kakaviatos

Social media have undeniably changed communication and journalism and discourse on fake news has become more intense, although fake news has always been part of the media landscape. Panos Kakaviatos*, media relations officer in the Council of Europe, who had also worked for the Associated Press as a European correspondent, talked to Greek News Agenda** about the actions taken by the Council of Europe to protect the right to freedom of expression and information, as it is described in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

What is the Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists?

The Council of Europe does much to promote media freedom, and the European Court of Human Rights of course takes pride in defending Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In terms of recent work, it is important to describe an online platform that alerts people – in real time – about media freedom and safety of journalists in Council of Europe member States, as guaranteed by Article 10.

The Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists enables Council of Europe bodies and institutions to be alerted on time, in a more systematic way and to take timely and coordinated action when necessary. It helps the organisation identify trends and propose policy responses to violations of media freedom.

Based on a Memorandum of Understanding with partners (Reporters Without Borders, the International Federation of journalists, the European Federation of journalists, the Association of European journalists and Article 19), each partner posts alerts, subject to their own verification procedures. The Council of Europe and a member state directly referred to in information posted on the platform may post reports on action taken by their institutions in response to posted alerts.

The platform also highlights longstanding work carried out by the Council of Europe in the field of media freedom, such as relevant texts prepared by the Parliamentary Assembly, standards adopted by the Committee of Ministers and relevant case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.

Discourse on “Fake news” is gradually becoming more intense. What is the media, society and institutions’ reaction?

Fake news has always been part of the media landscape. From pamphleteers spewing party lines under the cover of “journalism” to the worst expressions of propaganda, as formulated by Nazi leader Josef Goebbels. But social media spreads misinformation most effectively. It does not mean however that misinformation is new in Europe – or in the world.

The Council of Europe’s recent publication Information Disorder got much media attention at the Internet Governance Forum in Geneva, Switzerland in December last year, with interviews in both Le Temps and Tribune de Genève.

The book includes practical advice to counter false news reporting. For example, to counter the claim that former President Obama is a Muslim, showing images of the Obama family going to church was more effective than just saying: “That’s not true” …

So far, so good. But what many elites fail to understand is that the news media – at least in Western societies and especially in the United States – has often been biased to the left. Conservative viewers of “mainstream media” over time felt alienated: often identified as “sexist” or “racist” or any other “-ist.” As a result, a huge market for so called anti-establishment news outlets came to exist. In the United States this began on AM radio in the early 1990s and then spread to television like Fox News. Some people believe these outlets came out of nowhere, but they did not.

With social media however comes the opportunity to create echo chambers where interpretations of news are sung to like-minded choirs – and this applies to both the left and to the right, the reasonable and the unreasonable. If you read, for example, Daily Kos, you get an entirely different spin on the same news event from, say, The Daily Caller.

The best way to be properly informed is to start with news agency reporting from the likes of the Associated Press, Agence France Presse and Reuters. To deepen one’s knowledge of a given story, one should read other sources, with more opinionated reporting, but – again – those “more in the middle,” including, for example, The Economist, The Financial Times, NPR, The Hill – and The Guardian (left leaning centre) and The Wall Street Journal (right leaning centre). Having the ability to read in other languages is a plus, so the same logic applies. And people should read foreign news sources also of domestic news, which sometimes cast a more neutral approach to those stories.

media1 Would you like to comment on the issue of regulation or self-regulation for media and journalists?

This is “treacherous terroir” for me. The very essence of a free press is an unregulated press. Too often the word “regulate” is a euphemism for “censor” … That does not mean that writers should not be held to a high standard of accuracy in reporting. Or that quacks on the Internet who pretend to be reporters should not be read with a large grain of salt. Indeed, the media should back reporting with named sources, as much as possible, rather than relying too often on unnamed sources. Of course sometimes a news story requires unnamed sources, such as coverage of national security in the United States.

But the danger there is that media can be (and have been) accused of bias because they use unnamed sources who could have a political agenda. This is one of the trickiest aspects of reporting: how to communicate what is really going on, if people in positions of power who know “what is going on” are not willing to be quoted directly?

The best way to go about it is to confirm what is being said by an unnamed source with another (reliable) source.

In any case, regulating the media could lead to government control of the media. We must never forget the fundamental watchdog role that the media plays in a democracy: keeping the public informed.

How can vulnerable groups (migrants/refugees, LGBTI, Roma etc) best be represented in media?

If by “representation” what is meant is the workforce, then hiring of people in “vulnerable groups” as reporters should never be based only in the fact that the candidate comes from such a group. It should be encouraged, but the candidate must have the qualifications to be a good reporter, for example.

In terms of coverage, it is important for media to cover vulnerable groups so as to ensure fair reporting. Much bias exists against LGBTI, Roma and migrants and refugees – to take the above examples – particularly in media that are extreme right wing.

The media should report on a refugee who rapes a girl from a host country, when that happens, just as the police should report the identity of refugees, if they have perpetrated crimes – and the media should report that, too. Trying to hide the facts backfires. Always.

But the media should report as well on the suffering of refugees and their need for assistance. That, too, is (major) news. The media should report also on noteworthy success stories of refugees being helped by host countries, and refugees trying to integrate properly into society – at least for the time that they are in the host country. There was a local report for example in Bavaria recently of refugees helping citizens deal with a flood from an overflowing river: good local news coverage showed that they were not about to rape a bunch of German girls. Reporting on the path of Syrian refugees to Germany was done in a four-part series on the BBC, for example, to illustrate an escape from bloody war, the danger of travel on an overcrowded boat and the challenges of crossing part of Europe to Germany.

By the same token, discrimination against Roma communities must be reported by the media. Stories of Roma children being put into “special schools” that effectively separate them from other pupils only because they are Roma must be reported. Profiles of successful Roma business people, teachers or other such success stories should be run on occasion in the features section of outlets, so as to illustrate positive news.

Having said this, negative news – such as cases of Roma children used by their parents to beg, or Roma girls married as children – should not be ignored, and should be reported, too.

The media’s job is to report the news. It is not meant to be a cheerleader for this or that cause, at least not in the news section. It can lead such cheers in the comments section.

* The above are individual opinions of Panos Kakaviatos, media relations officer in the Council of Europe. They are not meant to reflect official Council of Europe media policies or programmes.

** Interview by Ioannis Andrianopoulos, Head of the Press and Communication Office at the Permanent Representation of Greece at the Council of Europe.

F. K.

Kouanis

Does cash rebate sound Greek to you? It is actually the Greek incentive to attract investments in the audiovisual sector. For many decades Greece hasattracted many international productions due to its unique light and locations. The Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media has embarked on a series of initiatives for the enhancement of audiovisual production in Greece as well as the attraction of foreign investment in this sector. The National Center for Audiovisual Media & Communication (EKOME S.A.) was established in this context, aiming to boost audiovisual production in Greece.

President & Chief Executive Officer at EKOME in Greece since 2017, Panos Kouanis has extensive experience in all aspects of the Media industry, including film and television production, marketing, distribution and sales, new media and information communication technologies. Kouanis holds a Ph.D. and a B.A. in Economics from the School of Economic Sciences at the University of Athens, and a M.Sc. in Broadcasting and Film from the College of Communication of Boston University. Kouanis has also published a large number of research papers in national and international periodicals, and participated in many conferences and international organizations around the world.

On the occasion of the official presentation of EKOME on Monday, March 26th, Kouanis talked to Greek News Agenda* and explained EKOME’s strategic goals, as well as the four steps required to complete the cash-rebate procedure by both Greeks and foreigners with an interest to invest in audiovisual productions in Greecewithin a maximum 6month period following completion of production.

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"Meltem" (2017)

The National Center for Audiovisual Media and Communication will be officially presented on Monday March 26th, 2018. Could you tell us something more about EKOME and its establishment?

EKOME S.A. was founded by Law 4339/2015 of the Ministry of Digital Policy Telecommunications and Media. It is a legal entity governed by private law, an agency controlled by the State, its sole shareholder, run by a five member board, with a mission to promote and foster public and private initiatives, foreign and domestic, in all sectors of the audiovisual industry. Its institution is one of the most important and innovative policies of this government, aiming to protect, support and promote audiovisual media and communication in Greece, highlighting it as one of the economy’s key development sectors. The creation of EKOME addresses longstanding gaps in the audiovisual market, mainly in audiovisual production but also in education, research and digitization of archives.

As such, EKOME is responsible for the implementation of Law 4487/2017 which introduces a 25% cash-rebate scheme that will be covering part of the eligible costs for national and international audiovisual productions, as well as for the promotion of Greece as a unique destination for the production of audiovisual works, including film, television, documentaries, animation and video games.

EKOME is an organization staffed with specialized and well trained, highly motivated personnel ready to implement its programme. At this point in time, EKOME is concentrating its efforts to promote the investment incentive in a fast and efficient manner, while looking to establish partnerships with all individuals, organizations, public, private entities and stakeholders that will support its mission.

Loving Vincent 2017

"Loving Vincent" (2017)

What are the main responsibilities of EKOME? Could you underline its principal mission and strategic goals?

EKOME has a threefold strategic goal: to create the proper infrastructure that will help boost entrepreneurship and attract foreign direct investments in Greece in the audiovisual sector; to operate as a centre for the creation of the national audiovisual and digital archives policy that will support the training of professionals, as well as train citizens in the language of audiovisual communication.

EKOME’s activities are highlighted in the following three central pillars operating continuously in synergy and complementing one another:

1. Digitization: collecting, preserving, maintaining, documenting and exploiting the entire country's audiovisual reserves (radio, television, cinema, the Internet and new media) through the digitization process, thus enhancing historical memory, culture and scientific research.In this context, EKOME undertakes the preservation and management of the film archive of the General Secretariat for Media and Communication and the completion of the digitization and documentation process of the GSMC’s photographic archive, i.e. approximately 95,000 photographs, depicting historical events of the 20th century, mainly during 1910-1996.

2. Enhancing entrepreneurship and employment in the audiovisual sector, both in Greece and abroad (foreign investment, EU funding, marketing and promotion of domestic content production). More specifically, through the implementation of for the strengthening of the production of audiovisual works in Greece, EKOME is responsible for receiving and processing of all applications submitted for investment projects concerning audiovisual productions.

3. Developing audiovisual education, as well as scientific study and applied research, using new technologies (media literacy, youth training, training of professionals, statistical and behavioural analysis, media monitoring, media intelligence tools).

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"Before Midnight" (2013)

Why was the cash rebate system chosen? How is it financed?

The decision of the Greek government to opt for the introduction of a 25% cash rebate for the production of audiovisual works (film, television, animation, documentary and video games), financed by the Public Investments Programme with EUR75 million for a five year period (2018-2022), was based on the results of scientific research analyzing various types of state aid towards audiovisual productions around the world, taking into consideration various systems and best practices in Europe, most of which offer tax credits and cash rebates. The purpose of these incentives is to finance works with the proviso that qualifying projects have to be produced, in whole or in part in the country and make use of the country’s resources and infrastructure. It’s a self-financed fiscal incentive since it returns part of certified expenditures that have already been taxed.

The cash rebate system is a financial tool proven to be successful in attracting foreign and domestic direct investments, while helping to develop and promote a country’s creative industry and image abroad. The introduction of such an incentive in Greece will have a multiplier effect in various sectors of its economy, because it will contribute to the strengthening of entrepreneurship and the increase of economic activity in Greece’s creative industry, it will improve its image as a location for the production of audiovisual works, it will allow for the development of specialized know-how in the sector and for the creation of services of high added value and because it will ultimately help the shaping of a new extrovert national brand that highlights Greece’s competitive advantages, its culture, its history and beauty.

corelli

 "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" (2001)

According to Law 4487/2017, EKOME will administer this cash incentive; can you explain how this mechanism works and how one could apply for the grant? Is there a different procedure for Greek and foreigners interested to film in Greece? Is it a complicated procedure?

EKOME is responsible for the implementation of this law. More specifically, Chapter D of this law concerns the Establishment of an Institutional Framework to Enhance the Production of Audiovisual Works in Greece, giving the opportunity to producers of films, television series, documentaries, animation, as well as video game designers, to produce their works in Greece by qualifying for a grant under this investment scheme. The incentive, which covers specific categories of eligible costs that will be incurred in Greece and sets a minimum of €100.000 for eligible expenses, while the maximum sum for funding is set at €5.000.000 per work.

The National Centre for Audiovisual Media and Communication oversees the whole process, a very simple procedure completed in just four steps:

1) A production company (whether foreign or local, by setting up a branch in Greece or by recruiting a Greek company for executive production) can enter the scheme by applying to EKOME no later than 60 days prior to the beginning of its production project in Greece (e.g. the first day of shooting, in the case of a feature film). The application must include a detailed budget of expenses to be incurred in Greece and the completed cultural test accompanying the application.

2) If the application meets all criteria, a specialized committee within EKOME assesses it on the basis of specific guidelines and the overall score in the cultural test, and issues its approval within 45 working days upon receipt of the application.

3) By decision of the Minister of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information, the project is granted the initial approval for the aid.

4) No later than 60 days after the completion of production works, a final application is submitted to EKOME, including audited accounts and a detailed analysis of the qualified expenditure. A committee of EKOME examines all relevant documents within 30 days, upon receipt of the final application, in order to certify that all criteria have been met and issues its final review, after which the rebate is deposited within 60 days to a bank account of the beneficiary.

One important thing to remember here is that one of the biggest strengths of this scheme is that it is designed in such a way as to ensure that the aid will be repaid in full in 6 months (max.) after production is completed and the relevant production costs have been incurred.

le grand bleu

"Le grand bleu" (1988)

How do you assess an audiovisual work’s eligibility for inclusion in the incentive scheme? Are there possibilities for financing from other sources?

Feature films and television productions, episodes or parts of episodes of television series and mini TV series, documentaries, animation and video games are all eligible for the incentive, provided they meet certain criteria: All production works, whether international or domestic, are eligible for a 25% cash rebate on qualified expenditures, in the form of refund (upon completion of project). They must pass a cultural test (in the form of point system) as set by Regulation N.651/2014 of the European Commission and achieve a minimum threshold of scores. The aid can be combined with other aid schemes: (1) up to 50% of the overall production cost of a single audiovisual work, (2) 60% in case of co-production with a co-producer from another EU Member State, (3) 70% of the budget of a “difficult audiovisual work” (a director's or producer's first or second work, a low-budget production or a production with low commercial exploitation potential in international markets). Any funding coming from the EU (such as Eurimages or Media) is not included in the above maximum rules.

Diane Kruger 2017

'In the fade" (2017)

The purpose of the investment incentive is to strengthen domestic and international audiovisual productions in Greece. Does this suffice in order to support the severely hit by the economic crisis Greek creative sector? In what ways does EKOME plan to contribute to its development?

Before the Bill became Law 4487/2017, the Ministry of Digital Policy Telecommunication and Media launched an online open debate where a large number of stakeholders and citizens were able to submit their opinions in order to draw the final provisions of the Bill. This process was very productive and we were happy to witness the immediate response of all stakeholders willing to contribute to this process. The Law covers a broad range of audiovisual products aiming to boost domestic production and co productions with foreign companies. But more importantly, we are looking at attracting foreign productions and budgets. We are committed to making Greece one of the world’s most in-demand filming and production locations and witness the positive effects of these reforms in the Greek creative sector. The cash rebate incentive, although complementary to our existing funding schemes (mainly for film), has an outward orientation but because of its philosophy, including smaller budgets in the scheme, it is expected that domestic production will benefit highly.

the tempest 1982

 'Tempest" (1982)

What is your relationship with the audiovisual sector? Do you think that Greece is film friendly? What are its major advantages and in which way can now Greece attract the interest of investors and host important audiovisual productions?

I have a long standing relationship with the audiovisual industry, both academically and professionally since the early ‘90s. I am well aware of the needs and shortcomings of the sector, specifically in Greece, but also of the requirements and the strong competition that prevails in the international market. But I am also convinced that Greece can excel in its effort to become the most in-demand market for the production of audiovisual works, as long as we make good use of its competitive advantages such as the investment incentive, the level of professionalism, the quality of its services and the uniqueness of the country’s locations, and basically work very hard in order to consolidate the message to the world that “Greece is your next filming destination”.

*Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

Read also: 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.

For more information contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

book2018collageAthens has been named World Book Capital for 2018 by UNESCO. This concept was launched in 2001, and its successful outcome led UNESCO’s General Conference to designate World Book Capital an annual event, inviting the International Publishers Association, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and the International Booksellers Federation to participate in the nomination process. A different city bears the title each year. Athens holds the title for this year, under the slogan “Books everywhere” – expressing the intention to “bring books to every neighbourhood and every corner of the city”. Greek News Agenda was granted an interview* with Ioannis Trohopoulos, Coordinator of the Organising Committee in charge of the project “Athens-World Book Capital City of 2018” and his working group.

Athens-World Book Capital City of 2018. Tell us about the concept. When does it start?

It will run from the World Book and Copyright Day, on April 23, and last untill April 22, 2019. With the slogan “Books everywhere” we aim at inspiring, at creating and leaving a cultural mark for the future. Our objective is also to enhance synergies among cultural organisations and groups of the city, while at the same time contributing to the diffusion of the cultural expression all around Athens and to support reading at a time when image seems to be the only focus. “Books everywhere” means books for anyone, for any citizen, anyone in need, refugees or vulnerable social groups.

banners enThe Mayor of Athens has said that hosting such events, of international prestige and reputation, is a strategic choice. That’s what it’s all about?

Athens is the 18th capital hosting this event, launched in 2001 when Madrid was selected. Athens was declared by UNESCO World Book Capital City of 2018 in September 2016, when the City of Athens came up with an innovative project focusing on culture, citizens, children or civil Society. In the last years Athens has made a remarkable progress in the field of dialogue and free expression, open to anyone without exception. Furthermore, Athens’ unique cultural assets have been steadily boosting tourism. Just in 2017, Athens welcomed more than 5 million tourists. Moreover, the City of Athens hosted “documenta 14”, a renowned modern art exhibition that made more than 350.000 people choose to visit Athens. Last September, Athens also was named as the Emerging Cultural City of the Year for 2017 at the Leading Culture Destinations (LCD) Awards, which are known as the “Oscars for Museums”. The Mayor of Athens said that: “in our city, culture is a key concept for administration”. It is a core value of our philosophy to seek synergies so that the World Book Capital City of 2018 will be another chance for our city to be internationally recognised.

Which will the key priorities and the central participants be?

Very important Greek and foreign authors, artists and experts will participate, while various events will take place on the side (round tables, conferences etc). We do not wish to present books and authors in a traditional way, but to focus on debatable topics covering a great range of issues.  “Books on wheels”, pop-up libraries and a mobile one, will be available in all 7 departments in Athens. Books are inextricably related to art and creation. Numerous artistic events will also take place (theatre, visual arts, dance etc.), offering a pleasant break.  This event has been welcomed with enthusiasm by all social partners. A considerable action that brings together more than 30 institutions, libraries and museums, will be the “Open collections”, that will unveil to the public (for free) a part of their unknown exhibits, an initiative that is to last for 12 months.  The programme features more than 250 events, all with free access.  

Refugees

The project team the Municipality of Athens Migration & Refugee Coordination Centre initiative

The count-down has already started. How will the slogan “Books everywhere” be translated into action?

When we say “books”, we mean almost everything, digital or printed books, stories, poetry, anything that can be inspired by a book. There’s a special initiative about digital books, and the digital element is more than present in this book campaign. First of all, a number of arts are involved (visual arts, dance, theatre, music etc). Second, we aim at all ages and all social groups, we aim at people who love to read and those who are not used to reading, but they would like to get used to it. Third, when we talk about programmes for vulnerable social groups, such as refugees or immigrants, we do not mean ready made programmes. We talk about programmes made by the refugees or immigrants themselves, in a way that mirrors their real needs and that facilitates their social integration. 

Will foreign embassies or institutes play an active role? 

Definitely, during this one year journey, embassies and institutes from Europe, Asia, the States, Canada and Australia will have an active role. Right from the start, they contributed with their know-how and their material support, as well as with other initiatives of their own (round tables etc), opening in this way a window to the world.

bookbanner1Tell us about the resources, both human and material, for Athens-World Book Capital City of 2018.

This distinction is not accompanied with any financial aid by UNESCO. The Municipality of Athens has contributed 500.000 Euros. The support from Athens Technopolis is also very important. In the field of networking with other partners, the Athens Culture Net has also played a considerable role. There is a programme, established and financed by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, with 44 both public and private partners, (the French Institute of Athens, the National Theatre of Greece, the National Library, the Onassis Cultural Centre and others) coordinating 45 activities as part of the project Athens-World Book Capital City of 2018, offering their premises or infrastructure. Some of the events-activities are self-financed. The project is also backed by other foundations, cultural institutions, embassies, sponsors. As far as human resources are concerned, Ioannis Trohopoulos is the Coordinator of the programme along with Maggie Poupli as project manager. Advisors to the City of Athens with experience on the field, such as Fiona Andrikopoulou, Anna Routsi, Erifili Maroniti and Fivos Sakalis, have also contributed very much. We must also mention the President of Athens Technopolis, Popi Diamantakou and her team. The City of Athens Culture, Sports and Youth Organisation with its chairman Konstantinos Bitzanis have also very much supported this effort. The Organising Committee, under the Mayor of Athens, Georgios Kaminis and the Advisory Committee may also convene on a regular basis to discuss the progress of the project.

How can one be informed about Athens-World Book Capital City of 2018? In which languages can anyone find material and information?

Athens-World Book Capital City of 2018 has its own website. There will also be a newsletter for those interested in getting extra information. We are also present on social media, Facebook and Instagram. Moreover, a programme is about to be printed. All the above are available in English, so that tourists and visitors can have access to it. Press Conferences are about to take place before the opening of the event and also during its course. There will be special mentions to the event by the media and there will be information at special locations of Athens, hotels, cafés, metro stations and elsewhere.

summerbookAfter this, Athens will also host the 85th World Library and Information Congress of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). What is the competitive advantage of Athens in comparison to other candidate cities?  

After the hard work of the Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau and of the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency, we are very happy that Athens has been finally chosen to host theWorld Library and Information Congress. There also seems to be a growing interest in Athens’ hosting congresses and corporate meetings in the years to come. We think that Athens is finally preferred because it is a safe, visitor friendly city, offering lots of choices. It is an open, tolerant, European city with increasing infrastructure and experience in hosting large-scale events.

*Interview by Natassa Kiriakou, translated into English by Avgi Papadopoulou

Read more on Greek News Agenda: Nikos Souliotis on Athens' modern cultural identity; documenta 14 starts gradually unveiling; Arts in Greece | Elpida Rikou on the Learning from documenta project; Marina Abramović: Athens Grows as a Major Cultural SpotArts in Greece | Denys Zacharopoulos: A museum should function as an open window between the private and the public life of people; Katerina Koskina on the need for cultural dialogue & EMST’s role as an arts capsule for the city branding of Athens

N.M.

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BeFunky Collage

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.

moto enface

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.

koukalani

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.

balance

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.

wild duck

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.

 

agrianf567erTo 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." 

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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.

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The port of Hermoupolis on the island of Syros: a leading commercial & industrial centre during the 19th century

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.

inftexagr6712Lastly, 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. 

“160 years made in Greece. Industry, Innovation, Novelty”: The exhibition's promo videos

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.

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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, translation from French by Ioulia Livaditi

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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 "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. 

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"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. 

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* 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

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forumcollageThe 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.

CollagecheminsThe 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.

obscollageInterview 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

N.M.

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Gavrilis Lampatos has published a plethora of articles and studies on the history of the Greek Left and in particular of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) in collective works, newspapers and magazines as well as in two monographs, "Greek political refugees in Tashkent 1949-1957" (Athens, 2001) and "KKE and power 1940-1944" (Athens, 2018). 

In his latest book, "KKE and power" Lampatos explores the spectacular rise of the KKE in popularity and political clout between 1940 and 1944: in 1940, on the eve of the Greek-Italian war, the KKE was an organizationally ruined party, while the constant policy changes followed by the Communist International over Nazism confused Communists across Europe. Nevertheless, the KKE succeeded in regrouping; in 1944 it was a party of power able to transform almost radically the established political system. 

Through unpublished personal testimonies and archival sources, the book examines how this change has been achieved- and the price that has been demanded in many cases. Gavrilis Lampatos spoke to Rethinking Greece and Grèce Hebdo* about his book, the role of the National Resistance during WWII and the spectacular rise of the KKE´s popularity between 1940-1944. He also discussed the decline of KKE's acceptance among the Greek people and the begining of the Greek Civil War, fought from 1946 to 1949 between the Greek government army and the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE, the military branch of the KKE). As for Greeks' exceptional interest in public history, Lampatos says that "there are many people who want to know about these traumatic events, to learn of their fathers' and grandparents’ history."

What reasons are there for a book today about the KKE during the occupation (1940-1944)? Why does this subject interest the Greek public? Are the 1940s not a decade overdone in terms of historical research?

Indeed, plenty of books dealing with the '40s have been published. What was missing however was a specialized detailed study focusing on the dominant political force of the 1940s, the KKE, and in this sense the book filled this gap. What is interesting is that thus far there’s been an very positive response from the public.

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The members of the SEKE Founding Conference, October 1918

The KKE is the oldest Greek party. It was formed in 1918 under the name of the Socialist Labour Party of Greece (SEKE); it's a century-old. What were the economic and political conditions that allowed its establishment in 1918?

The establishment of the SEKE is linked to World War I and then Prime Minister Venizelos' efforts for Greece to have a socialist party that would take part in international conferences. It was for this reason that Venizelos was in favour of its establishment, and so within the framework of the economic and social crisis and the radicalization brought about by the Russian revolution, we also have the founding of the SEKE; which, in a matter of just a few years, evolved into a communist party. Of course its founders quite soon found themselves outside the party’s ranks, but that’s another story. The social strata that participated in KKE´s founding were labour strata, represented either by some unions in southern Greece or mainly by the Socialist Workers' Federation of Thessaloniki.

As regards KKE’s role in the National Resistance as well as more generally, what were the factors that led to the widening of its political influence in the war years?

In the course of the Occupation, the old political order broke down completely. The parties were uneasy, edgy and incapable of managing the reality of the occupation and the new needs of the population which came down to securing the basics for survival. The Communist Party, together with other smaller parties on the Left, formed the National Liberation Front (EAM), which, responding to the needs of the people in urban centres, as well as the power vacuum that existed in the mountainous areas of Greece, rapidly evolved into a huge political force. As we say in politics, when you have a tectonic earthquake new political subjects are being created.

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Members of ELAS (the Greek People's Liberation Army)

And what then? How did it lose its extensive political influence so quickly, after the 1944 December events (Dekemvriana)? And what were, generally speaking, the factors that led to the Civil War?

The excessive use of force alienated it from urban populations, while a part of the rural population manifested open hostility towards it following the defeat of ELAS (the Greek People's Liberation Army, i.e., the military wing of EAM) in the December events. These groups had not indicated their political standing in the past, but observed political developments so as to identify with whoever prevailed militarily. As for the civil war a year later, there are several factors that led to it, external and internal. There is an ongoing historiographical debate if there were social dynamics leading unavoidably to the civil war or whether it was linked to political choices. It was, after all, a political choice of the KKE leadership to attempt an armed takeover of power. The fact that Greece shared borders with socialist countries was an additional motivation at that time.

With regard to the conflicts, the First and Second World Wars in Greece lasted much longer: WWI  essentially ent on from 1912 to 1923, while WWII from 1940 to 1949, when the Civil War ended. How do you explain this?

This is a basic feature of Greek history in the century of extremes in that World War I and the schism it inflicted on Greek society was accompanied by the Asia Minor war, i.e. the conflict with Turkey. And it ended with a disaster: it wasn’t simply an end, it was a disaster. You had to start all over again from the beginning. The same applied to World War II, while disagreements and antagonisms that existed in both the interwar years and during the Occupation became much more extensive than in other countries, and that is why the conflict lasted till 1949. It is a basic feature of Greek history. There are social, political and cultural factors, all of them playing their part in this phenomenon; many political scientists, historians have written notable works on the subject.

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Tassos A., The Liberation of Athens (Color Woodcut, 1945)

Do you agree with what Mark Mazower has said, that historical events in Greece forecast political trends in Europe?

Mazower said this on the basis of the experience of the Greek War of Independence (1821 - 1829), which he sees as a European event; that is, the Greek Revolution of 1821 is one of the great revolutions of the 19th century. With this in mind, Mazower - an English historian with knowledge of the Greek language (which is a rare thing) as well as of all the contradictions of Greek society – is in a position to find analogies between the Greek case and that of other European states.

As regards the evolution of the Greek left, do you believe there is a distinctiveness about KKE?

When we talk of the Greek left, we actually mean many decades of its Communist movement. Because the left, from the European perspective, includes all the social-democratic parties as well that did not  exist in Greece up until 1974, if we accept that PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) is a kind of social-democratic party. The course of the Greek Communist Left, and especially the choice for civil war made by the General Secretary of the KKE Nikos Zachariades, probably served as an example to be avoided, for both the Italian and French communists. The Greek Communist Left did not turn out as an example to be followed.

The Communist Party of Greece, however, retains to the day a stable electoral base in contrast to other countries. Is there a future, in your opinion, for the KKE?

Here’s a historic paradox: the era of communism has ended, with many communist parties in Eastern Europe having transformed into social-democratic ones, while there are other parties labeled as communist, for example in Portugal, who place themselves at the left of social democracy. These communist parties seek to alter political correlations within the framework of the political game in their own countries. Our communist party however functions as a party of social protest, which is why all its stakes lay on a distant socialist future, following a rather lonesome path. We shall see what future there is for a party for which there is no corresponding international movement.

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Nikos Zachariadis (1903 – 1973) the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) from 1931 to 1956

Do you think that, comparatively speaking, in our country today, on account perhaps of the crisis, there is increased interest in public history?

There is interest in history. What is interesting is that historical studies of academic standard do not circulate between academics only but are read by the wider public. This is a very interesting reality; the two books by professor of political science George Th. Mavrogordatos, “1915: The National Schism” (2015), and “After 1922: The Prolongation of the Schism” (2017), are very often displayed for sale by newspaper vendors; and they are academic studies, which only means there is a public that reads them. This is why publishers are interested in publishing such historical studies. What is more, there is a world that wants to know about these traumatic events for Greek society, to learn of their fathers' and grandparents’ history.

What do you think about Pantelis Voulgaris latest film “The Last Note” (2017), which deals with the execution of 200 communist prisoners in the final year of the Occupation?

I’ve seen the movie. Generally speaking, I have certain historical objections concerning Voulgari's films, but not in this case. It is essentially based on Themos Kornaros' book "Chaidari" (a suburb of Athens where a Nazi concentration camp operated during the Occupation), a book that was written in the heat of the moment, in 1945; and people, events and situations depicted are factual. Of course we could say that the execution itself is even more tragic than what we see on screen; the prisoners resist in any way possible in order to die a dignified death; they put up a fight for this. They negotiate dignity at the time of their death and this is extremely interesting.

Last Note movie trailer

*Interview by: Ioulia Livaditi, Nikolas Nenedakis, (Rethinking Greece), Constantin Mavroidis (Grèce Hebdo)

**Translation: Madga Hatzopoulou

floridesA 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.

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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.

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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 …”

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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.

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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).

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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

Read also: Rosemarie: Sanitising society’s stigmas with a soap opera, Film synopsis, Film review by Cineuropa.

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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.

avdeliodis filmsYou are a theatre and cinema director and actor, and also engage in a range of related creative activities. What has driven you there?

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.

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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.

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"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?

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"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.

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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.

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“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.

 

Read more: Greek theatre tradition, Twentieth Century Greek Theater

* Interview by Florentia kiortsi and Kostas Mavroeidis.

** Special thanks to Angeliki Spyropoulou

Watch the film "The tree we hurt" by Dimos Avdeliodis: