Where does ultimate despair lead individuals? Where do people turn to when they have lost all means of survival? Vassilis Mazomenos’ dark and poetic film “Lines” addresses the subject of suicides in the midst of the Greek economic crisis.
Producer, screenwriter, director and member of the European Film Academyand the Hellenic Film Academy, Vassilis Mazomenos was born in Athens in 1964 and studied political science at the University of Athens. Mazomenos has worked as artistic director at the Kalamata Documentary International Film Festival and has also served as vice-president of the Greek Film Centre. He has produced thirty short films and has published three poem collections. Mazomenos’ films are characterized by a distinct cinematic style driven by his visual and artistic experimentation and the influence of early German expressionism on his work.
Leonidas Kakouris, "Lines" (2016)
His feature films include “Days of Rage” (1995), “The Triumph of Time” (1996), “Money, A Mythology of Darkness” (1998), “Remembrance” (2002), “Words and Sins” (2004), “Guilt” (2009) and “10th day” (2012) and have been awarded in international and Greek festivals. His latest film, “Lines” (2016), was awarded for best directing and nominated for best picture and best screenplay in Maverick Movie Awards in 2017 and won the Award of Merit for Film Feature in Accolade Global Film Competition the same year.
“Lines” is a modern day Greek tragedy, told through the lives of people crushed by the economic crisis. The film plot consists of seven chapters about seven broken individuals that build a tragical unicum about what it means to live in Greece in these hard times of financial restraint. “The company”, “the factory”, “streets”, “batman”, “the farm”, “live” and “the terrace” are the titles of the episodes representing the whole gamut of a class-driven society. The leading thread connecting all these stories is a psychological support center called “life line”, which the protagonist of each episode calls to talk about their problemsand seek help and support.
Mazomenos talked to Greek News Agenda* about “Lines”, stressing that he refrained from making a show about the economic crisis, while emphasizing that the crisis has proved the ideal situation for Greek Cinema to blossom, because, as he says, “talented directors are like vampires”.
Themis Panou, "Lines" (2016)
There is an allegorical, poetic twist in all your seven stories that revertsfrom a linear realistic narrative. Why is that?
I don’t care at all to attribute reality as it is. Cinema makes sense only when you create your own world and not imitate the one that exists. Anyone who expected from me to make a spectacle of the crisis would be rather disappointed.
Do your stories refer to contemporary Greece or to a dark future?
But we live our dark future now. Time during Memorandums has no meaning. Greece is living in a sci-fi movie in 2050 where “everything will change”, as they said, which is so close but so far at the same time.
How has the crisis affected Greek society and Greek cinema?
Two different questions… The Greek society is experiencing the collapse of the fake dreams of the 80’s and 90’s. Victims are crying over the ruins of fake bliss. On the contrary, Greek cinema blossomed during the crisis, because talented directors are like vampires. This situation is an ideal place for creation.
Kostas Xykominos, Vassilis Georgosopoulos, "Lines" (2016)
There are many instances in your seven stories where the protagonists undress themselves in a quasi ritualistic manner. How does nudity work in your film?
There is a Greek expression “I come out of my clothes“, which means that what happens around me makes me angry. Sociologist Erving Goffman, in his emblematic book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life” analyses human interaction based on Shakespeare’s quote “All the world is a Stage”. According to Goffman, every member of society is dressed in its social role. When everything falls apart, there is no point in supporting your social role any longer; this is when you come out of your clothes. Actually, there is a whole blog in Los Angeles analyzing your question about nakedness. I don’t think I could find a better answer.
The film takes place mostly at night, because, as you have mentioned, Greece is in a dark place. What does it take for someone to come out of the darkness?
Tasos Nousias, "Lines" (2016)
What are your future plans?
I am preparing a new film. Hope to shoot it summer 2019. It’s called “Guest” and it’s a story about borders.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Photo by Panagiotis Gavriiloglou
Playwright, novelist, scriptwriter and now librettist: Vangelis Hatziyannidis is a man of many talents, who does not stay in his comfort zone but takes on new challenges, whether this means different genres or unfamiliar themes. He’s not, however, a chameleon, but a creator with a distinct personal style and artistic identity.
His first novel, Four Walls, was awarded Diavazo literary magazine’s “Prize for a First-Time Author”, in 2001. It has been translated into English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. In France the book won the Laure Bataillon Prize for the best translated novel of the year. In its English translation, it was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. His second novel, Stolen Time, has also been translated into English, Spanish and Italian.
He has also written the plays Disguise, Mud, La Poupée, Screen Light, Cake and others, all published and staged in Greece. La Poupee has met with great success and stellar reviews, while Screen Light won the Public Prize at Heidelberg theatre festival 2013. He also co-authored the screenplay for Marsa Makris’ film Sacrilege (2017). His most recent venture is the Greek speaking opera Z, based on the eponymous book by Vassilis Vassilikos, for which he collaborated with internationally acclaimed composer Minas Borboudakis and noted stage director Katerina Evangelatos.
Z (1966) is a political novel based on true events taking place during the tumultuous for Greece 60’s, which culminated in the military coup of 1967. It recounts the assassination in 1963 of MP, physician and athlete Grigoris Lambrakis (presented as “Z” in the novel) by far-right extremists, orchestrated by members of the police forces, and the determined efforts of an unrelenting prosecutor to find the culpable and unmask the conspiracy. It was adapted into an acclaimed film (1969) by renowned director Costa-Gavras, starring Yves Montand and Jean-Louis Trintignant. An opera adaptation of this work, especially in Greek, was an ambitious and daring project, and the result does not let down. We spoke* with Hatziyannidis about his latest ventures and future plans.
Z, the opera - Photo by Gerasimos Domenikos
When adapting the novel Z into a libretto, how faithful did you remain to the original? Were you influenced by the film version by Costa Gavras?
Well, I started by going through all the material, very thoroughly. I read the book repeatedly, and watched the movie a couple of times; I also studied the era, the political and social situation in Greece at the time, the circumstances surrounding the event and, in the end, drawing from all this material, I made my own composition. Moreover, through conversations with the music composer, Minas Borboudakis, we reached a conclusion concerning the elements we wanted our opera to contain. Our main influence was, of course, the novel, while we used almost nothing from the film. The director, Katerina Evangelatos, didn’t base her work on the film either, from a visual point of view, since that was a work from another time and a different genre.
As a result, we identified the elements that interested us in the novel, but distanced ourselves considerably from the actual text. We located specific parts where the narrative was more poetic, and we brought them out in a different way, using different wording, a different type of discourse. We also focused on points of the novel that don’t seem pivotal within it, such as those where characters are studied in depth. Character study and lyricism are the two elements that are central in our opera, unlike their lesser importance in the book.
In the programme, you state that the greatest challenge for you was not posed by the opera as a form, but by the subject: you had never before engaged in the genre of political thriller.
That is true. But I was fortunate to share the same views as Minas (Borboudakis) concerning the way we wanted to treat the story. That was one of the reasons we could work together perfectly; our visions and our aesthetic preferences coincided. The political novel, and generally the issue of politics in art, has been a widespread tendency in Greece and the rest of Europe for decades now; this is ever more prominent in theatre – take, for example the German scene, which is considered the steam engine of European theatre. And yet I was personally never attracted to this type of writing. But this didn’t pose an obstacle for me. On the contrary, I could delve into this material with new eyes, the eyes of a person who avoids the use of politics in art, something I think proved beneficiary to the work.
Tell us, what is the process of authoring a libretto? How is it related to the musical composition?
Well, for a period of about three months we skyped a lot with Minas, who lives in Munich, holding long conversations concerning the opera’s structure. As I said, our views coincided to a great extent, even our initial thoughts before meeting with each other, so there was a lot of common ground to begin with. We talked about the structure, the way the inner voices of the characters would be manifested in parallel with the unraveling of the actual events, about which characters would be at the centre of the narrative, and, after agreeing on the broad outlines, I took this material and wrote an entire libretto which took about two months.
Minas then took this first version and began composing the music. As he proceeded from one scene to the next, he shared with me various thoughts that came up, some issues concerning the pairing of the text with the music. For example, he would ask for a few more lines to be added to a monologue, or he would need a phrase with a particular metric pattern. That was a very entertaining part of the process, these small modifications; some were quite difficult to achieve, but they were like riddle for me to solve: I had to convey a certain meaning in a phrase with a standard set of words and syllables, and a particular intonation. All this seemed like a puzzle that I really enjoyed and which gave me the opportunity to further explore language as a tool.
Z, the opera - Photo by Gerasimos Domenikos
Your great success, La Poupée, was a musical. Did that experience help you with Z?
No, there is no comparison. For La Poupée I wrote the lyrics for a number of songs, but this is totally different. The libretto didn’t rhyme; it only has a particular rhythm in certain parts. In opera, the entirety of the text is sung out or, even when it is uttered as prose, it is metred and words have to be spoken in a specific way. The actor portraying "Z" doesn’t sing at all throughout the play, but he has to talk in a specific manner, within a very specific time, because it is still perfectly synchronised with the music. In La Poupée, there were five songs during the performance, but that didn’t affect the rest of the play.
How did you decide to make “Z” a non-singing character?
That was a deliberate decision by Minas Borboudakis. “Z” has many lines where he delivers a political address, which would sound awkward in song, so he opted for prose whenever “Z” speaks.
What are the main differences between writing a play and a libretto?
Let me start with the similarities. In both cases, one must create a dramatic work: introduce the characters and give the audience some information about them; each character must have a purpose, a clear goal to pursue and follow a certain course from the beginning to the end of the play. Moreover, the play must have a climax, creating suspense for the way it’s going to end. Opera and theatre have all these in common; the difference lies in the need for a particular metre in opera and also in the fact that the lines are sung, tripling the time it takes them to be uttered. Consequently, a libretto must be about one third the size of a play of the same length. Thus the dialogue must a concise as possible, using only those words that are absolutely necessary.
Do you think that this was a one-off venture, or an endeavour that may interest you again in the future?
When I received the proposal from the Greek National Opera’s Artistic Director, Giorgos Koumendakis, and Alexandros Efklidis, Artistic Director of the Alternative Stage of the Greek National Opera, it had never crossed my mind that I could be involved in writing a libretto. In spite of the difficulties faced, lacking relevant experience, the whole process ultimately proved very entertaining -I use this expression again- and I really enjoyed it, plus I learned a lot. And, although there is not a great demand for operas, especially compared to the demand for theatre plays in Greece, it would be a pleasure to do it again, given the opportunity.
Photo by Dora Tsouri
There is no Greek opera tradition. Do you think that this could change?
It’s one of the central missions of the Greek National Opera, under the direction of Giorgos Koumendakis and Alexandros Efklidis, to commission operas from Greek composers / librettists. I hope the effort bears fruit, producing works of quality that may succeed beyond our borders.
You have also delved into another genre, writing the script for Marsa Makris’ film Sacrilege. How was that experience, compared with the other two?
Naturally, writing a screenplay is a different experience altogether. I co-authored it together with the director, we collaborated closely and, as Marsa knows the language of cinema very well, it was easier for me not to carry the responsibility on my shoulders alone. I also enjoyed this venture very much, and I am currently in the process of writing a new screenplay, in collaboration with another film director. By way of my experience in these different genres, I end up discovering more similarities than differences, and I can examine the process of writing more thoroughly through these diverse approaches.
Yes, I feel that this confinement - which can be in a room or in a building, or as in the case of Four Walls the added isolation of living on a small island - helps me focus more on the characters, it’s like cornering them with a magnifying glass so that you are able to study them in depth and detail. It is the equivalent of a close-up shot in cinema, revealing the subtlest expressions. I felt that I could put my heroes under a microscope this way.
You have tried out several different genres. Is one of those closer to your heart? Would you for example identify more as a playwright or a novelist?
Every time I work within a certain genre, I feel more at home there. And I know that it’s an illusion, and that when I start working another genre I’m going to feel the same thing. I feel equally in place with both prose and theatre. I enjoy this variety, like having two different houses, one in the city and one in the country. I feel that literature is my base, since I have engaged myself in it much longer and but, on the other hand, I feel a greater intimacy in theatre, because I know it from the inside on account of my early studies and work as an actor. Both are very important to me. Thankfully, I don’t actually have to choose!
Works by you have been translated you have been translated into 5 different languages.
And my first two novels are about to be published in Turkish too.
It is not always easy for a Greek writer to attract the interest of foreign publishers.
Like all good things in life, this thing just came about in a rather happenstance way; when my first novel came out, Michel Volkovitch (well known for his translations of Greek works into French) read it and called me to say that he was interested, then the same thing happened with Italian translator Maurizio de Rosa (also prominent in his field), and these two cases kind of set things in motion, I guess. Volkovitch’s translation won the Laure Bataillon Prize, an award jointly granted to both author and translator, while Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife‘s translation into English was shortlisted for the “Independent Foreign Fiction Prize”.
This of course was very gratifying for all – me, translators and publishers. Through translation you feel you can reach out to foreign readers, not so much in the sense of just expanding your readership, but more in the sense of appealing to different people of different nationalities, mentality and aesthetic views.
Do you think that the universality of your characters -as opposed to the evident “Greekness” often found in other works- appeals to foreign publishers?
It could but, on the other hand, the quest for a politicised art, which I referred to earlier, can make others more prone to publish works that are more local in character, with many references to current sociopolitical issues. But, whatever the focus of a book is -politics, social issues, romance, metaphysics etc- it all comes down to one thing: you have a bad novel or a good novel; an author who triggers your interest or not.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
Read more on Lambrakis and the post-Civil War period in Greece: Rethinking Greece: Evi Gkotzaridis on the 'long' Greek Civil War, the 'deep state' and historical Revisionism
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Composer Minas Borboudakis on his work in 21st-century classical music; Film Director Marsa Makris: “In the end, it is the enigma that feeds the imagination”; Kostas Georgousopoulos on contemporary Greek Theatre; The Greek Play Project: Mapping contemporary Greek theatre; Contemporary Greek theatre in the spotlight
Viriato Soromenho-Marques teaches Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Nature, and European Ideas and Policies in the Departments of Philosophy and European Studies of the University of Lisbon. He is correspondent member of the Lisbon Academy of Sciences and from the Portuguese Marine Academy. He was Vice-Chair of the European Environmental and Sustainable Development Advisory Councils network (2001-2006), and then member of the EC High Level Group on Energy and Climate Change (2007-2010). Currently he is Special Adviser of the Board of the Blue Ocean Foundation (Fundação Oceano Azul). He is a prolific writer and speaker on Philosophy, Environment and European Union matters. We spoke* with Professor Soromenho-Marques regarding the future of the EU and Eurozone, especially his views of a much needed restructuring of these institutions.
In your experience, has the creation of the EU actively promoted sustainable environmental policies that would have been harder to implement by each member-state alone?
Sustainable development is today a metaphor of the huge tasks individuals, organizations and countries need to assume together in order to survive to the existential risks raised by the global social and environmental crisis, where climate change is included. The EU created a blueprint for the type of compulsory cooperation that we need to implement at regional and world levels. Today, in every EU country, the large amount of environmental and sustainability legislation is based upon European laws where our common wisdom and expertise is enshrined and shared.
To find the main axes of such critical reform we need to bear in mind that the European crisis was originated in 2008-2010, not in the EU at large, but in the Eurozone, by the sheer empirical evidence that the Economic and Monetary Union designed in the Treaty of Maastricht had severe genetic flaws that brought the whole EU project to a crossroads. The agenda for reform in 2018 and afterwards needs to resume and answer to the key question already latent for 26 years: either enter into a deep reformation or accept the high risk of disintegration. Both in Europe (I remember the prescient 1992 Manifest of 62 German economists) as also in the USA (Stiglitz, Krugman, Feldstein, or Friedman), wise minds adverted us to the danger of building a house starting from the roof, pooling monetary sovereignty among the Eurozone member-States without a sound and solid basis: a clear constitutional and democratic political union; a sufficiently strong European budget to provide both for concrete economic investment in European wide projects and for fiscal support in case of asymmetric chocks like those that occurred after the 2008 financial global crisis; finally, a true bank union, learning from the 1933-1934 USA experience.
Until today the main problems of the Eurozone are still unsolved. The Eurozone didn’t collapse only for two main reasons: the ECB under Mario Draghi is clever enough to understand that its strict rules (basically the article 127 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) need to be overcome by a creative interpretation. That’s why the European Central Bank is working today almost as a regular central bank, like the Bank of England or the Federal Reserve, with quantitative easing policies, in a continuous mode since 2015. Even before that year, it was the ECB that avoided a credit crunch in the banking system in 2011 (Long-Term Refinancing Operations) and sustained the growing burden of public debt even for larger countries like Spain and Italy up to July 2012 (Outright Monetary Transactions).
The second reason, the one Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras understood very well in the dramatic July 2015, is that there is no reasonable practical alternative to the euro. The populist idea that countries could easily exit the Eurozone, reintroducing their national currencies, it’s either stupid or completely intellectually dishonest. However, fear alone will not provide a sustainable future for the EU. The structural reform of the Eurozone is still waiting the critical consensus for resuming hope in our common future. The proposals put forward by President Macron, although leaving room for a certain degree of criticism from those who would prefer a bolder move, go in the right direction.
We need a much larger European budget based on shared tax and fiscal policies. We need to provide investment options to countries that are struggling with the severe burden of both public and private debt (rooted in external imbalances). We need to discuss the avenues of the European future without fear of the opinion of citizens. On the contrary, we need both a clear strategically driven vision for our common future, and also the support and empowerment of citizens engaged in the democratic deepening and strengthening of our Union. And today as before, a bold shift in Germany’s vision of its role in Europe is a key element for attaining that much needed structural reform.
Also in your article, you expressed your concerns about Eurozone’s immediate future, taking into account current political turbulences in several countries (i.e. Italy’s elections). The European construct seem to be shaken by local turmoil rather than prevent it. Can we hope to eventually reverse this situation?
A recent opinion study developed by Chattam House and Kantar Public identified six “political tribes” in the European public opinion regarding the EU dilemmas. In spite of all the malaise symptoms, we have still a majority of 53% Europeans that understand that European identity is a value that can’t be confused with the current weaknesses and lack of a shared goal for EU’s future. The European Union can only survive if it is able to offer a hopeful perspective to nations and citizens at large. Politics at its heart is the art of facing challenges with positive solutions. If we look carefully there is not one big challenge that European nations can face better alone and isolated than together, pooling resources, imagination and sovereignty. If we look into the challenge of climate change and environmental protection, or into the challenge of building a prosperous and fair economy, innovative, but creating new jobs for young people. If we consider the need to put order into the financial markets, stopping the leakage of huge amounts of money to tax havens, or the urgent task of securing the social rights and fighting inequality and poverty. In all these challenges, including civil defense and stronger military cooperation for deterring menaces to peace, we need coming together, building trust and concrete solidarity. The alternative to the coming together of Europeans is disintegration, poverty and the prospect of violent conflict on different regional scales.
*Interview by Margarita Adamou, Head of the press office of the Greek Embassy in Lisbon, and Nefeli Mosaidi
Markellos Chryssicos (full name: Markellos Chryssicopoulos) is a conductor and musician who has dedicated himself to a very particular endeavour: the historically informed performance of early music, especially Baroque. His musical education began at a young age. After originally learning piano, he went on to study the harpsichord. Once the most important keyboard instrument, the harpsichord lost favour to the piano in the 19th century, but knew a revival in the 20th century, especially after the 1950’s. Chryssicos, with musical studies in Athens, Paris and Geneva, acquired a vast and solid repertoire ranging from early madrigals to Mozart operas. His great passion however remains Baroque music.
As a musical assistant and vocal coach, Chryssicos has participated in various award winning recordings and productions. He is a harpsichord virtuoso and, above all, an internationally acclaimed conductor. His production of Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea as well as Salomé, based on Stradella's San Giovanni Battista, have been hailed as highlights of the Athens Festival. He has conducted the Venice Baroque Orchestra in a double CD recording (L'Olimpiade - the opera of the Olympics). As conductor, he often collaborates with Armonia Atenea, the Athens State Orchestra, the Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra and other ensembles.
Perhaps his most interesting project is the founding of Latinitas Nostra, an ensemble performing Early Music, mainly Baroque, in a historically informed way; apart from the harpsichord and the church organ (which Chryssicos also masters), they use theorbo, viola da gamba (viol) and other Baroque instruments. Both their recordings and many performances have earned them stellar reviews, with their trademark perhaps being the unexpected, risky musical pairings they often attempt: In their performance “A voyage into the Levant”, Elizabethan composer John Dowland meets secular Ottoman music while in “...for I will soon be laid in the earth...” French Baroque merges with the Greek urban folk rebetiko. We met with Markellos Chryssicos* and talked about his career, his upcoming projects and the relationship between Greek and Baroque music.
Let’s start with your imminent projects; first, J.S. Bach’s St John Passion at the Athens Concert Hall on April 1st. Will there be experimentations, as there were in some of your recent works, or will this be a faithful rendition?
No, there will be no experimentations. Remaining “faithful”, however, is another matter altogether, given that this work was written to be performed in a very different place, of different size and acoustics, for a very different occasion: it was performed for the first time in 1724, at Good Friday Vespers at St. Nicholas Church, which means it was aimed at a congregation gathering to fulfill a religious duty. So, regardless of the effort of the musicians or me, as a conductor, to recreate the original performance, we are limited by the reality of totally different acoustics and a dissimilar occasion, a different, secular audience, probably much less familiar with the narration in the Gospel of John. Moreover, churchgoers of the time listened to the passions in standard German, whereas we hear it in its original Ancient Greek text, adding extra distance between the work and the audience; and even our ears differ now, in terms of sound perception, of the sound volumes, frequencies and timbres we are accustomed to. So, when we say we remain faithful to the original, “faithful” denotes a disposition rather than indicates a result.
So, a historically informed performance is not a replication of the original performance, it is however closer to it compared to the transcription of 17th and 18th century music for a modern orchestra, something that used to be rather common.
That’s right; this was not however a matter of choice, but rather a matter of functionality. At a time when knowledge and ability to perform music in a historically accurate way was lacking, these astonishing pieces were performed by use of the means available. So there were many transcriptions, as for example Dimitri Mitropoulos’ arrangements of Bach’s organ works for a symphonic orchestra, which really aimed at communicating these creations to the audience of the time as well as they could, using the equipment they had access to.
On April, a production of Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen will premiere at the Greek National Opera, under your music direction. Will you try to stick to the original in this case too?
Well, it’s not so much about the original work, more about the original sound and the original way. A work is debased not so much when we change notes but when we change its prosody. In this case we are, however, talking about the staging of a show, so the visual element is very prominent; the direction by Giannis Skourletis and bijoux de kant uses a very contemporary visual vocabulary. When The Fairy Queen was presented in London for the first time, it was an extravagant production, with a huge Baroque orchestra, many singers, choirs, special effects and scores of stage equipment. Ours is a very different approach; we have distanced ourselves from the original text – that is, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night's Dream, on which the work is based. We have designed a show that doesn’t have much to do with a 17th century extravaganza. We use a contemporary stage arrangement, in the relatively small Alternative Stage at the Greek National Opera. We try to remain as faithful as possible to the musical articulation, but we are of course far from recreating what Purcell had in mind.
So you use a different libretto?
There is no libretto per se. This is not an opera, but a masque; there is a basic prose structure, and music has a symbolic, if I may say so, connection to this prose, as musical parts have between them. So instead of moving in the direction of an opera-style staging, where the dramatic composition is much tighter, we chose the opposite direction: to make the English masque even more minimalist. Through the music, we created a new narrative thread.
That was a different case all together. Inspired by Claudio Monteverdi’s own idea of using different instruments when the action takes place in the underworld, we took this concept one step further and, when Orfeo descends to the underworld, there was a shift in the dominant instruments, with the use of electric guitars, live electronics, like the Theremin, use of computers for electronic sounds and voice distortion etc. And yet, the music making was clearly of a Baroque nature. The sounds where different but the intention, the discourse, the way we used language and music were much more faithful to the original opera than most ensembles have managed to be in other productions of this work. In the Fairy Queen, the contrast does not lay in the musical composition itself, but in the pairing of this music with very contemporary visuals.
How did the Latinitas Nostra ensemble come into being?
I had just returned to Greece from my studies abroad, and I wanted to form a circle of partners, with whom I could collaborate to fulfill my “artistic vision” (a term I now regard in a more ironic way). So I tried to locate these people in Greece who would not only speak the same language with me but also speak it in the same way, and who would be in the same place in life, meaning young, with studies abroad, contemporary studies in the same field, and yet were for some reason drawn back to Greece. That’s not to say we don’t have good collaborators who live abroad, we have some very important ones, such as Andreas Linos who plays the viol, but the nucleus is here. I wanted to create a platform of this sort, since there wasn’t already one there.
On the ensemble’s website, it is stated that “the point of departure -even indirectly- of the productions we present is Greece, the actual or the ideal one, the way it was ‘fabricated’ and used by 17th and 18th century Europe”. Was that aspect present since the founding of Latinitas Nostra?
Yes, it was there from the start. Of course, in Baroque, everything can be traced back to Ancient Greece, if one looks. As to how meaningful this connection is, that’s a different subject. You see, all late 16th – early 17th century theorists, who tried to identify the theoretical foundation of a new aesthetics, turned to Ancient Greece, of which they knew very little, and that via Arabic translations. So the question of whether Greece was just a starting point or an essential element of creation, during these roughly 150 years that cover the Baroque era is a question not easy to answer. After all, Ancient Greece constituted a different notion for a theorist in early 17th century Florence than it did for a musician with more than a dozen children, who worked at three schools simultaneously and had to compose a cantata on a weekly basis, like Bach.
Your ensemble has, however, presented productions where Baroque “conversed” with elements of Modern Greece, such as rebetiko music. Are you content with the outcome of such ventures?
Yes, very much so. All this had its roots in the Music Village, a project that takes place every summer in Pelion, which brings together musicians from very different backgrounds. There was an encounter there between the attendants of Evgenios Vouldaris’ yayli tanbur musical workshop and those of Nima Ben David’s viol workshop. These were two different realms that connected, listened to each other, played together and exchanged instruments, and I, although not present when all this took place, searched for a way to take part in this osmosis. It’s not just the sound, it’s about the different way each instrument perceives the notion of time, of a musical phrase and how much these two musical gestures can converge.
Our first production was “A voyage into the Levant” where, based on the journals of 17th century English travelers who journeyed from London to Constantinople, we had created a narrative on the encounter between the two worlds; sometimes they contrast one another, other times they converse, and there are times as if they say the exact same thing in a different tone. The other performance was “...for I will soon be laid in the earth...”, a meeting between Baroque and rebetiko; something we also tried in Salomé, presented at the Athens festival, under the stage direction of Nikos Karathanos. Although, in that case, I think -and I also wrote that in the programme at the time- Baroque music undermined the traditional Greek elements, the rebetiko “yeast” didn’t quite flourish in Stradella’s work. I don’t regard that as a failure, far from it; but in the other two productions we had managed to create a very genuine musical dialogue.
What are Latinitas Nostra’s plans for the future?
L’Orfeo, under the stage direction of Thanos Papakonstantinou, was a far greater success than we expected, and we would like to repeat it. For the time being, we are not seeking to mix western and oriental elements. Not that these were not very fruitful collaborations, or that working together with such wonderful musicians wasn’t a deeply rewarding experience; it’s just that our studies are in a different field, this fusion of genres is a wonderful adventure, but it is just one aspect of who we are and what we want to do. After all, we live in a country where one does not have that many opportunities to play Baroque music in its pure form. So when the question of musical experimentation came up, when discussing the production of the Fairy Queen, I was against it. If we want to remain innovative, we have to occasionally press a reset button and go back to the roots. What we have been looking for was a way to merge the sounds familiar to us as Greeks, the music we hear in social gatherings and celebrations, with the music we chose to study. These performances were cathartic for us, but this type of experimentation is not our only goal.
And your other plans apart from the ensemble?
The Fairy Queen’s final performance is on May 12, and on May 18 I conduct the Armonia Atenea orchestra along with an international cast of singers for a performance of Hasse’s Siroe at the Bayreuth Margravial Opera House. Other concerts with the Armonia Atenea are going to follow as well.
Finally, a more personal question: in an older interview you stated it was not your choice, as a child, to attend the conservatory. One might not imagine that.
Yes. I was interested in music but I really didn’t want to go to the conservatory – I think very few kids do. Although I began very young, I dropped in and out of it a few times. It was only in high school that I decided I wanted to take music seriously. At the time, I played the piano, and it was through a series of both fortunate and unfortunate events that baroque came into my life. The most fortunate of these was my encounter with my harpsichord teacher, Margherita Dalmati, at the Athenaeum conservatory. She was a special person, a pioneer of early music performance in Greece, and also a writer and translator. She was one of the main reasons I became interested in Baroque music.
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Read also via Greek News Agenda: Dimitris Kountouras on early music in Greece; Rebetiko music: From the margins to the mainstream; Progressive metal band POEM in an exclusive interview just before their first European headliner tour
* Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
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.
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.
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.
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)
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).
"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.
"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" (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.
'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.
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.
Athens 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.
The 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.
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.
Tell 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.
After 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 Spot; Arts 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
Athens 2016. The complexities of immigration are rendered when four lives collide with Amerika square as a backdrop. Two Greek friends, along with a Syrian ex-military doctor, an African singer and a human trafficker each experience the refugee crisis in Athens. Mixing a kinetic visual style with ripped-from-the-headlines storytelling, “Amerika Square” by Yannis Sakaridis casts an unflinching gaze at the mass migration economy—where “borders are business.”
Yannis Sakaridis was born in Athens. He moved to London at the age of 19 to study Photography and History of Art at the London College of Printing and Film, University of Westminster. A member of the London Film Makers Co-Op, Sakaridis has directed experimental short films and has worked mainly in London as an editor on seventeen award winning feature films and on many documentaries for British television. After eighteen years in London, Sakaridis returned to Athens where he wrote and directed the award-winning short film Truth (2006). His first feature film Wild Duck (2013) had its world premiere at Toronto IFF 2013 and was in the official competition sections of the film festivals in Busan, Chicago, Sao Paulo, Beijing and Thessaloniki. “America Square”, his second feature film, was voted best Greek film for 2017 by the Greek Federation of Film Critics. The film, lauded by the international film press as "one of the best European films to date on the subject of immigration in all its painful implications", was also selected as Greece's official Academy Award entry for 2017, winning several distinctions at international and Greek Festivals.
Yannis Stankoglou, Xenia Dania, "Amerika Square" (2016)
Yannis Sakaridis talked to Greek news Agenda* about the adaptation of Yannis Tsirbas’ novel on which the film is based, noting that together with his excellent cast they worked hard on the plotline and that the documentary-style editing provided the final touch to the film. Finally, Sakaridis explains how he overcame the limitations of a very tight budget to accomplish this film.
“Amerika Square” is a loose adaptation of Yannis Tsirbas’ novel Victoria Doesn’t Exist. Would you like to describe the process of script writing?
Once the “Via Veneto” of Athens - the favourite place of artists, film makers and wannabees like Maria Callas in the 50s and 60s - America Square is one of the liveliest areas in Athens. When I first arrived in Athens in 2008 after 18 years in London, I found America Square very familiar and I was fascinated by the multicultural references: The hectic, hot, colourful Athenian cityscape, which unveils a passionate, fragile world that lives on the edge of the society.
Vassilis Kukalani, "Amerika Square" (2016)
Tsirbas' novel, which is set in the area and develops brilliantly the "banal racist" Makis character (played by Makis Papadimitriou), together with the real story of the Syrian refugee (Vassilis Koukalani) and Billy (Yannis Stankoglou) the tattoo artist, served as the basis of our script.
We worked and discussed both characters and the story line with the actors and we also improvised whilst filming. I do work a lot on editing and shaping the performances, and the final edit is the final draft of the script.
You edited the film yourself. How did you achieve this strong, atmospheric build-up?
We always wanted to have a fast paced triptych story using the three narrations of the protagonists and the parallel documentary style editing. Minos Matsas' excellent score gave the right tone and the emotional impact to the narrative. The initial thought was to give a lot of space to the actual Square and treat it as another character.
Yannis Stankoglou, Makis Papadimitriou, "Amerika Square" (2016)
Two of the central characters of the film reflect the ways Greeks have responded to the refugee crisis: xenophobia vs solidarity. What do you think the economic and refugee crises have taught the Greek people so far?
Greek people became more mature in the last five years. We have seen changes that other nations see in decades. A lot of people realized it and moved on.
Two friends, Billy and Nakos, who grew up in the same building, come from a similar economic, social and cultural background and went to the same school, react in completely different ways towards these crises, raising questions about the importance of balance and control in people's minds.
Alexandros Logothetis, Ilias Logothetis, "Wild Duck" (2013)
The economic crisis is a point of reference in both of your feature films, “Wild Duck” and “Amerika Square”. How do you think it has influenced contemporary film production and how have you handled it?
Greek cinema in the last 10 years has traveled around the world more than ever before, making Greek producers more open to European co-productions as a consequence. I made a super low budget first film working with friends, trying to get the best possible result with only a few resources. Moreover, my prior experience as an editor in fifteen feature films and many documentaries, brilliant actor friends and contemporary social issues as subject matter also helped a lot.
What are your future plans?
I am working on a feature film called Omonoia as well as a period drama biopic.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
** Special thanks to Anna Georgiou, Head of Press and Communications Office at the Embassy of Greece in Berlin.
Read also: Dissecting the Amerika dream, Amerika Square: a modern-day Casablanca (Sakaridis interview w/h “Neos Kosmos”), “Refugees are victims of a corrupt system well orchestrated in destroying” (Sakaridis interview with Cineuropa), Hollywood Reporter film review.
To mark 160 years since the opening of the Athens Gasworks factory, Technopolis City of Athens presents a major exhibition chronicling Greece's industrial development: “160 years made in Greece. Industry, Innovation, Novelty” runs from January 18 until March 25 2018, telling the story -for the first time to that extent- of industrial development in Greece from 1860 until 1970.
The exhibition’s scientific advisor, Christina Agriantoni is Professor Emeritus of the Department of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology, University of Thessaly (Volos, Greece). Her fields of research are industrial history, urban history, business history and industrial archaeology of Greece and Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Her publications include: The Beginnings of Industrialization in Greece (Οι απαρχές της εκβιομηχάνισης στην Ελλάδα τον 19ο αιώνα), Athens, 1986; Syros and Hermoupolis (Σύρος και Ερμούπολη. Συμβολές στην ιστορία του νησιού, 15ος-20ος αι.), National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens, 2008; and A collective portrait of Greek industrialists (in: Entreprises et Histoire: La Grèce et l'histoire des enterprises, 2011).
Rethinking Greece spoke* with Christina Agriantoni about the Greek industrial sector´s contribution to growth, the waves of industrialization in Greece, the industrial boom of the 50’s and 60’s, Greece's biggest industries, the process of deindustrialization after the mid 70’s and finally, Greece’s industrial prospects and comparative advantages today. As professor Agriantoni points out: "The history of Greek industry is not known. So we wanted to share this story, show that it had ups and downs like everywhere, and that companies have taken risks and found ways to face the difficulties. [...] About 45% of the companies presented in the exhibition are still operating; so the history of the industry in Greece is not over, it does not only belong to the past, but also to the present and to the future."
The prevailing stereotypes for Greek industrial development are that it was lagging, anemic and its contribution to the economy negligible. Would you like to comment?
There is some truth in these stereotypes, but like all stereotypes, they obscure historical reality. The truth is that Greece has indeed remained a predominantly agricultural country until the Second World War: in 1939 industry’s contribution to GDP was estimated at about 10% and 60% of the population was employed in agriculture (this percentage was 80% in the 19th century). It is also true that Greek industry has always lagged behind the continuous technological progress launched by industrialized countries. All this does not mean that the industry was anemic or unimportant for the economy. It has simply developed according to a different pattern. These stereotypes are due to a long-standing habit of evaluating the industrialization of each country compared to the "first comer" model, namely the British model.
This way of thinking is outdated. Today, we know that each country has experienced its own type of industrialization; in Greece, industrialization is characterized by two main elements: First, it is labor-intensive (as was recently the case in Asian countries), as opposed to the British or American pattern of capital-intensive industrialization. Second, the industry developed in Greece almost exclusively in certain cities –preferably port cities– which formed a kind of enclave, islands of modernity surrounded by a countryside that remained traditional. The differences between cities and countryside (or even between different regions added to the country as its borders progressively expanded) were very marked. Therefore, statistics, in terms of national averages, which are used today to study homogenized and fully urbanized economies, have no sense for earlier times. We must also remember that in each region added to Greece (Thessaly in 1881, Macedonia and Thrace in 1912), the weight of agriculture was even greater than in the territory of the previous frontiers, which re-ruralized, in a way, the country –in terms of national averages.
Finally, it should also be noted that, especially during the inter-war period –when the greatest number of refugees from Asia Minor settled in rural areas– the Greek state systematically pursued a policy favorable to agriculture, in order to ethnically homogenize new territories. This has contributed to the conservation of an overpopulated, feebly productive agricultural sector, with high rates of underemployment.
Industry’s contribution to the economy becomes much more important after the Second World War. It is in fact the industrial sector that leads the economic development of the country, with annual growth rates of 8.6% in 1953-62 and 11.5% in 1963-73, while average GDP growth for the whole period 1953-73 was 6.9%. For example, the share of the broad industrial sector (including construction) in GDP increased from 20% in 1950 to 34.5% in 1973, and that of the processing industry in the strict sense increased from 11,6% to 21% between 1953 and 1973. In contrast, the share of the agricultural sector in GDP decreased from 28% to 15.5%; Greece was no longer an agricultural country.
Which were the most important waves of industrialization in Greece? When did the industry reach its highest point of development and what were the historic conditions that made this possible?
All the waves of industrialization in Greece transpire during periods of enlargement of the internal market, which occurs either because of accelerated urbanization or because of the addition of new territories. This shows that actually, the narrowness of the internal market has been a major impediment to industrial development in Greece (prohibiting, inter alia, mass production), insofar the efforts to orient local industrial production towards exports had failed very early. The waves of industrialization were also part of the phases of expansion of the international economy: Greek economy is sensitive to the fluctuations of international markets, to which it was linked early thanks to its agricultural exports. What is more, in the economy of this small country, foreign trade plays an important role, since internal trade by itself is insufficient as a stimulator of economic activity.
So, Greek industry takes off during 1860-1875, when the mid-century strong growth of the European economy reaches its peak, and the port cities dedicated to foreign trade are thriving. The second wave of industrialization, between 1890 and the eve of the (Balkan and world) wars, is a much bigger one, coming after the marked global economic recovery of the Belle Epoque, but also the first rural exodus in Greece. Then follow the expansion phases of 1918-1921, 1924-1927 and 1933-1939. All these surges are very often curbed by external "accidents", namely wars, regional crises and the international economic crisis (1929-32).
The prevailing conditions in Greece from the end of the nineteenth century, namely, the relative abundance of labor (decline of the agricultural sector, and then, arrival of refugees from Asia Minor after 1922) and a relatively protected internal market, first by the devaluation of the drachma (1890-1905) and then by tariffs, have shaped in a lasting way the face of industry: labor intensive, small, non-competitive, paying low wages and addressing the domestic consumer market. Still, larger, better organized and technologically advanced companies, were not lacking, but they were the minority. The peculiarity of this dualist structure of Greek industry –a structure that is found in other countries too– was that it leaned heavily on "small" industry (artisan stores or small factories) throughout the inter-war period.
1950-1975: The biggest wave
The biggest and most sustained wave of industrialization in Greece undoubtedly occurred in 1950-1975. First and foremost, this is a long period of peace and stability that follows a period of war, once again prolonged in Greece (Civil War, 1946-49). It is also a period of very marked global growth (the postwar economic boom). In Greece, reconstruction and very rapid urbanization (the countryside is emptying for the first time) have certainly favored industrial development, as well as the expansion of infrastructure (including the national electricity network) financed in part by the Marshall Plan. The 1953 currency reform ensured monetary stabilization, a beneficial factor for the economy as a whole.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it was the first time that a coherent industrial policy had been applied in the context of a mixed economy, with marked state interventionism, as was the case in all industrial countries around the world at that time. This policy included (1) a series of measures aimed at the motivation of investments and especially at the attraction of foreign capital, (2) the creation of public bodies dedicated to the support of industry and the direct participation of the State in some companies, (3) the obligation on banks to dedicate some of their resources to the financing of industry, and eventually the creation of a bank specialized in long-term industrial credit, and finally (4) the indexation of wages to the evolution of productivity.
Apart from the aforementioned spectacular growth, another important development of the era has been the restructuring of industrial production: between 1953 and 1973, the share of intermediate and capital goods (the so-called heavy industry) in the total industrial output rose from 26% to 45%, while the share of consumer goods decreased from 62% to 42%.
After the mid-1970s and throughout the 80s, Greek industry starts to decline. Deindustrialization has been a pan-European, even international phenomenon, but were there any particular characteristics in the Greek process of de-industrialization?
The dynamism of the 1950-1975 period failed to eradicate all the weaknesses of the Greek industry. Even though several big companies had become exporters, the competitiveness of most remained weak. Overall, productivity in the industrial sector had grown at an annual rate of 9% in the 1960s, reflecting the effort for technological modernization, but, even though productivity was reaching the level of foreign competitors, it was still insufficient. The Association Agreement with the European Economic Community, signed in 1961, provided for a long transitional period, which allowed the perpetuation of a protective environment; the adaptation of the industry to the new conditions was insufficient when the Accession to the European Community (1979) entered into force in 1981.
The overwhelming majority of companies were small and family-based, which is not a disadvantage in itself, but becomes one when management practices remain archaic. Very few companies had adopted modern management techniques. Statism had the side effect of allowing patronage mentality and practices to persist. Lastly, easy access to bank financing had led to excessive debt, which had been further increased in the early 1970s, when several companies, especially the larger ones, had embarked on new investment plans. In sum, the transformation of the industry was not complete when in 1971-73, the disturbances of the international economic environment - the dollar crisis and the first oil crisis- first sounded the alarm. The favorable economic conjuncture decisively ended with the second oil crisis of 1979.
However, the specificities of the Greek case, which have aggravated the negative impact of global economy’s upheavals, have more to do with socio-political circumstances. The "Metapolitefsi" (the era after the fall of the colonels' dictatorship in 1974 and the transition to democracy) saw an outburst of demands from broad social strata, calling for a fairer sharing of the fruits of growth. A sharp rise in inflation (24% in 1974) also fueled the protests. Actually, this outburst was due to the fact that all social protests had been practically persecuted until then, not only at the time of the dictatorship but also during the previous period, when the consequences of the civil war had generated an authoritarian state that controlled syndicalism and engaged in anti-communist repression. Faced with this situation, the right-wing governments of the 1970s, and more systematically those of the center-left after 1981, began to satisfy almost all these demands.
So, at a time when it was necessary to concentrate all efforts in improving business competitiveness and to open the market, wages began to rise faster than productivity and the public sector was being constantly expanded (nationalizations of the 1970s, massive hiring in the following decade). One after the other, several big companies began to fall under the control of the banks and the state during the 1980s; their management, not always entrusted to competent persons, was not immune to the prevailing anti-business sentiment, cultivated by the populist yellow press. Any restructuring effort would have meant layoffs, and that was out of the question for the government at the time (and yet it was at that time when large parts of the industry disappeared, but this mostly concerned industries in the provinces that were not so visible). Resistance to privatization, that started in the early 1990s, is still very much alive.
Right now, industrial activity accounts for 11% of Greece’s GDP, could this percentage be further increased? In which sectors do you believe Greece has an advantage?
The recovery of the industry began in the 1990s; from a macroscopic point of view it can be said that the aforementioned deindustrialization was part of a restructuring process, very long and painful indeed, but its results are obvious: the decline of traditional and labor intensive industries (textile manufacturing, for example), naturally attracted to low-wage countries, and the emergence of a new industrial structure centered around the advantages that our country could offer.
The agri-food sector has maintained its workforce; the same can be said for the metal processing industries (especially aluminum), energy, the chemical industry (petroleum), but also information technology and its applications, all these are still successful sectors that seem to me to show the way forward. No doubt the recent debt crisis (and also the sudden fall in the construction sector), combined with market depression, have partially halted the growth of these sectors.
Among the developments that give us hope, we must note the emergence of a new generation of entrepreneurs, who are fully aware of the constraints of our times, competent in technology and management, employ highly skilled scientists and are ready to open up to world markets and abandon traditional practices. Companies that have successfully passed the test of recent upheavals, have been able to turn to exports in time, ensure partnerships and finally to become a part of transnational supply chains. Greece currently has a number of globalized industrial groups. I cannot predict whether the industry's share in GDP will increase; in any case, as the "fourth industrial revolution" is underway, the term "industry" is to be redefined.
What were the criteria of selection for the industries presented in the “160 years made in Greece” exhibition? What is the principal message you would like to communicate to the visitors?
The space and the time available imposed us limits. So we had to make choices. We first introduced a time limit: only companies that were founded prior to 1970 were included (but we followed their evolution until the end, if they continued to operate after that date). We used that criterion because the 1970s were the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the Greek industry. Then we selected the companies to present (about 120), according to three further criteria: the first is innovation, which has to do with the products themselves, as well as production processes, work organization, management and staff relations. Needless to say, the overwhelming majority of the companies chosen according to this criterion innovated by introducing new products, the diversification of production having been an unavoidable necessity for Greek companies in the process of expansion.
The second criterion focuses on pioneering enterprises, meaning those that were the first to introduce a new industrial branch in the country, something that always represents a significant risk. Finally, the third criterion is longevity, which we consider a feat, given the difficulties that industrial development has encountered too often in our country.
As for the message we wanted to convey, Ι must first of all say that the history of Greek industry is not known. So we wanted to share this story, show that it had ups and downs like everywhere, and that companies have taken risks and found ways to face the difficulties. The exhibition wants to transmit another message as well, which was not planned but which emerged as a result of our research and the final composition of our sample: about 45% of the companies presented in the exhibition are still operating; so the history of the industry in Greece is not over, it does not only belong to the past, but also to the present and to the future.
* Interview by Ioulia Livaditi and Nikolas Nenedakis, translation from French by Ioulia Livaditi
This year, Animafest Cyprus - Views of the World inaugurates Animafest Cyprus – Junior Edition, that will take place in Nicosia at Melina Merkouri Hall, 14-17 March 2017, with the support of ASIFA (Association International du film d’ Animation / UNESCO CICT) and the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media of Greece in the context of its audiovisual production enhancement policy.The main goal of the Junior Edition of Animafest Cyprus is the development of its outreach programmes in the field of education and thus the support and cultivation of Animation in Cyprus. The programme includes curated children’s animation films by independent artists and studios from around the world, as well as the work of Cypriot artists, educational programmes, seminars and lectures. The programme includes creative workshops for students and professionals on Character Design for Animation with Katerina Pantela and on 3D modeling with Andreas Rossides.
Two International competition programmes will be screened. The award for best film (500 euros), sponsored by the Bank of Cyprus, will be decided by a vote by children and young people in the audience.
Interview with the founder
Greek News Agenda* asked graphic and animation artist Yiorgos Tsangaris, initiator of Animafest Cyprus – Junior Edition, president of ASIFA Cyprus and founder of the Countryside Animafest Cyprus to say a few words about Animafest Cyprus as well as the Junior Edition.
What are the characteristics of Animafest Cyprus?
Animafest Cyprus, as one of the longest-running film festivals in Cyprus, is undoubtedly a major contributor to the creation of a new culture for film festivals as well as the appreciation of animation in this country. It is renowned for the high quality of its programming, for its wide and enthusiastic audience and for its active presence in the cultural scene throughout the year. In the context of the festival, we have international and national competition film programmes, parallel screening, tributes, exhibitions and masterclasses by distinguished international artists. The festival has strong bonds with the major cultural institutions in Cyprus, and as the official animation platform of this country, it is supported by the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Cyprus. In recent years, the festival has been showcasing the work of a new generation of Cypriot animation filmmakers and is committed to creating opportunities for training and for the development of new productions.
Animafest Cyprus, since its inception as a high-quality cultural activity taking place in the countryside, has been bringing together people from all walks of life for 17 years. This innovative characteristic has contributed significantly in the appreciation of the countryside and has revitalized small rural communities. We believe that the festival has contributed significantly in creating an interest in animation in Cyprus among a very wide audience--a fact that makes Countryside Animafest Cyprus stand out internationally.
The Festival has an intensely active international activity. In 2013, a national ASIFA chapter was established in Cyprus, as a result of the successful growth and international standing of the festival, which is renowned for the high quality of its programming and its wide and diverse audience. Furthermore the Festival is in partnership with other important International film festivals and animation studios.
What is the goal of the Junior edition?
This year we inaugurate Animafest Cyprus – Junior Edition, which focuses on education, from preschool level through to professional training. The main goal of this new edition of the festival is the development of its outreach programs in the field of education and thus the support and cultivation of the field of Animation in Cyprus. The programme will present curated children’s animation films by independent artists and studios from all over the world, as well as the work of Cypriot artists. This new edition will also include lectures, tributes, exhibitions, children’s competition programmes, workshops and specialized masterclasses in new technologies.
Interview with Joan Zhonga and Effie Pappas
The Festival will also host two distinguished Greek filmmakers, whose films have been selected for the competition programmes:Joan Zhogka with his film “EthnoPhobia” and Effie Pappa with her film “To Elephantaki” (Little Elephant). Joan Zhogka and Effie Papas will talk about their work on Saturday March 17. Greek News Agenda* interviewed Zhonga and Pappas about their work and the ability of animation to promote cultural diversity in times of crisis.
Cultural industries have been globalized over the last decades as more cultural goods and services are traded and cultural production is flexibly organized across national borders. Do you believe that animation culture is able to promote both intercultural understanding and cultural diversity in times of crisis?
J. Z.: For me animation is the medium that can connect people, cultures and nations because it uses a universal language. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you could be 5 or 60, it still has the same magic and appeal to it. Let’s not forget it’s the only medium where real life objects come to life and where animals can speak. Whether you are creating an experimental animation or a film with a narrative, it has a universal appeal and people from around the world will have the same response to it no matter what language they speak. It’s also a great way for artists to communicate important messages in a simple way. In times of crises like the one we’re experiencing at the moment, animation can be used to bring people together. That’s been my goal since I started making films and that’s the message that I’m trying to get across with my film Ethnophobia. People create the differences that divide us; the reality is we are all much more similar that we think. And only by opening a cultural dialogue we can minimise those differences and live united.
E.P.: Animation is a branch of the film industry and art industry as a whole. Each film is an art piece that has been sprouted from one’s creative mind and in that way it inevitably shares stories and characteristics which represent the intercultural values, morals, beliefs or troubles of one’s heritage. I think audiences need stories to which they feel somehow connected to or are curious to see how people get through difficulties they encounter.In that way it makes it even more intellectually stimulating to have a story which doesn’t hide its references, location or place of origin. Times of crisis are usually great in terms of firing the engine to tell these stories passionately and creatively; it is however very unfortunate and a missed opportunity if these voices cannot be heard due to financial reasons. This is where the global market should be responsible and help by offering equal finance opportunities which then lead to promoting cultural diversity.
"EthnoPhobia", Joan Zhonga
Greece and Cyprus are small niches of the global cultural market. Are they in a position to participate in the animation industry worldwide?
J. Z.: The reality is that the animation industries in Greece and Cyprus are very small when you compare them with countries such as the US, the UK or France. But in the past five years, huge steps have been taken towards the promotion and showcasing of Greek talent and there’s been greater support from governmental institutions. More Greek animation films have been excelling in festivals around the world and ASIFA Hellas has been organising a lot of screenings in cinemas where a wider audience that isn’t so familiar with it can get to know the Greek creators. Moreover, for the second year in a row, ASIFA Hellas will have a booth at Annecy festival (the biggest animation festival in the world) presenting all that Greece has to offer to the international market and making initial contact with producers for potential co-productions. Things are definitely moving towards the right direction and the world is learning about Greek animation. We have a long way ahead of us but taking things one step at a time is the best way to achieve our goal.
E.P.: In terms of artistic endeavours, intellectual stimulus and inspirations, I think Greece and Cyprus have amazing stories to share. Now, obviously by not having any film academies or animation schools it makes it very hard to compete with companies and creative teams of other countries with an established body of work over decades. However, over the last years there has been a very positive change and tremendous effort from Animation Festivals, Workshops and publications to promote Animation and get more artists to join the community. The effects of that effort have already begun to flourish and the proof is the multiple participations and recognitions in Film Festivals worldwide, as well as Greece’s contribution in this year’s animated success, “Loving Vincent”. I’m positive that with continuous efforts and the relevant financial support, Greece and Cyprus have the potential to make it on the international scene.
"Little Elephant", Effie Pappa
Tell us more about your own vision, storytelling and techniques used in the animated films that you create and distribute.
J. Z.: I have to admit I’ve been very blessed in my life. Throughout my 36 years of experience I’ve used various animation techniques in my films, paper cut-outs, puppets as well as 2D and 3D animation. In the 90s, I realized that nobody was making films using plasticine, so I thought it was a good way to make something different and distinguish myself from other animators. Since then, I’ve stuck with plasticine and clay as it’s cost effective and a material which allows you to change the shapes of objects on the spot. The animator has a unique relationship with plasticine, you can see your fingerprints on the characters and it has a more real feel to it. You can also be very creative with it and it’s a material children recognize and can connect to. I derive inspiration from my experiences and everyday life. I want to tell stories that are important to me and I want to make the audience think especially when it comes to social and political issues. As a filmmaker I try to inspire and open a dialogue with the audience through my work in hopes of making a difference in people’s lives.
E.P.: I love directing stop motion because of its physicality and the ability to be on set versus in front of computers all day. I feel it creates a different bond to be able be surrounded by bigger crew, to work with handmade sets, animate a miniature puppet or even simply moving actual lights. I’m trying not to be biased though and I’d rather say every story has it’s own best expressed technique and perhaps that’s why my stories are not told using the same medium. Recently the stories I’ve been writing are for live action while my latest film in production is a combination of Rotoscoping with 2d elements. There are several stories that I want to tell, however most of them are under the same thread of family bonds and values of others that come from a place of sharing stories of inequality.
* Interviews by Dr. Aikaterini Lambrou, Head of the Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in Cyprus.
Read also via Greek News Agenda: “EthnoPhobia”: a Greek animation film against racism