcome of the four of you jamming.
Giorgos: Well, that was the case for our two first albums…
Stavros: That’s how it was, thankfully, since that left us with many ideas which we were able to use for this album. Because the conditions under which this album was recorded were -as Giorgos was just saying- very different. Our contract with the record label specified a deadline, and when you work on a deadline while already having a lot of other obligations you have to strive for a result that is quick but not wanting in quality, to be efficient without foregoing attention to detail. This aspect was most defining with regard to the final outcome. So no, there was no time for jamming for that one.
Giorgos: No, this time, each piece was the conclusion of constant, daily collaboration between Stavros, Laurence and me, for about 95% of the album, until Takis took over as bassist. We would talk on the phone for hours and also meet frequently and write the songs directly on a computer programme. We hadn’t heard the songs being played live in the studio, to see what they would feel like; we had to feel that by listening to them through the PC. That was truly risky, and we had no previous experience of this sort! That’s where the maturity I was talking about played an important role in helping us concentrate, get down to work, and being to the point.
Stavros: Just think that we only got to play the songs once in the studio, when I had to write the percussion parts.
Giorgos: When the album was finished, we didn’t really know how to play the songs, we hadn’t rehearsed.
Stavros: Well we know how to play them now, though – we have a tour ahead of us (laughs)! I’m not saying that this pressure was a negative thing though. It has rather proven to be a good incentive.
Something you are quite often asked about is regarding the fact that you have been active for over a decade but have had relatively few releases.
Giorgos: Yes, bands are usually supposed to have a new album every two years, more or less. We faced a lot of obstacles though, after the release of the Great Secret Show, which was at the time the crisis really began. Some members of the band decided to explore their options, like leaving the country and pursuing a career abroad and, obviously, I wasn’t going to pose any objections; it was their decision to make. It was also quite hard to find a bassist that would actually invest in the band, make it his true priority. When Stavros joined us it made a difference, because that was someone sharing the same goals and priorities. And now, with a record label that has set specific objectives for us, there is no way we take that much time to prepare an album, that’s for sure. Our first album had a partly amateur quality; it contained songs I had written ten years earlier. Things are more serious now, we are more responsible, and if we want to maintain a certain level and keep up the momentum we have to release a record every two years.
I figure you have also been encumbered by the fact that all of you also hold jobs, as the band does not provide any financial security. In this regard, it is even harder to compete with foreign bands you work with in a bigger market that can support themselves through their music.
Stavros: Not to mention the fact that some bands also receive support from the state, especially in northern Europe.
Giorgos: Right, and the main problem with this is that we don’t have the time we need to practice and work on our skills. Some of them devote hours on end, on a daily basis, to practicing, and we don’t have that luxury, especially if we talk about practicing together, as a group. And we have to deal with countless other issues like bills, not to mention errands relevant with the promotion of the band.
I guess most local bands go through the same trouble, more or less.
Stavros: Yes, of course. And it’s not just a Greek thing, other artist go through that too, like the bands we played along with in Spain. When you have to do that, you must obviously choose a line of work that allows flexibility, such as giving private music lessons. A full-time job with standard hours is impossible to sustain.
Is it difficult at live performances when promoting a brand new album? Meaning, is it harder to stir the audience when they hear the songs for the first time, and they can’t sing along…
Stavros: Well, that’s the way it’s done; when you have a new album you must immediately promote it through touring – usually the release date is scheduled after the tour starts off. People know what they have to know, through social media and the web in general. If your promotion is successful, people will find out about you, come to your show, buy your album, learn your songs, hopefully come to another show when given the opportunity. The correct approach when promoting an album is to actually have two tours per year, one for the winter season and one for the summer season.
Giorgos: Since an album is released roughly every two years, you must promote each one as much as you can in this given time. Ideally, you must be on tour for one album right until the time a new album is released; that means going on tour every winter and fall for both years until the next release. That’s how you get people to know you and care for your music. So, even when they don’t know the new songs, they come to hear the band they like and are actually curious to listen to your new stuff. What you have to do is release a video, a song for streaming, so that the audience can get a taste and decide to come for more.
Who is the one to decide which song will be released in a video etc.? Is it the record label?
Stavros: No, we’re the ones to make this decision.
Giorgos: We must of course take some factors into account, like a song’s length: you can’t make a video for a nine minute song.
Compared to your previous experience touring abroad, how do you weigh your upcoming venture? Do you think it’s going to be harder to be the headliners?
Giorgos: Definitely. Much harder! As a support group, all you have to worry about is to have a good performance. The audience sees you as a warm-up band, they have no real expectations – they can only be positively surprised. The headliner carries the weight of the concert’s success – even the support act’s success. What’s more, when you play abroad you may perform at a venue where, only the previous night, there was a concert by some internationally revered band with a huge production company. This comparison is what you play up against. So when you perform, you must show the audience that you can match up to this level; that you’re of the same calibre as these bands. I’m not saying be conceited, but you must be assertive, or you lose them.
So, Greek bands, where are they within the international metal scene? Does the country’s financial state in this last decade reflect on the way artists are perceived abroad?
Stavros: About ten years ago I was actually on tour in Europe with my previous band, and there were many negative reactions to the fact that we were Greek. This however later seemed to change. When POEM toured with Amorphis as a support act in 2016, people were totally different towards us; they came up to us and asked us how things are in our country, because they didn’t just trust everything they heard from media. So you can see that, within the music scene, people can manage to see things differently, and they don’t blame simple people for the problems that are mostly created by politicians. There was, to be honest, one case of a record label that decided they wouldn’t sign with us due to our nationality, because they didn’t think they would be able to market a Greek band to audiences from central and northern Europe. But I can’t say Greek artists are looked down upon, as I also see other bands like Need or Mother of Millions -Giorgos’ other band- who have received a very warm welcome everywhere they performed.
Giorgos: Let’s not also forget that Greece boasts two huge metal bands, Rotting Christ and Septic Flesh, who are also big on an international level. After all these years of hard work and successes, they have made a name for themselves that actually helps the rest of the Greek bands; they have created a brand name for Greek metal. Theirs is a different, more extreme sound, not the type of music we make, but just the fact people tell you “You’re Greek? I know Greek bands!” is definitely helpful.
There is however one common element between you and Rotting Christ: your influences from Greek and generally Mediterranean traditions.
Giorgos: This is quite more evident in their music, especially their more recent albums. In our own music, these influences were owed mainly to our previous lead guitarist, Giorgos Anagnostou, who really loves traditional rural Greek music, and this did add interesting elements to our compositions. Obviously, we have all grown up here, so we all have been influenced by certain musical scales and harmonies, and we might use them. These are not really present in our latest album though, although we could’ve included such influences. However, I didn’t want to “colour” my vocals this way, as I didn’t want to repeat myself or resort to mannerism.
Stavros: Greek music draws from a long, rich tradition, with great musicality.
Giorgos: If it does come natural, we obviously use elements from Eastern music, but we don’t want it to sound intentional.
So what are your influences?
Stavros: As far as Greek music is concerned, I wouldn’t call it an influence, it’s more like a part of our culture, our identity, something you are exposed to throughout your life when you are Greek; it is not something you can choose. If it does emerge in your music, and not in a mannerist way -as Giorgos put it- it’s magic. That’s what progressive music is about, combining rock or metal with elements that are quite distant from it and have not been often used in this context. Legendary rock band Socrates did that, because their guitarist Yannis Spathas had really delved in music from Epirus and used it in his technique.
Giorgos: Other influences definitely include classical music, due to our studies. I think this applied to anyone who has received formal musical education, regardless of whether one becomes an actual listener of this type of music in their free time. We might not deliberately use it in our music, but it obviously helps us; like, for example, I use classical placement in my vocals, or you may track a harmony that is primarily based on classical music.
So when you started on your musical education at a young age, were you already aspiring to later do that professionally?
Giorgos: When I began to learn music it was because I had a passion for Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, etc and their live shows; I really loved the idea of performing live and have people appreciate your work. But I think the turning point was when I first attended a rock concert, and I was really ecstatic, I just wanted to experience that first hand. I wasn’t interested in getting into university any more. I found a music teacher and focused on that; at the age of 14-15, I was set on becoming a musician.
Stavros: I remember myself at second grade, using piles of books, pen holders and any object as makeshift drums, to beat the rhythm to any foreign music I could find at home, Beatles, whatever. I had seen someone in some video play drums and I was like “that’s what I want to do”. I wasn’t interested in going to university either. When my father asked “what are your plans” I responded that “I want to be a musician”, and he said “No” (both laugh)! Thus I didn’t have any support in this effort, I did it all by myself.
From your official site, one can stream both your previous albums in their entirety. Does this affect sales?
Giorgos: Nobody relies on record sales anymore. From the moment the album is released, someone will upload it online anyway. Nowadays, labels actually want you entire album to be on YouTube, so that people can listen to the songs; if someone then wants to by the CD, they’ll do it anyway, to also get a premium quality. What’s more important, they will get familiar with your music and it may attract them to your live shows. If you don’t have some free samples, you might not bother go to a show of a lesser known band.
Stavros: Plus, people who come to your show will try and support you in some way, buy some merchandise, a T-shirt. The time of CD sales has basically ended; that’s not how a band supports itself. It’s the live shows that provide some income, so that you can put money back into your music making. That’s exactly what we hope to achieve now, starting with this tour, now that we have a record label that takes the band seriously and has specific goals for us: having the money to really support the band.
Thank you very much for your time!
Giorgos and Stavros: Thanks for having us!
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
See here for tour dates
Stream "My Own Disorder" from album Unique
Read more about music in Greece on Greek News Agenda: Radio Producer Makis Milatos: “There’s a Vivid New Greek Music Scene Out There”; Chainis Dimitris Apostolakis: "In Crete, the continuity of musical expression has not been interrupted"; Dimitris Kountouras on early music in Greece; Nikos Skalkottas: an overlooked musical genius; Rebetiko music: From the margins to the mainstream
The film "Meltem" by Basile Doganis - shot in Lesvos through Franco-Hellenic cooperation - hopes to participate in the Cannes Film Festival. The film is a co-production of Greek Blonde company and the French production company Elzévir Films, of which Denis Carot is the Manager/Producer. Two months prior to the Festival, the team is working feverishly to finish post-production in Greece.
We interviewed* Denis Carot, initiator of the project with Basile Doganis, on how the project idea was born, and especially how filming on the island was, where the presence of migrants continues to be very prominent. He emphasized that “Meltem” is not a documentary, but a fiction film in which the life of the island is of course reflected.
What are the reasons that made you choose Greece, and, more precisely, the island of Lesvos?
Initially, this was done very naturally, since we developed this project together with Basile Doganis, the director and scriptwriter of this film; Basile is Franco-Greek, though first Greek, so Greek-French! He wrote this scenario which takes place entirely in Lesvos. This is the story of three young French people; the main character is a young Franco-Greek woman who returns to Lesvos with two friends, both French but of immigrant origin, one from North Africa, and the other from West Africa. We see at the beginning of the film that she comes to Lesvos Island in order to sell the house of her Greek mother who died a year ago. Her step-father, with whom she does not get along, is still there.
The three young people think that they will spend pleasant holidays, but the action takes place in July 2015, when the first big flow of migrants arrives on the island of Lesvos. The three heroes meet a fourth character, a young migrant who makes them believe that he is Spanish, but they will quickly discover that he is actually Syrian and seeks to cross over to continental Europe to find his mother who is probably in a refugee camp, so they try to help him.
This film is interesting in that it questions the notion of identity and roots, because everyone has a particular story. The fact of being in a foreign land, facing immigration problems. But this is not a drama; at the beginning it is a comedy that gradually turns into a drama, as there is a moment when everything changes. It is the story of these young people who find themselves in this context, which in itself, is very dramatic. Where does this bring them in their thinking and where does it lead us? This film pushes them and pushes us to think.
Could we approach it as a documentary?
No, it's fiction that challenges reality. I equally discovered on this occasion that most of the inhabitants of Lesvos are also migrants, most of who come from Asia Minor. Elena's step-father – she’s the heroine of his film, interpreted by Daphné Patakia - who is Greek and a biologist, works for the police on a program to collect the DNA of shipwrecked migrants, so that families can identify their corpses. The whole story revolves around that.
Karam Al Kafri, Lamine Cissokho, Daphne Patakia and Rabah Nait Oufella, "Meltem" (2018) © Chloé Kritharas Devienne
How would you describe your filming experience in Greece? Especially on an island that is in the front line of migratory flows?
So, in the film, migrants are kind of present everywhere, voluntarily - again this is not a film about migrants. When the young people come out of the airport, in the first sequence, they are on their way home, they go through the port and they see a lot of migrants huddled there, and they are very intrigued by the presence of these people. The step-father explains that they have just arrived, that the island is invaded by migrants. That's where we had a good partnership with producer Fenia Cossovitsa, from Blonde company, because it's a complicated situation locally, and we had fears about the municipality's participation in the scene reconstruction, but in fact it went fine. Local authorities have been very cooperative and have complied with our requests. Fenia, without a doubt, was one of our great assets.
Tell us about your experience with the people of Lesvos. Did you stay on the island a long time?
They were very welcoming, very receptive, very positive vis-à-vis our project. Yes, the shooting lasted six weeks, from early September to mid-October.We let the peak tourist season go by and we benefited from ideal weather conditions,it is one of the many advantages of Greece. We had a lot of sequences with extras; we reconstructed a traditional festival in a village. We were very well received, the people were very friendly. The team was almost all Greek, the entire technical team, people from Athens but also excellent local technicians, because other shootings were also taking place in Lesvos, including the latest film by Tony Gatlif before us. But above all the quality of the teams is paramount, we have worked in many other countries that work differently, like Belgium, Poland, Morocco and even Tajikistan; but the work organization in France is very similar to what is practiced in Greece. And in addition, they are very good technicians; a good team is one of the keys to success.
Did you use Greek technical equipment?
For the filming equipment, all the technical equipment we used was from Greece, except for the camera, in order to respect a certain balance between France and Greece; we should have some French expenses. That's why we brought the camera and its accessories from France, and we worked with Greek electrical equipment and machinery.
At what stage of post-production are you now? Why did you choose to make it in Greece?
We finished editing images that we filmed in France. Now we are at the stage of post-production that we are doing in Greece: sound editing, film design, mixing, color grading and music recording. We hope to present it at the Cannes Film Festival in May, time is running out, we have to be ready by the end of March because competition among the first films is fierce.
Daphne Patakia, Karam Al Kafri, Lamine Cissokho and Rabah Nait Oufella, "Meltem" (2018) © Chloé Kritharas Devienne
Could you tell us about your co-production work?
It was our first co-production experience with Greece, with the Greek company Blonde, Fenia Cossovitsa who recommended excellent service providers in Greece.We had a small amount of money, so we tried to optimize the allocation of resources, prices being cheaper in Greece than in France, so this economic issue also guided our choices. We tried to reach a certain balance. With Fenia, things went very quickly, she took decisions very quickly, very professionally, there was a lot of Greek money, since we had the support of the Greek Film Center for minority co-productions, we had the Franco-Greek mini-treaty, and perhaps we will have participation from Greek television. A relationship of trust was quickly established between us, things followed without a hitch as soon as the final green light was given.Fenia took care of the locations, found the technical team,she was the one who recommended the young Greek Photography Director, Konstantinos Koukoulios - it is his second film. All the important posts were occupied by Greeks.The financial aspect also played a big role because salaries and charges are lower in Greece; we could not have made the film in France with our budget.
Three months ago you met General Secretary for Media and Communication, Lefteris Kretsos here in Paris. He told you about the new incentive law for filming in Greece. Have you been able to benefit from this financial aid?
Alas no, because filming took place before the voting on the bill. These are excellent measures, especially if Greece is in competition with other countries, for example, in case of footage shot in several countries. Thanks to these financial advantages, arbitration would be in favor of Greece. Afterwards, for the co-production to be formalized and to benefit from these incentives, Greek financing of at least 20% is necessary. This remains an excellent initiative.
Are you considering a subsequent production in Greece, another film with Basile?
Why not? We can also consider the opposite with a Greek production and a French co-production, and a new collaboration with Blonde Audiovisual Productions.
Will you come back on holiday in Greece?
I do not know yet, I have made many round trips recently, and it was very nice. I enjoyed the hospitality of Greeks, tasted the savoury cuisine, especially with grilled fish and honoured ouzo, the famous local drink! This was not my first experience in Greece, I taught Cultural Project Management for three years straight, at the French Institute of Athens. I enjoyed the sweetness of life in Greece!
Meltem, film directed by Basile Doganis
Original music: Kyriakos Kalaitzidis and Hockyn.
Production: Elzévir Films and Blonde Audiovisual Productions
* Interviewed by the personnel of the Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in Paris
Translated by Nicole Stellos
Read also via Greek News Agenda: One more reason to film in Greece: A new legal framework of economic incentives, Lefteris Kretsos on bringing Greece on the global map of the Game and Film Making Industry, “Filming Greece”: our new series of interviews on Greek Cinema.