The weekly French news magazine L'Obs and daily Greek newspaper Kathimerini organised a “Days of Athens” forum, themed “Greece: The paths of hope”, on February 8- 9, 2018. The forum, hosted by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, brought together a number of notable figures from the fields of politics and economy in Greece and France, who discussed various issues concerning the relations between the two countries and the current situation within the European Union. Our sister publication, Grèce Hebdo*, acquired interviews with the main participants: Matthieu Croissandeau, editor-in-chief of L'Obs and co-organiser of these days of debates, and Hubert Védrine, former Foreign Minister of France and author of the book Save Europe. The discussions focused on the relations between Greece and France, the political issues of a common future, as well as the particular role of the European Union in this context.
Interview with Mathieu Croissandeau, editor-in-chief of l'Obs
Why such a conference organized by l'Obs today in Athens, in the heart of Greece?
L'Obs has a special history with Greece and Athens. This is the second time we have organized such an event, after the one we had five years ago. We are close to Greece because it is at the origin of our culture and we share an incredible number of values. The country has suffered since ten years ago because we know we imposed an austerity program that was dictated the the population has made colossal efforts, led by the the governments. It seemed important for us, ten years after the start of the economic crisis, to come back to Greece and make an assessment of the State, its economy and its society. At the highest point of the crisis, in the summer 2015, L'Obs engaged itself with a very powerful cover title: "Never without Greece". We never considered Greek people to be cheaters or lazy and we always defended the place of Greece inside the European Union.
Even if Greek people had the occasion to denounce the austerity measures imposed by the European institutions, during the referendum of July 2015?
I hear what you are saying but the place of Greece is, for us, absolutly and without any debate, in Europe. Then, how these measures have been applied, dictated or imposed, these are questions we would like to ask during these two days of debates. The reform agenda that has been carried out allows, in a macro-economic point of view, to look at the first results: growth is coming back, - certainly not at the same level as before the crisis - but the indicators are rather good, like the one concerning the public deficit. But do Greek people realize all the progress that is being done? The answer is no. These macroeconomic issues mainly reassure the investors, the public market and the European partners. Nonetheless, a gap between the first positive indicators and the reality lived by the population still remains. We are also experiencing this phenomenon in France, even if we have not consented to the same measures as the Greeks.
It was therefore important for us to come back with a perspective that was to show that this is not only a debate about Greece. The Greek case allows us to think about our relationship with Europe and about how the European institutions are functioning. A well-known English footballer, Gary Lineker, once said: "Football is a simple game, twenty-two men chase a ball and at the end the Germans win". We can ask each other if the role of Germany in the management of the Greek crisis is not, in a way, a parable of this. It means that, in the end, it is one who hits the table the hardest that wins. Overall, the reform agenda set up by Alexis Tsipras has been dictated by a consultation and discussions that took place between the European partners.
The fact is that he was elected on an anti-austerity program by the Greek people, what does it mean to you?
Indeed, it poses a true democratic question about what is the democratic control concerning the way these negociations are taking place in Europe. For example, like with the Eurogroup, we can clearly see there is a democratic part that escapes us. We don't attend these meetings, we don't know everything about the issues and the people decide only every five years through the European Parliament or through national polls. This question of democratic control is really at the center of our concern.
The other question that is being raised deals with the efficiency of this economic policy led by the European institutions. Are the austerity policies imposed on Greece efficient? We said it, it fills macroeconomic barometers and, sometimes, it helps reduce unemployment like it did in Spain and Portugal, but the question is to know if there are other ways of doing it. Was it necessary to make Greece pay? Wasn't there a punitive side to the measures taken? These are questions that need to be asked.
Finally, the third issue is linked to the question of the democratic control and deals with transparency. The European system is badly known by its people, some decisions are taken either in private between heads of governments and states, or under the weight of lobbies at the European Commission. There is a question of transparency that arises. All these issues, democracy, efficiency and transparency, are issues we wanted to bring, beyond the Greek case, to the center of the debate through this conference.
Besides the cradle of the democracy or the Greek philosophers, what is, for you, the particular relationship between Greece, France and Europe?
For Greece and Europe, it is very clear. We know it, the name of "Europe" comes from Greek mythology. Europe is obviously Greco-Latin because, as you said, Greek philosophers and democracy ; all this was born in Greece and flourished around the Mediterranean rim and on the European continent. Romans, having taken up these principles, made the civilizational bases of Europe inspired both philosophically and politically by Rome and Greece. It is also spiritually inspired by Judeo-Christianity. All of this obviously intersects and is central to our civilization.
Behond that, France and Greece are living an old love story like history can teach us. We can see huge places established by the Franks on the Crusades route, like in Monemvasia or in Mistra. There is obviously a footprint linked once again to history. If you take the 19th century, with what we call the "philhellenism", intellectuals were committed, like the writer Victor Hugo or the painter Delacroix, during the country's independence war against the Ottoman Empire. France was inspired by what Greece inspires beyond its borders and what it represents. At the end of the colonels dictatorship, in 1973, France was in favor of the entry of Greece into the European Union. It wasn't obvious at the time, but it was a strong political move to say that Greece was a part of Europe.
Concerning business, a lot of French companies invest in the country. In tourism, it goes both ways, but a lot of French people come to visit Greece, and still during these years of crisis. Exchanges between France and Greece are numerous, on cultural, political and tourist levels at once.
Don't you sometimes think that we tend to hide the centuries of Ottoman occupation and its influence by maintaining only a spirit of philhellenism?
Yes, we often tend to digress by considering that the Ottomans were occupiers. Of course they were for the Greeks, but they also left huge footprints and marks on Greece’s history. We hear less about it, indeed, because we have a very European-centered point of view and because the relationship with Turkey is not great at the moment.
Interview of Hubert Védrine, former French Minister of Foreign Affairs
How could hope in Europe be revived, in order to make Europe attractive again?
It is a very vast topic, and it does not only concern Greece. We have to keep in mind that, no matter what is being said, construction of Europe has never been the result of popular demand. This hope is sustained by small groups. What we say now about European integration is largely reinvented, a kind of fairy tale, where Europe made peace after WWII, while Americans and USSR made peace in Europe. It is the Atlantic Alliance that protected half of Europe and the founding fathers of Europe were in favour of the Atlantic Alliance, protected by the United States against the Soviet threat, this is obvious. That is why the European community was an economic alliance, to begin with, protected by NATO and organized as a common market.
It is only since the legendary period of Mitterrand/Kohl/Delors that new concepts appear. Here again, it does not by popular movements. Let us remember that the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, whereas all the big powers were in favour, ultimately there was just one crucial point to override. Therefore we won’t recover a spirit that did not exist. We have to convince the public again.
What are the issues facing Europe and what would be the solutions to bring back "hope"?
There are anti-Europeans everywhere. I am not talking about Eurosceptic groups. Media should not mix up these two terms. They are not the same. Eurosceptics can change their mind whereas anti-European from the Far- right or Far- left parties are not going to change. The sceptics, those who are discouraged, to whom we made a lot of promises like a social Europe or those who react to what Jean-Claude Junker himself calls an "excessive regulation", are not anti-European but they are upset by what Europe has become.
The future is to convince this part of the society to swing back to the pro-European side. If we manage this, the European project will get back its strength. If we don’t succede, in the best case, it would be stagnation. To suceed, it is not sufficient to advance traditionnal pro-European arguments. In 1992, in France, saying Europe is peace, youth and future did not win any votes in favor of pro-Europeans. We have to give what the people are asking for. A certain identity, sovereignty and security. Nevertheless, it has been thirty years that the elites reject all this by saying it is disgusting, awful and extreme, whereas these are normal and ordinary requests. If there are no reasonnable answers from pro-Europeans, there is a threat that anti-Europeans will increase in numbers.
How would you imagine European Union in ten years and when could we consider a completion of the construction of Europe?
I don't believe in a breakdown scenario. Nobody wants to follow the UK example. There is also a risk of regionalism that would weaken Europe greatly, but it is not a general case. I don’t belive in the worst case-scenario. I also don’t believe in a scenario of an « outburst » like the federalists expect. I don’t believe at all in this huge "outburst" that would change everything. No nation in Europe would accept to give up its sovereignty in favor of the Commission or of the European Parliament.
I believe in intermediate scenarios, more or less good. The German government can respond positively to Emmanuel Macron on certain points like the improvement of the eurozone, a Europe that protects to some degree, a vigilance concerning foreign investment and about less social dumping. Not a complete revolution but some improvement. We can be reasonnably optimistic on this basis. But we should rethink our approach by comparison with the rest of the world. I am going to show my true French colours, but seems obvious to me that Europe should become a major power. So it can exist opposite the United-States, China and Russia, or at the very least so that the others do not decide for us.
*Interview by Hugo Tortel. Translation from French by Johanna Bonenfant and Hugo Tortel
Gavrilis Lampatos has published a plethora of articles and studies on the history of the Greek Left and in particular of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) in collective works, newspapers and magazines as well as in two monographs, "Greek political refugees in Tashkent 1949-1957" (Athens, 2001) and "KKE and power 1940-1944" (Athens, 2018).
In his latest book, "KKE and power" Lampatos explores the spectacular rise of the KKE in popularity and political clout between 1940 and 1944: in 1940, on the eve of the Greek-Italian war, the KKE was an organizationally ruined party, while the constant policy changes followed by the Communist International over Nazism confused Communists across Europe. Nevertheless, the KKE succeeded in regrouping; in 1944 it was a party of power able to transform almost radically the established political system.
Through unpublished personal testimonies and archival sources, the book examines how this change has been achieved- and the price that has been demanded in many cases. Gavrilis Lampatos spoke to Rethinking Greece and Grèce Hebdo* about his book, the role of the National Resistance during WWII and the spectacular rise of the KKE´s popularity between 1940-1944. He also discussed the decline of KKE's acceptance among the Greek people and the begining of the Greek Civil War, fought from 1946 to 1949 between the Greek government army and the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE, the military branch of the KKE). As for Greeks' exceptional interest in public history, Lampatos says that "there are many people who want to know about these traumatic events, to learn of their fathers' and grandparents’ history."
What reasons are there for a book today about the KKE during the occupation (1940-1944)? Why does this subject interest the Greek public? Are the 1940s not a decade overdone in terms of historical research?
Indeed, plenty of books dealing with the '40s have been published. What was missing however was a specialized detailed study focusing on the dominant political force of the 1940s, the KKE, and in this sense the book filled this gap. What is interesting is that thus far there’s been an very positive response from the public.
The KKE is the oldest Greek party. It was formed in 1918 under the name of the Socialist Labour Party of Greece (SEKE); it's a century-old. What were the economic and political conditions that allowed its establishment in 1918?
The establishment of the SEKE is linked to World War I and then Prime Minister Venizelos' efforts for Greece to have a socialist party that would take part in international conferences. It was for this reason that Venizelos was in favour of its establishment, and so within the framework of the economic and social crisis and the radicalization brought about by the Russian revolution, we also have the founding of the SEKE; which, in a matter of just a few years, evolved into a communist party. Of course its founders quite soon found themselves outside the party’s ranks, but that’s another story. The social strata that participated in KKE´s founding were labour strata, represented either by some unions in southern Greece or mainly by the Socialist Workers' Federation of Thessaloniki.
As regards KKE’s role in the National Resistance as well as more generally, what were the factors that led to the widening of its political influence in the war years?
In the course of the Occupation, the old political order broke down completely. The parties were uneasy, edgy and incapable of managing the reality of the occupation and the new needs of the population which came down to securing the basics for survival. The Communist Party, together with other smaller parties on the Left, formed the National Liberation Front (EAM), which, responding to the needs of the people in urban centres, as well as the power vacuum that existed in the mountainous areas of Greece, rapidly evolved into a huge political force. As we say in politics, when you have a tectonic earthquake new political subjects are being created.
And what then? How did it lose its extensive political influence so quickly, after the 1944 December events (Dekemvriana)? And what were, generally speaking, the factors that led to the Civil War?
The excessive use of force alienated it from urban populations, while a part of the rural population manifested open hostility towards it following the defeat of ELAS (the Greek People's Liberation Army, i.e., the military wing of EAM) in the December events. These groups had not indicated their political standing in the past, but observed political developments so as to identify with whoever prevailed militarily. As for the civil war a year later, there are several factors that led to it, external and internal. There is an ongoing historiographical debate if there were social dynamics leading unavoidably to the civil war or whether it was linked to political choices. It was, after all, a political choice of the KKE leadership to attempt an armed takeover of power. The fact that Greece shared borders with socialist countries was an additional motivation at that time.
With regard to the conflicts, the First and Second World Wars in Greece lasted much longer: WWI essentially ent on from 1912 to 1923, while WWII from 1940 to 1949, when the Civil War ended. How do you explain this?
This is a basic feature of Greek history in the century of extremes in that World War I and the schism it inflicted on Greek society was accompanied by the Asia Minor war, i.e. the conflict with Turkey. And it ended with a disaster: it wasn’t simply an end, it was a disaster. You had to start all over again from the beginning. The same applied to World War II, while disagreements and antagonisms that existed in both the interwar years and during the Occupation became much more extensive than in other countries, and that is why the conflict lasted till 1949. It is a basic feature of Greek history. There are social, political and cultural factors, all of them playing their part in this phenomenon; many political scientists, historians have written notable works on the subject.
Do you agree with what Mark Mazower has said, that historical events in Greece forecast political trends in Europe?
Mazower said this on the basis of the experience of the Greek War of Independence (1821 - 1829), which he sees as a European event; that is, the Greek Revolution of 1821 is one of the great revolutions of the 19th century. With this in mind, Mazower - an English historian with knowledge of the Greek language (which is a rare thing) as well as of all the contradictions of Greek society – is in a position to find analogies between the Greek case and that of other European states.
As regards the evolution of the Greek left, do you believe there is a distinctiveness about KKE?
When we talk of the Greek left, we actually mean many decades of its Communist movement. Because the left, from the European perspective, includes all the social-democratic parties as well that did not exist in Greece up until 1974, if we accept that PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) is a kind of social-democratic party. The course of the Greek Communist Left, and especially the choice for civil war made by the General Secretary of the KKE Nikos Zachariades, probably served as an example to be avoided, for both the Italian and French communists. The Greek Communist Left did not turn out as an example to be followed.
The Communist Party of Greece, however, retains to the day a stable electoral base in contrast to other countries. Is there a future, in your opinion, for the KKE?
Here’s a historic paradox: the era of communism has ended, with many communist parties in Eastern Europe having transformed into social-democratic ones, while there are other parties labeled as communist, for example in Portugal, who place themselves at the left of social democracy. These communist parties seek to alter political correlations within the framework of the political game in their own countries. Our communist party however functions as a party of social protest, which is why all its stakes lay on a distant socialist future, following a rather lonesome path. We shall see what future there is for a party for which there is no corresponding international movement.
Do you think that, comparatively speaking, in our country today, on account perhaps of the crisis, there is increased interest in public history?
There is interest in history. What is interesting is that historical studies of academic standard do not circulate between academics only but are read by the wider public. This is a very interesting reality; the two books by professor of political science George Th. Mavrogordatos, “1915: The National Schism” (2015), and “After 1922: The Prolongation of the Schism” (2017), are very often displayed for sale by newspaper vendors; and they are academic studies, which only means there is a public that reads them. This is why publishers are interested in publishing such historical studies. What is more, there is a world that wants to know about these traumatic events for Greek society, to learn of their fathers' and grandparents’ history.
I’ve seen the movie. Generally speaking, I have certain historical objections concerning Voulgari's films, but not in this case. It is essentially based on Themos Kornaros' book "Chaidari" (a suburb of Athens where a Nazi concentration camp operated during the Occupation), a book that was written in the heat of the moment, in 1945; and people, events and situations depicted are factual. Of course we could say that the execution itself is even more tragic than what we see on screen; the prisoners resist in any way possible in order to die a dignified death; they put up a fight for this. They negotiate dignity at the time of their death and this is extremely interesting.
*Interview by: Ioulia Livaditi, Nikolas Nenedakis, (Rethinking Greece), Constantin Mavroidis (Grèce Hebdo)
**Translation: Madga Hatzopoulou
A thriller at heart, "Rosemarie" is a film about duality and ambiguity, with many unexpected comic elements; and that's where its charm comes from. A rather dysfunctional character, who loves arias and haloumi, Kostas hovers between art and reality in contemporary post-crisis Cyprus, which also tries to find its way in a glocal setting. Film and theatre director, screenplay writer and playwright Adonis Florides lives and works in Limassol, Cyprus. “Rosemarie” (2017), his second feature film, premiered at the “Cyprus Film Days International Film Festival” where it received Best Film Award in the “Glocal Images” International Competition section. "Rosemarie" also won Best Film Award from the Greek Film Critics Association at the 58th Thessaloniki Film Festival 2017. Florides has also written and co-directed the feature film “Kalabush” (2004) and the short “Espresso” (1998) which have been screened at many festivals around the world, receiving various awards.
Talking to Greek News Agenda* Florides explains that his postmodern take, intertwining different genres, comes from his interpretation of the world as tragicomedy. As regards Cyprus, a hidden central character in the film, he elaborates on the inherent contradictions of contemporary Cypriot society, the dualities that form Cypriot identity, many of which are reflected upon his main character.
Yiannis Kokkinos, "Rosemarie" (2017)
“Rosemarie” is an intriguing mixture of genres. Drama intertwines with hints of thriller, comic twists and ancient tragedy. Could you elaborate on your choices?
I always tended to be motivated by the tragedy hidden behind each comic situation and vice-versa. This is the way I understand and interpret the world; as a tragicomedy. Thus, when I first started working on the screenplay, it came out naturally. I did not think much about intertwining genres. At a later stage though, I did realize that I was actually doing it and I felt rather uncomfortable for not sticking with the rules of a specific genre. This was one of the reasons it took me so long – almost ten years – to finish it. I tried a couple of times to re-write it in a more conventional way but I felt I was betraying my initial motivation each time. At some stage I decided that I would stop censoring myself and instead of worrying about it, I would work consciously in order to incorporate the right amount of drama, suspense and humour in order make it work and, at the same time, to stay true to what I wanted to say. It was an adventure which I enjoyed, although I knew the risks involved. In order to make it work, it was of paramount importance to give the film the right pace, both in terms of the external as well as the internal rhythm of the shot. And rhythm in film-making is to get the right thing to happen at the right moment. Dismissing the “grand narratives” by deconstructing and intertwining solid genre forms is certainly a post-modern approach. But this did not happen consciously, at least not when I first began working on the film. Still I believe the film tells a story in a rather conventional way, built on a firm 3-act structure - with plot, character and theme contributing to each other.
Andreas Vassiliou, "Rosemarie" (2017)
Cyprus is a hiddencharacter in your story. You use as a background notion the economic crisis that hit the country in recent years. How is contemporary Cypriot society presented in your work?
I always remember Cyprus being in some sort of crisis. War, conflict, nationalism, corruption, power struggles, the battles between civil society and the norms of patriarchy, expressed mainly through institutions such as the church and the education system spreading down to the very heart of society, i.e. the traditional family. Add to this a deep post-colonial syndrome that has never healed and which has been growing out of control in a complicated post World War II geopolitical environment, and we get the whole picture. The crisis of capitalism in 2013 - which affected Cyprus in a rather dramatic way - was just another manifestationof this seemingly endless circle of crises. So yes, one could conceive the film as an allegory of contemporary Cypriot society that cannot, or does not want to, find a way out of this seemingly endless vicious circle. This was not fully intentional to be honest. However, I wasn’t particularly puzzled when a young spectator of the film sent me this message on Facebook, “…it is a film about a society locked and trapped behind the firmly shut doors of the traditional family, that steals everything from the generations to come, its future, its dreams, its beaches, its forests, its natural wealth. It is a film about a society that does not hesitate to condemn its children to mental death, to drive to madness those who are still morally decent …”
Yiannis Kokkinos, "Rosemarie" (2017)
What are your cinematic influences and how did you incorporate them in your film?
At some point I realised that I had included in the film direct or indirect references to cinematic moments and images that I personally enjoyed or was moved by, ones that I felt have had some impact on my life. I decided to keep them and consciously elaborated on this idea. The first issue at stake was to incorporate these moments and images into one aesthetically solid and self-contained film that tells a story in a simple – but not simplistic – way. This was a risky endeavour. The second was to create a “psychological reality” in which both character and audience can “exist” in an abstract world enclosed in a poorly maintained modernist block of flats. Viewers often isolate and point out different aspects of the film that correspond to different cinematic aesthetics, moments, or images. This is more than welcome and I enjoy the various ways that 'Rosemarie' communicates with the audience. However, to me the film is a thriller at heart.
Yiannis Kokkinos, "Rosemarie" (2017)
Arias and halloumi. Soap operas and high brow culture. Would you like to talk about the glocal pendulum in Rosemarie?
I have always been interested in connecting this rock I live on, its history and culture, with the rest of the world. “Duality” has always been part of our life in many ways, as it is in many areas of the world that are in a transitional state. In this sense, it is both a global and a local phenomenon. In our case we are both Europeans and Middle Easterners at the same time, though we tend to forget the latter. Linguistically we are torn between the “standard” Modern Greek and the dialect and as socially diglots we use distinct ‘high’ and ‘low’ varieties of the language/ dialect depending on the circumstances. We are also split between being ourselves intimately and being someone else formally; split between “traditional” moral values and hypocrisy; split between 'being' cultured or successful and our recent past in a remote village where we have abandoned a crippled brother; between glossy life on a TV screen and tacky real life. This island-rock is even split ethnically and torn apart geographically. Unfortunately, we tend to acknowledge only one aspect of all these “dualisms” at a time, also ignoring what is in between their two poles. This is done in order to project a “cleansed” persona that fits our understanding of an imaginary world. At the end of the day, this split is between self-consciousness and self-denial, and we often prefer the latter. The problem is that self-denial is at most times based on some sort of guilt. Kostas goes through this transition, covering the distance from one side to the other, confronting a shocking experience. As the poet says, 'There is another world and it is in this one'. At the same time Kostas is a tragi-comic, rather dysfunctional character, “…torn between art and reality”. (This was mentioned in the rationale of the International Jury of Cyprus Film Days, where the film received Best Film Award in the International Section).
Adonis Florides on set, "Rosemarie" (2017)
What was the public’s reaction to the film?
The impression I got is that most of the audiences in Cyprus were enthusiastic and generally reacted in a very positive way. The film inspired lively discussions. It appears that the use of Cypriot dialect and the imagery of a Cyprus stripped of its tourist attractions and sunny beaches contributed to this reception. I think the public appreciates this endeavour at the heart of Cypriot life, with a winter backdrop. Elsewhere reactions were mixed but were mostly positive by the general audience, especially by film critics. The real test will come in March when the film is screened in cinemas in Cyprus.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Paganistic, loving life, humorous and boasting a unique filmic style, Dimos Avdeliodis’ films have left their imprint on Greek Cinema. Actor, playwright, film and theatre director Avdeliodis was born in 1952, in Chios, Greece. He has directed four highly acclaimed feature films, among which “The four seasons of the Law” (1999) has been repeatedly voted by Greek film critics as one of the best films of Greek cinema. Avdeliodis has taught film studies at Panteion University (1993-1998) and has also served as Head of Municipal and Regional Theatre of the North Aegean (1997 - 2000, 2003 - 2010). Through some twenty plays that he has directed he is continuously experimenting with new creative theatrical routes.
Avdeliodis told Greek News Agenda* that what drove him towards these art forms was the need for self exploration. He talks about his relationship with the island of Chios, his birthplace, explaining that giving Chios a leading role in his films was a repayment for the gift of beauty that the Island has given him. He stresses that art plays a unifying role and underlines the humanistic aspects of Greekness in his work.
What primarily drives me in art is mainly the need to get to know ourselves. This is a question that concerns everyone, not just the artists. The question that either tortures people or gives them hope relates to who they are, why they are and what the purpose of their existence is. This everlasting question has not yet been answered, because if it had we would’ve felt much better. However we don’t, because we have wasted a lot of time without answering this question. This question was initiated by Socrates and remains unanswered. So, the reason why, I believe, we are dealing with art is precisely to try to answer such questions. Art gives you the freedom of choice not only of the subject, but also of how work on a subject. Art naturally involves inspiration and talent. Inspiration is momentary, short-lived. Giving content to inspiration requires a rational procedure, a structure. Through art we can make the necessary corrections to communicate with others and see if we agree and find out if we all want the same thing. In case we don’t, what do I propose? I feel a great urge to communicate with other people on this basis.
Jannis Avdeliodis, Nikos Mioteris, "The tree we hurt" (1987)
In your films "The Tree we hurt"/ “To dentro pou pligoname” and the emblematic "The four seasons of the Law", the island of Chios is a central character. What is the role of Chios, your birthplace, in your work?
The relationship everyone has with his birthplace is purely personal. You either love or hate the place where you were born. Unavoidably we are shaped by our birthplace, so Chios, for me, is essentially my mirror. It was where I perceived my first images and sounds. I therefore made those two films as a repayment for this gift I received from Chios. It was such a generous gift that I wanted to pass it on to others, and by doing these films I was released from this weight of beauty. I wanted to relive only the pleasant experiences of my past and omit the ugly. This means that I’m not interested in nostalgia that is accompanied by pain. I revisit a scene to see it critically in order to be able to make corrections in my present life. This has always been the criterion for these films. Nostalgia is of course very important to human beings. Everyone wants to go back to their childhood, but that is impossible. Therefore, the only thing you can gain from this return is to restructure your current reality correcting the past.
What does art have to offer to people?
Here is what is amazing in art: A work written about 2,500 years ago or more will not wear out with time, as is the case with Medea by Euripides. I remember when reading Medea, it felt so contemporary. I do not think that any playwright could do it better today. The purpose of art is not to teach new things but to make us feel things. Experiencing feelings together with other people is a very important event. This makes art a unifying power, it connects people. In everyday life we tend to miss the profound importance and influence of art, whose role is to help people, to capture timeless human ideals. Who doesn’t want to be happy in life or help someone else when that gives him joy? Greek civilization has forged these values in all the forms of knowledge it has bequeathed us, from politics to art and the sciences; it is deeply humanistic, aims to help people attain happiness through knowledge and creativity. This is the gift of Greek antiquity.
"The trackers", dir. D. Avdeliodis (2010)
The concept of going back to the past is central both in your films and plays; going back in time and place. Do you feel uncomfortable with the present? Do you feel uncomfortable in the city you live in, the metropolis?
Not at all; this has only to do with the fact that I worship these works and I believe that they take an event, a horrific event at times, and transform it through art. For me it is clear that the patriarch is Homer, the originator of art. He set the canons to which everyone in Western culture and all around the world adheres. All cinematic and literary tricks are there in Homer’s oeuvre. The first imitators of Homer were the masters of tragedy. At a time of uncertainty, during the Peloponnesian War, they created drama, which is still the standard today, and these works continue long after with Hortatsis, essentially a child of Homer, who created the Cretan Renaissance, and his pupil and successor Vitzentzos Kornaros. They were all equally great masters. Along came Dionysios Solomos, who followed the same path, with Vizyinos and Papadiamantis afterwards at roughly the same period. These are the great masters that manage art as a tool to convey the excitement of life and how they can control or transform what happened in the past.
How do you feel about young people today and their creative efforts in the conditions of the crisis?
I've seen a lot of great things and the only certainty is that every generation tries to give its best; and it will give their best. We have to point out that these kids have been deprived of an essential education. We lived in the 80's in the virtual reality of television which shaped what we are seeing today. The kids who resisted this TV culture are the ones moving forward.
What is role of Religion in your artistic conception?
Religion has not concerned me much, in the sense that it is self-evident that in the Orthodox culture we lived and grew up in, it works fine to say "I'm very pleased to be an Orthodox" and sometimes not. We all know that; it's in our culture, so I did not focus on religion. The way I experience religion is on the basis that you have to do what’s good and that all people are essentially the same. When we do not know someone, we are afraid, but when we get to know them, we understand that they are not as bad as we thought. And really, since, all humans have been made by the same creator, how is it possible to make good and bad people?
"The Woman of Zakynthos", dir. D. Avdeliodis (2015)
Through your work you try to compose your own definition of Greekness.
Greekness, as I have said, does not concern Greeks alone but mankind in general. It cannot be restricted within the boundaries of Greece, neither as an area nor as a nation. It was solidified in the golden age of Pericles and has a strictly humanistic purpose to find human happiness. This is my definition of Greekness.
You taught film studies at Panteion University from 1993 to 1998 where you chose to teach Aristotle’s poetics. Why was that?
I followed the translation of Aristotle’s Poetics by Ioannis Sykoutris. For me Poetics is the most important work of Sykoutris. Poetics is the most complete definition of art and its purpose; it is the Bible of art. Thanks to Sykoutris, I could finally understand why naturalism failed in theatre. There were no naturalistic elements in ancient theatre. It does not have physical elements, no naturalistic elements that is, at all. It was no coincidence. Theatrical conventions entailed the costumes, the masks and the voice of the actors. No one knew who was behind the mask. Death, murders, war and battles never took place on stage. They didn’t want to show these on stage. They wanted to forget that through art; and that is wanted to teach my students.
Jasmine Kilaidoni, " Maran Atha" by Thomas Psiras, dir. D. Avdeliodis
Your direction of plays such as “Figures from the work of Viziinos”, and more recently Thomas Psyrras’ “Maran Atha” have been critically acclaimed. Your work with actors is based on a method you have elaborated. Could you describe it?
When working as theatre director my experience as an actor was very helpful. What is the art of acting, I asked myself. I slowly learnt how to manage the way an actor handles each phrase, so I elaborated a method of teaching the actor how to recite each phrase keeping a logical musical line. I focus a lot on the tone of the actor’s voice; by changing his or her voice, the actor can play many characters. Each phrase, each word must be stressed in such a way so as to transmit a certain frequency. There must be the correct rhythmic change, the elasticity of every phrase, in order to make sense. As a result, the audience may hear Viziinos or Papadiamantis in the katharevousa (pure, formal Greek) and it doesn’t feel difficult.
“Alexander the Great and the damned Dragon”, dir. D. Avdeliodis (2010)
Was your “Alexander the Great and the damned Dragon” a children’s play?
I do not believe in children's theatre. A theatre that is especially for children, most of the time tries to explain things to children, because there is the notion that children should be helped to understand what may be difficult concepts. This is a mistake, however, because children understand everything. There is no way you can fool a child. You may be able to deceive an adult, but you can never deceive a child. Therefore, it is better for a child to see a good show aimed at intelligent human beings, even if he doesn’t understand everything. In art we are interested in what the child feels.
* Interview by Florentia kiortsi and Kostas Mavroeidis.
** Special thanks to Angeliki Spyropoulou
Watch the film "The tree we hurt" by Dimos Avdeliodis:
Cultural and Creative Industries (CCI) worldwide, as mapped out at the first comprehensive study conducted by UNESCO in December 2015, are significant in political, social, and economic terms. They have been the cement that binds together not only hearts and souls, but entire societies and nations. In a world that faces frequent disruption, upheavals and armed conflicts — economic, social, political and technological — creativity and culture have been the common link throughout history, connecting the past, present and future of humanity.
But culture and creativity are so much more than that; they are in fact essential catalysts for development. They are an economy — nearly 30 million people across the world make a living out of them. With 29.5 million jobs, CCI employ 1% of the world’s active population. Graphic design activities are part of the visual arts sector and an important art, but are also tools in other cultural industries such as advertising, publishing, gaming and animation.
Conference on Graphic Design and Visual Communication, Graphic Stories Cyprus
The 4th consecutive Conference on Graphic Design and Visual Communication of Cyprus, Graphic Stories Cyprus, opens its doors for another creative weekend from 09 - 11 March 2018. Graphic Stories Cyprus is an institution established in the last four years in the field of visual communication as well as the consciousness of creative professionals and students of Cyprus and abroad.
A key objective of the conference is the transmission of specialized knowledge and experience from lecturers to the public, as well as the interaction entailed. With this in mind, the 4th Conference on Graphic Design and Visual Communication, Graphic Stories Cyprus, with the support of, among others, the Hellenic Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media, will welcome on Friday 9 March 2018 some of the most prominent professionals in the field for its scheduled lectures, which will be held at the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation in Nicosia. The conference includes workshops for professional and children, as well as exhibitionsaiming to promote contemporary issues that Visual Communication deal with, to raise questions and to explore possible answers. On the occasion of the Conference, Greek News Agenda interviewed* the founder of the Conference Angeliki Athanasiadi, British designer Rob Snow and General Secretary for Media and Communication of the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media Lefteris Kretsos, offering an insight on the current state of visual design in Greece and Cyprus as well as Greek policies for its support.
Why this Conference? Interview with Angeliki Athanasiadi
Visual designer, Angeliki Athanasiadi, Founder, Creative & Art Director of Graphic Stories Cyprus talked to Greek News Agenda about the incentives and initiatives of the Conference and offers an insight on the current field of Greek and Cypriot design.
Numerous studies and articles state that the contemporary Greek design scene is flourishing despite the intense fiscal-economic crisis the country has been facing since 2009. How can the necessary opening of Greek and Cypriot design to the world be achieved?
With the means provided by modern technology, the world-wide commercial chessboard is now accessible from every point on earth and by every professional. The cultivation of a climate of extroversion, along with the creation of the necessary structures and institutions by the state, can contribute positively to this end. Designers are distinguished for their ability to find solutions to often difficult problems, which is what we call creativity. And it is a fact that during the period of economic crisis, design has been booming. A wealth of skilled professionals existed, but what was missing until now was the design and implementation of a national infrastructure policy at national level to enhance access to information, distance communication, empowerment of the economy and improvement of competitiveness and promotion of economic and social cohesion. I hope that the fertile seeds sown today will soon bloom and bear fruit.
Initiating and holding Graphic Stories Cyprus since 2014, despite prejudices and obstacles, what were the incentives and main objectives?
For many years in Cyprus there have been no such independent initiatives aimed at cultivating the value of visual communication. Our motive was to bring together the designers of the island and to awaken their professional consciousness, not only in terms of individual benefit but also in relation to the general welfare of the field of visual communication.
Graphic Stories Cyprus is not just a celebration of the applied arts, it is the annual Conference on Graphic Design and Visual Communication in Cyprus, which aims to bring visual communication to the forefront and demonstrate its value to the community. It also aims towards the cultivation of artistic education and the development of critical perception about modern graphic arts both at local and international level. At the same time, it contributes to the promotion and the exposure of visual communication and artistic creation, not only in Cyprus but also abroad and encourages the networking with cultural institutions, organizations and contemporary art groups abroad. The organization of exhibitions, conferences and workshops aims to show and promote the value of visual communication to the public, creating culture and values and interaction with society.
Do you believe in the cooperation between private talent and initiative and state policy or it is actually unnecessary?
I believe that encouraging and supporting private initiative, especially when it comes to the arts and culture, must be a state policy priority. The benefits of such a practice are multiple, not only for the creators but also for the state itself as a whole. Αrts are a prosperity indicator for a state and could offer progress in many areas. In education, arts cultivate the imagination and the skills of critical thinking, communication and innovation that are indispensable for a productive workforce of the 21st century.
Arts can play the role of a political catalyst, support a strong democracy, involving citizens in political dialogue, communicating in their own way important issues and encouraging collective problem solving. This enhances active citizenship and strengthens democracy.
From an economic point of view, new jobs are created through arts, business activity is stimulated, revenue from tourism is attracted, and a high-quality workforce is maintained. Arts have proven to be a successful and viable strategy for revitalizing rural areas, urban centres and people struggling against poverty.
And how are things in Greece? An insight by Rob Snow
Rob Snow, an acclaimed British designer, illustrator and one of the key lecturers, with an exhibition of his work hosted at the Conference, talked* about his experience on living and working in Greece.
As a British designer living in Greece, how would you describe Greece as a country going through an intense financial crisis and its creative cultural scene?
Not sure if it’s the place of an artist to write political commentary, but I feel Greece should never had joined the Eurozone. The whole thing is based on a weak ideology that all Europe could be equal, when in fact it is far from that. Standards of living, wages, cultures and even ways in which we all do business are inherently different, so cannot work with a single currency. If Europe was to take onboard the US method of state and federal government, but uphold the notions that all countries follow a set calibration of economic values, such as minimum wage, RRP on good, etc, then one thing would be for sure, Greece would be a very attractive country. Could you image getting the same wage as Germans, but with the cultural and geographic benefits of Greece? People would flock here.
For myself, I first moved when Greece still had its own currency, the drachma. Life then was wonderful, with people going out all the time, produce was cheap, people were always smiling. It was a very safe and pleasant land to think about bringing up a child. When the euro came along, there was an almost instant change. The realisation that we had to comply to a general standard was a big shock to Greeks. Costs rose rapidly, employment dropped and everyone was beginning to think about that ‘job-for-life’ mentality. As the years rolled by and the changes that needed to be made weren’t, then things got even tougher. Public spending was at such a level that the economy was breaking.
I started out here working in an art college. Over the 15 years that I worked there, I saw many changes that saddened me to the core, so I ultimately decided to stop. These were the standard of educational procedure, the standard of students applying, and the fact that money spent meant a guaranteed education. Arts, like everywhere else, suffer in this country. But I always used to tell my students the old adage that “It’s a bad artist who blames his tools.” Art here in Thessaloniki, has a home; a very small one, but still vocal. More so the music scene and many talented artists live and do work in the city. The big issue is that there is not that much scope to air this expression. Unlike the UK, where you can get lottery grants or art council fundings for personal, self-motivated projects, here there seems to be an onus on self-financing all the way down the line. It gets to a stage where artists are simply wall fillers in local cafes, trying to get noticed in the chatter of social media focused patrons.
Greece could rise again with the arts, but it needs to take onboard the new technology and methodology of the countries that do so much better at supporting their arts students, as do Germany, France and the UK. Better school curriculum for the arts, more emphasis of nurturing children’s passions in the arts and then local and central government funding for the development of better arts arenas.
What are your personal incentives and inspirations to design graphic art and projects?
I can’t describe this, as many a time I have tried to many a lending ear, but my life as a creative is dependent on the blood in my veins. That blood provides the transportation path for my passion that then fuels the inspiration that flows from my brain. There is not one-second my body doesn’t require that blood, there is not one-second I don’t think in a creative way. On a more down to earth level, I gain much of my incentive to see some good in the world. I love nature very much, and take two spells away from the annoying city to visit Mount Olympus, to gain much needed zen time. There I feel a completely different person; I feel alive. Nature is a very important key to me. Even down to the necessity of caring for plants on my balcony. There is something very wonderful in the tactile aspect of nature. Textures, feelings, warm, movement; all this can help inspire art.
I think if it wasn’t for the adoption of my companion dog Honey, maybe the strength of focus wouldn’t be so narrow as it is today, but nevertheless, the eye of nature is a very powerful incentive. Honey gives me a daily bond to that which I enjoy, so I thank her for our relationship by honouring my animal art in her name. It was when she was a puppy of about 2 months, is when I started my Animal Behaviour series, and if she had not distracted me at a specific moment, then maybe I would not have started it; fate being what it is.
My better creative achievements are those done for myself. They seem to me to have the right reasons and logic behind them in order to be initiated; like my Celebrity Sunday caricature series, it was born out of a desire to be better at digital art. I had never done a caricature before, even though asked many a time. So one Sunday I had a need to speed up my digital painting and also challenge myself to attempt a new skill: thus Celebrity Sunday was born. Three years later, I am getting a little following and people even request and commission work based on that achievement. Best plan is never think anything is a waste of time.
If, by openness, you are referring to the sharing of an idea, helping others in developing techniques and skills by explaining yours, then that is a very double edged sword. My history has been that I learn to do things. Regardless of it being my artwork, or doing a piece of cooking, DIY or whatever that I am doing. The brain has the greatest capacity to evaluate problems and then use its intellect to solve them. This after all is what the definition of intelligence is: the ability to solve problems. Being given solutions without that work effort makes the process disposable. What I mean by this is, “how many times have you showed a person how to do something and then some time later, they have come back and asked, can you show me that thing again.” It happens more times than not, because their cognitive brain function isn’t processing the problem, it is simply receiving the solution. The brain will then delete unnecessary data that is simple. Learning is more complex than receiving information.
I like to be open and helpful but I find there is a line that needs to be drawn (no pun intended). It’s funny you ask this, as just this morning I received a message on Instagram by a young creative asking what application I use. I told him Photoshop, but then the reply comes, “That is what I need, can you show me how you do your art.” I have to be honest and frank: I don’t set out to show people how I paint my images. I am not looking for competition. What I can show people is techniques, which is a different thing to style. This was apparent at last year’s Graphic Stories Cyprus workshop. I was showing how to do a caricature, using digital techniques and the end results of the students didn’t look like my style, they all looked different. That is because I wasn’t teaching my style. I have become quite adept at using tactile and digital media tools and I have done this by simply picking the pencil up, or the mouse and doing. I have never read a manual, or joined a class on drawing, but have achieved quite a lot. Use the principles of education in arts to learn technique, and then the rest of the time flourish to find a passionate style. The world doesn’t need a planet full of so-called creatives all doing the same look and feel; they want variety. This can only be achieved by looking deep into one’s right side of their brain and releasing the aesthetic abilities they have. If we return to the openness part of the question again: When it comes to design and art, openness can come best in discussion, whether that is debate or critique. People should be open to enter discussions or welcome criticism. Both forms are a great way to understand one’s position and a step to looking at how to improve one’s abilities.
What does the state do? Interview with Lefteris Kretsos on the policies to support Cultural and Creative Industries
Greek News Agenda interviewed* General Secretary for Media and Communication, Lefteris Kretsos, on the policy of the Greek state to support the Greek Cultural and Creative Industries.
Talent is the lifeblood of cultural and creative industries. According to urban economist Richard Florida, the “creative class”, including designers, artists and high-skilled intellectual workers, acts as an engine for innovation and urban development, structuring creative hubs and networks for the economic, social and cultural development of their native cities and regions. In this context how would you define the role of the state in implementing an effective supportive policy for the Cultural and Creative Industries of Greece?
Florida's research and theories about creative industries and the value of talent in the case of urban centre -based creative professionals are very interesting, to say the least. While I am not particularly fond of the term 'creative class' as it has been defined by Florida (and the specific demographics it is tied to) I think he is absolutely right about the creative industries having multiplier effects on a region, first and foremost in the financial sector. The audiovisual sector is an integral part of the cultural and creative industries: according to latest annual financial reports in the audiovisual media sector, the unimpeded transition to digital production, distribution and consumption in the audiovisual field is of critical importance and has the potential to offer a creative boost for a region's (even a whole country's) audiovisual sector with multiplier effects. These include the creation of jobs, the promotion of tourism, and the creation of high-value-added services. In the case of Greece, this is a long-needed boost that will significantly reduce brain drain (which has been a serious issue in Greece for the past decades).
All this is not possible without adopting statutory regulations and implementing policies that foster creativity and innovation while securing the safe transition of the country's audiovisual sector into the digital economy. The Ministry [of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media]'s aim is to create a fair and healthy media landscape while supporting our country's creative production, since these are inextricably linked, and both central to our country's well-being and economic growth.
Contemporary studies on Cultural and Creative Industries underline the fact that policy makers need to rebalance the current transfer of value in the digital economy in favour of online intermediaries in order to sustain the economy of cultural industries. Can you describe the Ministry’s activities towards this “digitalization”?
The new, converged digital landscape and the expansion of cloud services and OTT technologies have redirected the flow of content into new patterns. As more and more people have access to connected multi-screen devices, the demand for audiovisual content is greater than ever, with the audiovisual and media industries integrating digital technology and social media into their traditional production and distribution practices. The Secretariat General for Media and Communication, as the competent authority for the monitoring and implementation of the new, reformative media legislative policy in Greece, has taken steps for the adoption of development strategies and the implementation of targeted public policies.
Some of our interventions are:
- Launching the online registry ''e-media'', a national operational measure encouraging online media companies to register their activities online, for a transparent, balanced and fair function of the media industry and the main players active in non-linear environment. Part of the new online media registry is the 'Observatory for Plagiarism', a new software mechanism for protecting intellectual property of journalistic content published online, aiming to combat plagiarism and copyright infringement. (Law 4339/2015)
- Creating the road map to the transition to digital radio broadcasting and passing the law for digital radio licensing (Law 4512/2018).
- Introducing an investment incentive scheme (in the form of cash rebate) for the support of audiovisual production in Greece (Law 4487/2017). By embracing the whole spectrum of audiovisual productions, the incentive scheme is aiming to stimulate investment and promote quality works. Video games, whose aesthetics are tied to graphic design, can also be supported through our national incentive scheme. Officially defining video games as cultural products is just an example of a strategic regulatory action taken with digital technology and innovation in mind. Overall, we have worked towards the creation of a single and coherent audiovisual media and communication policy that will remain sustainable and up to date in the digital age, and will maximize the chances for our audiovisual field to thrive the way it deserves to.
- Calling for the creation of the Centre of Audiovisual Media and Communication (C.A.M.C.): C.A.M.C. will be responsible for the support of audiovisual productions in Greece through the implementation of the new incentive scheme. It will also undertake the project of digitization of the country's national archives and it will foster media literacy and research in the field of audiovisual media and communication. (Law 4339/2015)
* Interviews by Dr. Aikaterini Lambrou, Head of the Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in Cyprus. Aikaterini Lambrou will greet the Conference and inaugurate the Poster Exhibition “Writing, the origins of Civilisation” on behalf of the General Secretary for Media and Communication, Lefteris Kretsos on Friday, March 9th 2018.
Read also via Greek News Agenda: One more reason to film in Greece: A new legal framework of economic incentives, General Secretariat for Media and Communication boosting Greek Gaming & Animation, Lefteris Kretsos on bringing Greece on the global map of the Game and Film Making Industry, 10 Reasons to film in Greece, “Filming Greece”: our new series of interviews on Greek Cinema
See also the programme of the Conference here
Dimitris Kerkinos studied film at the University of Manitoba, Canada. His Ph.D dissertation was on “Society and Cinema in Cuba of the 90s” for the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of the Aegean, Greece. He joined the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in 1999. Since 2002, he has been programming the Balkan Survey Section; he's also Head of programming for the Documentary Festival since 2016.
Interviewed by Greek News Agenda* Kerkinos talks about the highlights of this year’s Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (2-11.3.2018) and reflects on the current status of Greek documentary since the establishment of the Festival in 1999 on the occasion of the Festival's twentieth anniversary.
What is the structure of this year’s Festival edition?
As every year, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival turns its focus upon the world that surrounds us and draws from its diversity and experiences. Through the selected films, the Festival programming aims to see beyond the surface of things, to reconstruct the reality which is creatively elaborated by film directors, enabling audiences to see a different picture than the one shown in mass media. The Festival also aspires to make spectators contemplate on issues that, in one way or another, are of interest to them.
Could you name some Festival highlights?
Regarding the international programming, we will screen 164 foreign films, 27 of them short. There will be 20 premieres - 8 world, 4 international and 8 European. We will also screen 78 Greek films, 25 of which are short. The main Festival tribute is to the prominent French film director Agnès Varda with ten documentaries. Her latest film, “Faces, Places”, shortlisted for the Academy Award for best documentary feature, will be the opening film. There will be a tribute to anthropologists – filmmakers Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing- Taylor with six films, in the Film Forward section. There is also a tribute to the year 1968, with films that either depict the events that marked this legendary year or try to reevaluate its legacy.
We are focusing on independent American filmmaker Sara Driver in the Carte blanche section. Carte blanche is a new initiative, in which the honored guest is invited to select some of his/her favorite films. This year’s Carte Blanche is the second of its kind at the Documentary Festival: the first was given to Dimitris Eipides. Sara Driver has chosen eleven important films. We have an all-night Marathon with music films about music bands of the 90’s. The International Competition section that presents the first or second film of directors, includes eleven films, two of which are Greek. And along come thematic sections: "Kaleidoscope", which includes personal stories and portraits, "Human rights", "History and Memory". "Habitat" screens environmental films but also films about the way humans intervene culturally on the environment. "Film forward" is a section comprised of films that experiment with form. We also have sections about Music, Cinema, Food and Children. Finally, the "Greek Panorama" showcases this year’s Greek documentary production, while, the "Brave New World" section will focus on films about technology and innovation.
This year’s edition hosts the films of many important filmmakers, including Claude Lanzmann’s “Napalm”, Frederick Wiseman’s “Ex Libris: New York Public Library” and Abel Ferrara’s “Piazza Vittorio”. There are two films by Barbara Kopple, “This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous” and “A Murder in Mansfield” and the latest film by Denis Côté, “A Skin So Soft”, Radu Jude’s “The Dead Nation”. We will also introduce filmmakers who are unknown to the Thessaloniki audience, such as Emmanuel Gras (“Makala”, which was awarded in Cannes Festival last year), Mila Turajlic’s “The Other Side of Everything” (Best Feature Length Documentary at IDFA) and Toni Ziera’s “Filmworker” among others.
What are the film selection criteria?
We are interested in films that highlight important contemporary social issues in an original cinematic way. We look for films that promote the art of documentary and showcase the new trends of the genre. Our intention is to open up to as many subject themes as possible.
It is the twentieth anniversary since the establishment of the Festival in March 1999, by Dimitris Eipides. What can you tell us about its evolution?
The festival has come a long way. I remember when the Festival had just been established, many could not understand what kind of films it would screen. Would it be some kind of National Geographic films? Would it be boring “educational” TV-like films? Back then, people could not imagine that documentary is a dynamic genre that can embody a different approach and use a creative narration that differs from the standard journalistic TV documentaries. During these twenty years, the festival has promoted the work of many renowned documentarists and has introduced to its public the films of many other important filmmakers. The Festival has thus played a major educational role and familiarized its audience with the new trends of the documentary genre. Nowadays, we can safely state that there is a highly educated public that appreciates documentaries and, to a certain extent, may prefer them to fiction. It’s been a long and creative course, and this year that we celebrate its twentieth anniversary we are very happy that our Festival is enjoying such a high international status.
The Festival, besides showcasing films and presenting the work of important filmmakers, has an Industry section as well, the Agora: the "Doc Market" that promotes films that are part of the program but also includes docs that are not part of it; the "Docs in Progress" segment that gives the chance to sales agents, distributors and festival programmers to discover first feature films from the Balkans and the Mediterranean countries; and the "EDN Pitching Forum" that presents projects from Europe and all over the world. Moreover, the Agora brings together Greek filmmakers with foreign producers and professionals, in an effort to help them find resources, collaborate in co-productions, in short, to find the means to complete their projects or promote their films. We can thus say that the Festival has decisively contributed to raising the production and quality standards of the Greek documentary. It’s not only the films screened that offer Greek filmmakers the opportunity to see how their peers abroad approach their themes; many professionals from all over Europe, the Mediterranean but also from the USA visit the Festival, both for the films and the "Doc Market". This proves that the Festival has gained recognition over the years.
"The Distant Barking of Dogs", Simon Lereng Wilmont, Denmark-Finland-Sweden (2017)
The Thessaloniki Documentary Festival has been one of the first of its kind in Greece. There are smaller festivals in other parts of Greece, in Kalamata, Chalkida, Kastellorizo, etc. Are they institutionally linked to Thessaloniki Documentary Festival?
No, there are no institutional links. People that are involved in other festivals may visit Thessaloniki and see the films. There is a dialogue between the Festivals, but not on a formal basis.
How does the Greek documentary fare in the Balkans?
Greek documentaries are blooming, both in quality and quantity. The number of productions as well as their quality has shown a significant rise. In the past, most Greek documentaries had a mainly journalistic TV approach and were produced having TV in mind. Nowadays, Greek documentarists are more daring and more international in their themes. They work on their subjects in a more creative and cinematic way, attracting not only the interest of TV but also of important festivals – which pay greater attention to cinematic language, to the way a filmmaker treats his or her subject. Their participation in acclaimed festivals is definitely an indicator of the quality of their films - which manage to present strong themes with artistic originality. Documentarists such as, Kimon Tsakiris, Apostolos Karakasis, Eva Stefani, Angelos Rallis, have been selected by IDFA, the most prestigious documentary festival in the world. But apart from them, there are more filmmakers whose work has attracted the attention of international festivals not only in the Balkans (as Dimitris Koutsiabasakos’ “The Grocer” which was screened in Sarajevo) but everywhere in Europe: for example, Christos Karakepelis’ “The House of Cain” premiered at the Berlinale while “Raw Material” at the Karlovy Vary Festival. Angelos Abazoglou’s “Mustafa’s Sweet Dreams” or “To the Wolf” / “Sto Lyko” by Aran Hughes and Christina Koutsospyrou or Evangelia Kranioti’s “Exotica, Erotica” and “Obscuro Barocco” all premiered at Berlinale. “Obscuro Barocco” was also awarded the Teddy Jury award at the 68th Berlinale. Marianna Economou’s “The Longest Run” in Leipzig, Maria Kourkouta’s Return to Aiolou Street in Oberhausen and Spectres are Haunting Europe in Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival and CPH:DOX, just to mention a few.
Greek Program: "Obscuro Barroco", Evangelia Kranioti, France-Greece-Switzerland (2018)
Could you name five of your favourite Greek documentaries?
Only five? Alright, here they are: “Exotica, Erotica, Etc.” by Evangelia Kranioti, 2015, “Raw Material” (Proti yli) by Christos Karakepelis, 2011, “National Garden” (Ethnikos Kipos) by Apostolos Karakasis, 2009, “Bathers” (Louomenoi) by Eva Stefani, 2008, “Ilias Petropoulos. An Underground World” (Enas kosmos ypogeios) by Kalliopi Legaki, 2005.
Did the flourishing of Greek fiction film during the last years somehow influence the Greek documentary genre?
What some critics called "Greek Weird Wave", concerned mostly Fiction. The films of the Weird Wave stress the personal over the political or the social, they are interested in a micro, rather than a macro history and are indifferent to the issue of Greekness. They record society’s pathogenesis and carry out a direct attack on its values. They highlight decayed foundations, hypocrisy, the lack of social vision, problematic functionning of families, contemporary identity and moral crises, the quest for a new (male or female) identity. They also involved a major shift in cinematic language. Up to that point there was a trend that followed Angelopoulos’ aesthetics, that is, historically oriented cinema that was poetic, allegorical and introverted. This has changed with Yorgos Lanthimos’ emergence. Contemporary Greek films use realism as a starting point in order to push it to its limits or to experiment with different forms, creating stylistic and hypbrids of genres, making purely arthouse cinema that has assimilated its influences. But all these changes in cinematic language were expressed mainly in fiction films and not in documentary. There wasn’t a similar change in Greek documentary as regards to the cinematic language. There are original and very creative Greek documentaries but there is not a distinctive wave, a distinctive style as is the case with Weird Wave.
During the last years digital technology has made filming easier. Has it influenced Greek documentary?
Digital technology has indeed made filming easier, but this cuts both ways. Anyone can make a documentary nowadays. The advantages of digital technology are very important, as they have lowered the cost of filmmaking, but the most important factor is still talent and skill; a talented director with a personal vision is still necessary for a good film.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Watch the 20th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival trailer:
Greek metal may not be too familiar with mainstream audiences, yet for the past years now it has earned a following in the world metal scene, with several bands enjoying international success with both their album releases and concert attendance. Since the 80’s, several bands from around the country have ventured into the genre, which is particularly popular in Greece, as was confirmed by a recent charting of the amount of metal bands per-capita worldwide. Black metal is one of the most highly represented sub-genres, while stoner, power and classic heavy metal are also widely performed.
POEM is a four-piece progressive/alternative metal group formed in Athens in 2006. After various changes over the years, the current line-up consists of founding member Giorgos Prokopiou (vocals/guitar), Laurence Bergström (lead guitar), Takis Foitos (bass) and Stavros Rigos (drums). Their music is characterised by a wide range of influences and love for experimentation. POEM have released two studio albums, The Great Secret Show (2009) and Skein Syndrome (2016), which have both met with critical praise, while their live performances in Greece and abroad (as headliners or opening for prominent artists like Ozzy Osbourne, Opeth and Rotting Christ) have also earned them stellar reviews.
February 23, 2018 marks the international release of their third studio album Unique, and on the very next day POEM embarked on their first European headliner tour along with Damnations Day (a progressive power metal band from Australia). Greek News Agenda met* two of the band’s members, front-man Giorgos Prokopiou and drummer Stavros Rigos, to talk about their trajectory and the contemporary Greek metal scene. Both have received extensive musical training from an early age, are music instructors themselves and are also involved with other established acts: Giorgos is also the lead singer of progressive rock band “Mother of Millions”, with whom he has released two albums, while Stavros, who joined POEM in 2011, was previously member of progressive metal band “Tardive Dyskinesia”, with whom he had also released two albums.
All members of the band have extensive studies in music. Is this the case with contemporary metal bands in general -as opposed to the often self-taught musicians that were more common back in the day- or does it have more to do with the stereotypes often associated with progressive rock/metal musicians as being more cultivated in this respect?
Giorgos Prokopiou: Well, if you want to play music and be serious about it, reach a certain level and do it professionally, you just have to study and to really invest your time and effort, whatever type of music it is that you do. Obviously, progressive metal is a highly technical kind of music, so all this applies even more in our case than if we had a more simple “brutal” style, and we need even more preparation. But it’s not about adhering to a certain “prog rocker” standard.
Stavros Rigos: Moreover, in the internet era, “self-taught” doesn’t even mean the same thing anymore; you can Google “how to” and find the instructions for anything. But, of course, that’s not really learning. It can take you through the early stages, but if you want to become a musician of quality you must really study.
So you do actually identify as a progressive metal band, or is it more of an outward description?
Giorgos: We didn’t actually start off with the perspective of playing music belonging to one particular genre. We weren’t even big fans of the genre to begin with, each of us had various influences, and I personally had an affinity for grunge music.
Stavros: You basically start creating music and see where it takes you and, when you come up with something, others suggest that it belongs to this or the other genre, so you’re like “if that’s what you would call it, it’s OK by me”. These are basically labels, and they are useful because they help people reach some kind of understanding, but they shouldn’t limit your expression or make you work having a specific outcome in mind.
Your first album is rougher, with a rather “raw” sound, while the second one features a more accomplished production, but is also more melancholic. What should we expect from your third, upcoming release?
Giorgos: Well, the style of this album actually places it somewhere between the first and the second; there are riffs alluding to our first work, and other -fewer- elements reminiscent of Skein Syndrome. It sounds as if this were our second release, and yet I think it is more mature as far as compositions are concerned, which is due to the circumstances of its creation. I believe we had the proper reactions to these circumstances, and this maturity makes for more forwardness in our work, making our songs more easy-listening but also more dynamic at the same time. Whereas our previous album did have a dynamic character and the atmosphere we wanted, but fell short on “aggressiveness”, something the band lacked until now, in my opinion, but we achieved it now through this album. Hopefully, our fourth release will encompass elements of all the previous ones and the result will be even better (laughs)!
Stavros: Also Laurence (Bergström)’s taking over the position of lead guitarist played an important role…
Giorgos: And same goes for Takis (Foitos) on bass, as they both contributed to the musical compositions Laurence didn’t take part in the composition process for the previous album.
So how does this process work exactly? In previous interviews you have said that the final compositions are basically the outcome of the four of you jamming.
Giorgos: Well, that was the case for our two first albums…
Stavros: That’s how it was, thankfully, since that left us with many ideas which we were able to use for this album. Because the conditions under which this album was recorded were -as Giorgos was just saying- very different. Our contract with the record label specified a deadline, and when you work on a deadline while already having a lot of other obligations you have to strive for a result that is quick but not wanting in quality, to be efficient without foregoing attention to detail. This aspect was most defining with regard to the final outcome. So no, there was no time for jamming for that one.
Giorgos: No, this time, each piece was the conclusion of constant, daily collaboration between Stavros, Laurence and me, for about 95% of the album, until Takis took over as bassist. We would talk on the phone for hours and also meet frequently and write the songs directly on a computer programme. We hadn’t heard the songs being played live in the studio, to see what they would feel like; we had to feel that by listening to them through the PC. That was truly risky, and we had no previous experience of this sort! That’s where the maturity I was talking about played an important role in helping us concentrate, get down to work, and being to the point.
Stavros: Just think that we only got to play the songs once in the studio, when I had to write the percussion parts.
Giorgos: When the album was finished, we didn’t really know how to play the songs, we hadn’t rehearsed.
Stavros: Well we know how to play them now, though – we have a tour ahead of us (laughs)! I’m not saying that this pressure was a negative thing though. It has rather proven to be a good incentive.
Something you are quite often asked about is regarding the fact that you have been active for over a decade but have had relatively few releases.
Giorgos: Yes, bands are usually supposed to have a new album every two years, more or less. We faced a lot of obstacles though, after the release of the Great Secret Show, which was at the time the crisis really began. Some members of the band decided to explore their options, like leaving the country and pursuing a career abroad and, obviously, I wasn’t going to pose any objections; it was their decision to make. It was also quite hard to find a bassist that would actually invest in the band, make it his true priority. When Stavros joined us it made a difference, because that was someone sharing the same goals and priorities. And now, with a record label that has set specific objectives for us, there is no way we take that much time to prepare an album, that’s for sure. Our first album had a partly amateur quality; it contained songs I had written ten years earlier. Things are more serious now, we are more responsible, and if we want to maintain a certain level and keep up the momentum we have to release a record every two years.
I figure you have also been encumbered by the fact that all of you also hold jobs, as the band does not provide any financial security. In this regard, it is even harder to compete with foreign bands you work with in a bigger market that can support themselves through their music.
Stavros: Not to mention the fact that some bands also receive support from the state, especially in northern Europe.
Giorgos: Right, and the main problem with this is that we don’t have the time we need to practice and work on our skills. Some of them devote hours on end, on a daily basis, to practicing, and we don’t have that luxury, especially if we talk about practicing together, as a group. And we have to deal with countless other issues like bills, not to mention errands relevant with the promotion of the band.
I guess most local bands go through the same trouble, more or less.
Stavros: Yes, of course. And it’s not just a Greek thing, other artist go through that too, like the bands we played along with in Spain. When you have to do that, you must obviously choose a line of work that allows flexibility, such as giving private music lessons. A full-time job with standard hours is impossible to sustain.
Is it difficult at live performances when promoting a brand new album? Meaning, is it harder to stir the audience when they hear the songs for the first time, and they can’t sing along…
Stavros: Well, that’s the way it’s done; when you have a new album you must immediately promote it through touring – usually the release date is scheduled after the tour starts off. People know what they have to know, through social media and the web in general. If your promotion is successful, people will find out about you, come to your show, buy your album, learn your songs, hopefully come to another show when given the opportunity. The correct approach when promoting an album is to actually have two tours per year, one for the winter season and one for the summer season.
Giorgos: Since an album is released roughly every two years, you must promote each one as much as you can in this given time. Ideally, you must be on tour for one album right until the time a new album is released; that means going on tour every winter and fall for both years until the next release. That’s how you get people to know you and care for your music. So, even when they don’t know the new songs, they come to hear the band they like and are actually curious to listen to your new stuff. What you have to do is release a video, a song for streaming, so that the audience can get a taste and decide to come for more.
Who is the one to decide which song will be released in a video etc.? Is it the record label?
Stavros: No, we’re the ones to make this decision.
Giorgos: We must of course take some factors into account, like a song’s length: you can’t make a video for a nine minute song.
Compared to your previous experience touring abroad, how do you weigh your upcoming venture? Do you think it’s going to be harder to be the headliners?
Giorgos: Definitely. Much harder! As a support group, all you have to worry about is to have a good performance. The audience sees you as a warm-up band, they have no real expectations – they can only be positively surprised. The headliner carries the weight of the concert’s success – even the support act’s success. What’s more, when you play abroad you may perform at a venue where, only the previous night, there was a concert by some internationally revered band with a huge production company. This comparison is what you play up against. So when you perform, you must show the audience that you can match up to this level; that you’re of the same calibre as these bands. I’m not saying be conceited, but you must be assertive, or you lose them.
So, Greek bands, where are they within the international metal scene? Does the country’s financial state in this last decade reflect on the way artists are perceived abroad?
Stavros: About ten years ago I was actually on tour in Europe with my previous band, and there were many negative reactions to the fact that we were Greek. This however later seemed to change. When POEM toured with Amorphis as a support act in 2016, people were totally different towards us; they came up to us and asked us how things are in our country, because they didn’t just trust everything they heard from media. So you can see that, within the music scene, people can manage to see things differently, and they don’t blame simple people for the problems that are mostly created by politicians. There was, to be honest, one case of a record label that decided they wouldn’t sign with us due to our nationality, because they didn’t think they would be able to market a Greek band to audiences from central and northern Europe. But I can’t say Greek artists are looked down upon, as I also see other bands like Need or Mother of Millions -Giorgos’ other band- who have received a very warm welcome everywhere they performed.
Giorgos: Let’s not also forget that Greece boasts two huge metal bands, Rotting Christ and Septic Flesh, who are also big on an international level. After all these years of hard work and successes, they have made a name for themselves that actually helps the rest of the Greek bands; they have created a brand name for Greek metal. Theirs is a different, more extreme sound, not the type of music we make, but just the fact people tell you “You’re Greek? I know Greek bands!” is definitely helpful.
There is however one common element between you and Rotting Christ: your influences from Greek and generally Mediterranean traditions.
Giorgos: This is quite more evident in their music, especially their more recent albums. In our own music, these influences were owed mainly to our previous lead guitarist, Giorgos Anagnostou, who really loves traditional rural Greek music, and this did add interesting elements to our compositions. Obviously, we have all grown up here, so we all have been influenced by certain musical scales and harmonies, and we might use them. These are not really present in our latest album though, although we could’ve included such influences. However, I didn’t want to “colour” my vocals this way, as I didn’t want to repeat myself or resort to mannerism.
Stavros: Greek music draws from a long, rich tradition, with great musicality.
Giorgos: If it does come natural, we obviously use elements from Eastern music, but we don’t want it to sound intentional.
So what are your influences?
Stavros: As far as Greek music is concerned, I wouldn’t call it an influence, it’s more like a part of our culture, our identity, something you are exposed to throughout your life when you are Greek; it is not something you can choose. If it does emerge in your music, and not in a mannerist way -as Giorgos put it- it’s magic. That’s what progressive music is about, combining rock or metal with elements that are quite distant from it and have not been often used in this context. Legendary rock band Socrates did that, because their guitarist Yannis Spathas had really delved in music from Epirus and used it in his technique.
Giorgos: Other influences definitely include classical music, due to our studies. I think this applied to anyone who has received formal musical education, regardless of whether one becomes an actual listener of this type of music in their free time. We might not deliberately use it in our music, but it obviously helps us; like, for example, I use classical placement in my vocals, or you may track a harmony that is primarily based on classical music.
So when you started on your musical education at a young age, were you already aspiring to later do that professionally?
Giorgos: When I began to learn music it was because I had a passion for Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, etc and their live shows; I really loved the idea of performing live and have people appreciate your work. But I think the turning point was when I first attended a rock concert, and I was really ecstatic, I just wanted to experience that first hand. I wasn’t interested in getting into university any more. I found a music teacher and focused on that; at the age of 14-15, I was set on becoming a musician.
Stavros: I remember myself at second grade, using piles of books, pen holders and any object as makeshift drums, to beat the rhythm to any foreign music I could find at home, Beatles, whatever. I had seen someone in some video play drums and I was like “that’s what I want to do”. I wasn’t interested in going to university either. When my father asked “what are your plans” I responded that “I want to be a musician”, and he said “No” (both laugh)! Thus I didn’t have any support in this effort, I did it all by myself.
From your official site, one can stream both your previous albums in their entirety. Does this affect sales?
Giorgos: Nobody relies on record sales anymore. From the moment the album is released, someone will upload it online anyway. Nowadays, labels actually want you entire album to be on YouTube, so that people can listen to the songs; if someone then wants to by the CD, they’ll do it anyway, to also get a premium quality. What’s more important, they will get familiar with your music and it may attract them to your live shows. If you don’t have some free samples, you might not bother go to a show of a lesser known band.
Stavros: Plus, people who come to your show will try and support you in some way, buy some merchandise, a T-shirt. The time of CD sales has basically ended; that’s not how a band supports itself. It’s the live shows that provide some income, so that you can put money back into your music making. That’s exactly what we hope to achieve now, starting with this tour, now that we have a record label that takes the band seriously and has specific goals for us: having the money to really support the band.
Thank you very much for your time!
Giorgos and Stavros: Thanks for having us!
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
See here for tour dates
Stream "My Own Disorder" from album Unique
Read more about music in Greece on Greek News Agenda: Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ "Greek metal bands are probably our biggest music export right now"; Radio Producer Makis Milatos: “There’s a Vivid New Greek Music Scene Out There”; Chainis Dimitris Apostolakis: "In Crete, the continuity of musical expression has not been interrupted"; Dimitris Kountouras on early music in Greece; Nikos Skalkottas: an overlooked musical genius; Rebetiko music: From the margins to the mainstream
The film "Meltem" by Basile Doganis - shot in Lesvos through Franco-Hellenic cooperation - hopes to participate in the Cannes Film Festival. The film is a co-production of Greek Blonde company and the French production company Elzévir Films, of which Denis Carot is the Manager/Producer. Two months prior to the Festival, the team is working feverishly to finish post-production in Greece.
We interviewed* Denis Carot, initiator of the project with Basile Doganis, on how the project idea was born, and especially how filming on the island was, where the presence of migrants continues to be very prominent. He emphasized that “Meltem” is not a documentary, but a fiction film in which the life of the island is of course reflected.
What are the reasons that made you choose Greece, and, more precisely, the island of Lesvos?
Initially, this was done very naturally, since we developed this project together with Basile Doganis, the director and scriptwriter of this film; Basile is Franco-Greek, though first Greek, so Greek-French! He wrote this scenario which takes place entirely in Lesvos. This is the story of three young French people; the main character is a young Franco-Greek woman who returns to Lesvos with two friends, both French but of immigrant origin, one from North Africa, and the other from West Africa. We see at the beginning of the film that she comes to Lesvos Island in order to sell the house of her Greek mother who died a year ago. Her step-father, with whom she does not get along, is still there.
The three young people think that they will spend pleasant holidays, but the action takes place in July 2015, when the first big flow of migrants arrives on the island of Lesvos. The three heroes meet a fourth character, a young migrant who makes them believe that he is Spanish, but they will quickly discover that he is actually Syrian and seeks to cross over to continental Europe to find his mother who is probably in a refugee camp, so they try to help him.
This film is interesting in that it questions the notion of identity and roots, because everyone has a particular story. The fact of being in a foreign land, facing immigration problems. But this is not a drama; at the beginning it is a comedy that gradually turns into a drama, as there is a moment when everything changes. It is the story of these young people who find themselves in this context, which in itself, is very dramatic. Where does this bring them in their thinking and where does it lead us? This film pushes them and pushes us to think.
Could we approach it as a documentary?
No, it's fiction that challenges reality. I equally discovered on this occasion that most of the inhabitants of Lesvos are also migrants, most of who come from Asia Minor. Elena's step-father – she’s the heroine of his film, interpreted by Daphné Patakia - who is Greek and a biologist, works for the police on a program to collect the DNA of shipwrecked migrants, so that families can identify their corpses. The whole story revolves around that.
Karam Al Kafri, Lamine Cissokho, Daphne Patakia and Rabah Nait Oufella, "Meltem" (2018) © Chloé Kritharas Devienne
How would you describe your filming experience in Greece? Especially on an island that is in the front line of migratory flows?
So, in the film, migrants are kind of present everywhere, voluntarily - again this is not a film about migrants. When the young people come out of the airport, in the first sequence, they are on their way home, they go through the port and they see a lot of migrants huddled there, and they are very intrigued by the presence of these people. The step-father explains that they have just arrived, that the island is invaded by migrants. That's where we had a good partnership with producer Fenia Cossovitsa, from Blonde company, because it's a complicated situation locally, and we had fears about the municipality's participation in the scene reconstruction, but in fact it went fine. Local authorities have been very cooperative and have complied with our requests. Fenia, without a doubt, was one of our great assets.
Tell us about your experience with the people of Lesvos. Did you stay on the island a long time?
They were very welcoming, very receptive, very positive vis-à-vis our project. Yes, the shooting lasted six weeks, from early September to mid-October.We let the peak tourist season go by and we benefited from ideal weather conditions,it is one of the many advantages of Greece. We had a lot of sequences with extras; we reconstructed a traditional festival in a village. We were very well received, the people were very friendly. The team was almost all Greek, the entire technical team, people from Athens but also excellent local technicians, because other shootings were also taking place in Lesvos, including the latest film by Tony Gatlif before us. But above all the quality of the teams is paramount, we have worked in many other countries that work differently, like Belgium, Poland, Morocco and even Tajikistan; but the work organization in France is very similar to what is practiced in Greece. And in addition, they are very good technicians; a good team is one of the keys to success.
Did you use Greek technical equipment?
For the filming equipment, all the technical equipment we used was from Greece, except for the camera, in order to respect a certain balance between France and Greece; we should have some French expenses. That's why we brought the camera and its accessories from France, and we worked with Greek electrical equipment and machinery.
At what stage of post-production are you now? Why did you choose to make it in Greece?
We finished editing images that we filmed in France. Now we are at the stage of post-production that we are doing in Greece: sound editing, film design, mixing, color grading and music recording. We hope to present it at the Cannes Film Festival in May, time is running out, we have to be ready by the end of March because competition among the first films is fierce.
Daphne Patakia, Karam Al Kafri, Lamine Cissokho and Rabah Nait Oufella, "Meltem" (2018) © Chloé Kritharas Devienne
Could you tell us about your co-production work?
It was our first co-production experience with Greece, with the Greek company Blonde, Fenia Cossovitsa who recommended excellent service providers in Greece.We had a small amount of money, so we tried to optimize the allocation of resources, prices being cheaper in Greece than in France, so this economic issue also guided our choices. We tried to reach a certain balance. With Fenia, things went very quickly, she took decisions very quickly, very professionally, there was a lot of Greek money, since we had the support of the Greek Film Center for minority co-productions, we had the Franco-Greek mini-treaty, and perhaps we will have participation from Greek television. A relationship of trust was quickly established between us, things followed without a hitch as soon as the final green light was given.Fenia took care of the locations, found the technical team,she was the one who recommended the young Greek Photography Director, Konstantinos Koukoulios - it is his second film. All the important posts were occupied by Greeks.The financial aspect also played a big role because salaries and charges are lower in Greece; we could not have made the film in France with our budget.
Three months ago you met General Secretary for Media and Communication, Lefteris Kretsos here in Paris. He told you about the new incentive law for filming in Greece. Have you been able to benefit from this financial aid?
Alas no, because filming took place before the voting on the bill. These are excellent measures, especially if Greece is in competition with other countries, for example, in case of footage shot in several countries. Thanks to these financial advantages, arbitration would be in favor of Greece. Afterwards, for the co-production to be formalized and to benefit from these incentives, Greek financing of at least 20% is necessary. This remains an excellent initiative.
Are you considering a subsequent production in Greece, another film with Basile?
Why not? We can also consider the opposite with a Greek production and a French co-production, and a new collaboration with Blonde Audiovisual Productions.
Will you come back on holiday in Greece?
I do not know yet, I have made many round trips recently, and it was very nice. I enjoyed the hospitality of Greeks, tasted the savoury cuisine, especially with grilled fish and honoured ouzo, the famous local drink! This was not my first experience in Greece, I taught Cultural Project Management for three years straight, at the French Institute of Athens. I enjoyed the sweetness of life in Greece!
Meltem, film directed by Basile Doganis
Original music: Kyriakos Kalaitzidis and Hockyn.
Production: Elzévir Films and Blonde Audiovisual Productions
* Interviewed by the personnel of the Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in Paris
Translated by Nicole Stellos
Read also via Greek News Agenda: One more reason to film in Greece: A new legal framework of economic incentives, Lefteris Kretsos on bringing Greece on the global map of the Game and Film Making Industry, “Filming Greece”: our new series of interviews on Greek Cinema.
Klaus Dörre is Professor of Sociology at the Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena (Germany) where he chairs the Department of Labour, Industrial and Economic Sociology. His areas of research include the theory of capitalism, finance capitalism, flexible and precarious employment, labour relations and strategic unionism, and the Green New Deal, among others. He is the current director of the German Research Foundation research group Post-Growth Societies.
In Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s booklet The "German Job Miracle" - a Model for Europe? (2014) Klaus Dörre described the “German model” as a social model of full but precarious employment, in which people in insecure jobs and the socially excluded pay the price for an export model that is exacerbating inequalities in Europe and so destroying the foundations of its own success. In his contribution to RLF publication “Europe - What's left? Working on the strategies” ("The Limits of Landnahme: Capitalism will not die by itself, but it can be overcome"), he shows how different theoretical approaches and practices of left policies could be combined in a process of co-operation and mutual strengthening of converging efforts in favour of a better social order.
Professor Dörre spoke to “Epohi” weekly newspaper (We have to devise new ways of conceiving progressive, socialist politics, interview with Dimitris Givissis, 17.2.2018):
The issue of "Europe" is the center of the public discussions. How do you judge the developments?
The European Union continues to find itself in a deep crisis. The faulty design of the Eurozone and the extreme imbalances caused by the German export model have become an obstacle to European integration. Originally intended as a response to neoliberal globalisation and a kind of guarantee against German dominance, the EU and EMU have long morphed into a deregulation machine. This affects the Southern European countries the most. Forced into a new type of debt servitude as a result of the European banking and financial crisis, they are now compelled to enact disastrous austerity policies, the outcome of which is devastating. The austerity diktat counteracts the European Central Bank’s policy of low interest rates. Cheap money cannot enter the circuits of production and stimulate urgently needed investments because demand, including productive public consumption, is hampered by the imposed austerity while redistributive mechanisms – from tax policies to collective bargaining policies and collective security systems – have ceased to function. The economy inside the Eurozone is therefore growing highly unequally and at a low rate, while neither wages nor inflation are rising accordingly. The expansion of precarious employment conditions and the weakening of trade union organisational power act like a lead weight on wages, dragging down the wage ratio. The combination of these factors is now having an effect on the core European economies, particularly Germany. Germany needs the EU in order to maintain its export model. Yet due to the imposed austerity, the German government has aggravated processes of erosion which ultimately threaten the continued existence not only of the euro, but of the entire EU. That is why even German elites have come to realise that the EU and the Eurozone are in urgent need of structural reform.
What do you expect from the new German government? Do you think there is any chance for Germany to exceed itself and change its politics in the direction of a more flexible encounter of its European partners?
That remains unclear, at least for the time being. Should the grand coalition actually materialise, there will likely be a commitment to reforms and a readiness to increase the German contribution to the EU’s budget. That said, I doubt that the German government will really agree to far-reaching reforms as proposed by French president Macron. The resistance against such measures within the Christian Democratic parties, particularly in the (Bavarian) CSU, is too great. Likewise, the SPD has not yet come up with any new European policy. All the parties involved in the anticipated coalition government have supported austerity in the past. In light of all this, I am highly sceptical that any of these parties will have the strength to actually implement a fundamental course correction. Given enough pressure from France and the countries most affected by the crisis, however, the scope of political action for Greece and other Southern European countries may indeed increase. The example of Portugal, with its minority government tolerated by the parliamentary Left, shows that minor adjustments to austerity are both rational and possible.
How do you interpret the fact that SPD takes part in the new German government, in spite of what Martin Schulz had said right after the elections? Which factors contributed to this development?
The SPD is in a deep crisis. Beginning with the ‘Agenda 2010’ and the introduction of the ‘Hartz reforms’, the party has steadily shed its traditional political profile. The price for its electoral victories has been the abandonment of its political identity. But what goes around comes around: the SPD has lost a substantial part of its erstwhile working-class base of support. The share of workers among voters with a preference for the SPD receded from 44 percent to 17 percent between 2000 and 2016. It must be added, however, that the working-class proportion of the entire electorate decreased during the same period. The fact remains, then, that the erstwhile workers’ party SPD enjoys below-average representation among working-class milieus today. With regard to the shares of both unskilled workers (24 percent) and trade union members (19 percent), the SPD ranks noticeably behind the right-populist AfD (Alternative für Deutschland – ‘Alternative for Germany’) (36 percent unskilled workers, 24 percent trade union members) as well as the Left Party (23 percent unskilled workers, 27 percent trade union members). While the supporters of the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats come from nearly identical social backgrounds these days, the Left Party and AfD managed to distinguish themselves among working-class milieus. Compared to all other parties, the AfD received the largest share of votes among workers as well as unskilled wage earners. Actual electoral behaviour indeed conforms to this pattern. The AfD regularly emerged as the strongest party among workers and unemployed in various regional elections over the course of 2016. Alongside the migration issue, social justice was indicated as a prime electoral motivation by the party’s voters. This trend continued in Germany’s September 2017 national elections, albeit to a somewhat lesser extent; 12.6 percent of all voters – but 15 percent of trade union members (14 percent in the West, 22 percent in the East) and almost 20 percent of workers – voted for the populist Right.Unfortunately, Social Democracy’s de-proletarianisation and the abandonment of its traditional platform cannot be easily reversed. The party is in free fall in recent polls, with figures below 20 percent – a development which threatens its existence as such. As long as the party remains in a coalition government with the Christian Democrats, any meaningful policy change is impossible. When Martin Schulz became the new party leader, many hoped for a German Corbyn or Sanders. What they got instead was a bearer of hope without any political substance. At the moment, an improvement of the situation inside the SPD is not in sight. A quarrelling party leadership primarily interested in holding onto power is about to lose its last bit of credibility, thereby putting the future of Social Democracy as a whole at risk.
Given that SPD's participation in the new German government has caused reactions in a big part of its electoral base, how do you see the prospectives of Die Linke inside the new political scenery that is being formed?
The Left Party would stand a good chance, if only it demonstrated more unity in central political questions – which, however, is currently not the case. With regard to important issues like the euro, the future of the European Union or how to deal with forced migration, the party is at odds. The Left Party has also lost working-class voters – especially in the East, where it lost several hundred thousand votes to the AfD. At the same time, its support among urban left-alternative milieus is growing. Nevertheless, the party is currently unable to translate dissatisfaction with the governing parties into support for an alternative left-wing politics. Internally, this has led to explosive controversies. Oskar Lafontaine and Sarah Wagenknecht consider the party project a failure and advocate for a new broad left movement, while party leaders Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger oppose this suggestion. In my view, the idea of a new broad left movement is not wrong in principle, but it lacks a corresponding programme, leadership figures and above all the social movements which such a project could actually base itself on. The greatest danger today is that the Left could become divided and disintegrate into even smaller groups, all of which would then have to fear falling below the 5-percent threshold required to enter parliament. That would truly be a disaster, for the only opposition would then come from the far right.
What does it mean for the political system of Germany that AfD will be from now on the biggest party of the opposition? What kind of dangers do you see?
Jürgen Habermas has spoken of a new breeding ground for fascism, and he is right. There really is a national-socialist danger in Germany. Through the Pegida movement and its offshoots, the far right has become a factor on the street. Moreover, the AfD now holds a considerable number of parliamentary mandates at the national level. Having started out as a radical free-market formation, the AfD is increasingly becoming a völkisch, or ethno-nationalist, social-populist party. Correspondingly, leading figures of the party like Björn Höcke declare that the ‘social question today’ does ‘not primarily’ consist of the ‘distribution of national wealth from the top to the bottom’, but ‘the new German social question of the 21st century’ is a ‘question of distributing national wealth inside instead of outside the country’. Simultaneously, they advocate for a tough border regime of ‘zero migration’. While the liberal-conservative current within the AfD is calling for a ‘national capitalism’ in the sense of reconciliation between small- and medium-sized business and labour, the national-social wing is keen to appropriate the labour movement’s 150-year-old legacy. The latter current accuses the German trade union confederation’s membership organisations of incredulously practicing an ‘oppositional relationship with employers’ because they resemble ‘state-run unions’ and are part of the establishment. This strategy is actually working, and neither the Left nor the trade unions have been able to formulate an adequate response thus far. Along with the AfD’s success, the boundary of socially acceptable discourse is clearly shifting to the right. Adding together the parliamentary mandates of the CDU/CSU, FDP and AfD, Germany has a structural right-wing majority of more than 60 percent. A left project is currently unable to win a majority. To be honest about this fact would be a first step. We have to devise new ways of conceiving progressive, socialist politics – not only in Germany, but all over Europe.
Read more via Greek News Agenda: Collective Labour Agreements: Regaining the lost ground
Watch Professor Klaus Dörre speaking at Rosa Luxemburg Foundation conference on the 100 years since the first Berlin edition of "The Accumulation of Capital: A Contribution to an Economic Explanation of Imperialism" (March 2014):
What really happened in the eighties? Was that decade a curse, an omen or an unfulfilled wish? For those in their forties and thirties – those who survived it and those who relished it – there's a fascination with the 80’s maybe because in them lies the key to understanding today’s reality. Nancy Biniadaki’s latest film “The Surface of Things” tries to rematerialize the Greek eighties fthrough the stories of four women, three friends and their teacher at High School in a poor Athens neighbourhood.
Nancy Biniadaki was born in Athens in 1971 and lives in Berlin. She has studied Classical Philology and Film Direction in Athens and Sheffield, England. She has directed several awarded short films, feature-length documentaries mainly for the Greek Public Broadcaster ERT, plays, videos and live performances. She has been awarded with the Greek State Award Melina Merkouri in 1999, the Grimme Preis 2017 for her short film “The Moon and I” (2015) and an award of recognition at the IndieFEST USA for “The Surface of Things” in January 2018.
Biniadaki takes Greek News Agenda* along the path of conflicting emotions that the past inflicts on individuals. As a girl who lived her adolescence in Athens in the eighties, Biniadaki explains the reasons she identified with the novel on which the film is based. As a Greek who lives in Berlin and asked to reflect on what Greeks and Germans think about the eighties, as well as what the eighties meant for her, Biniadaki responds that regardless of whether people love or detest their past, they cannot discard it, and that is something they find out along the way. Biniadaki goes on to explain her complicated relationship with Athens, another cherished character of the film.
“The surface of things” is based on the novel of Angela Dimitrakaki “Four Testimonies about the Exhumation of the River Errinyos”. What prompted you to make the film and how did you work with its adaptation?
The reason I wanted to make this film initially had nothing to do with the novel. We often want to say something, we’re tortured by feelings and ideas, we go through difficult periods, and we believe that there is no story in the whole world that can express what we feel. And then, at least that's how it works with me, literature comes to save me. Someone happens to offer me a book, or a book that I had read long ago comes and finds me and shows me the story that I'd been looking for.
I was introduced to Angela Dimitrakaki's novel by a good friend of mine many years ago, while I was doing research for a documentary about the river Kifissos for the ERT TV Series "Paraskinio". I liked it very much and I used an extract in the opening scene of the documentary. But I also got to know Angela, I read her other books and I admired her work very much. Sometime later my life changed drastically. I left Athens for Berlin, and it was permanent, it was a conscious decision, so I had to adapt to a completely different city and different people, and I guess in the shock of this huge change, the unconscious fear and homesickness, together with the fascination and hope for all the new things to come, the novel just came back to my mind, demanding its place. I knew that I wanted to tell this story. I knew that this was the film I wanted to make.
My collaboration with Angela was amazing. She supported me, she inspired me, she challenged me, and gave me much freedom. It was obvious for her too, that the film is not a mere "adaptation" of the novel, more or less faithful, but a new work of art. The script has been through many stages, many different versions, more or less faithful to the original story. It took us eight years to realise this film! So it changed a lot. I changed a lot while doing it. And what I wanted to say kind of changed too! But the deeper need to tell the story of those girls, which had become my story in the meantime, was always there. That's why I didn't give up, although I was often very close. Then came the collaboration with these beautiful actresses: Each one of them took on a character and made them richer, deeper, and more real if I dare say. There is a little piece of each one of us in these women. There is a piece of me, a piece of the actresses, a piece of the original characters of Angela's novel, I hope. It is just magical how many little personal stories can fit in such a frame!
Two days after the premiere at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, someone who had seen the film, someone I didn't know before, sent me this simple message on Facebook: "I miss your heroines". This is why I did this film, if you know what I mean.
You work in Germany. What is your experience of making films there as compared to filmmaking in Greece?
I have not made a feature film in Germany yet. I have worked of course, but I wouldn't compare the professional conditions and average budgets there to the conditions we had in Greece while doing a small, personal, very-low-budget film like "The Surface of Things". But I couldn't have made such a personal film in Germany either; at least not yet. I needed to speak the language of my characters, I needed to know them deeply, I needed to "feel" the locations, the sounds, the colours. I also needed to be able to communicate on set directly and quickly with all my collaborators. My first film had to be shot in Greece, there was no other way!
The river theme is a metonymy in your film about the eighties, a promise of a new life that wasn’t realized. In recent years, there is a certain obsession with the eighties in Greece. How do you explain it? Do you think there is a similar phenomenon in Germany?
It's always interesting to see the different thoughts that a film evokes in people. To me the river was not a metonymy for the eighties specifically, because the river is eternal. It's the "avenging" river that reappears in the '80s, but the river itself is ancient, it's deep and dark, it was always there, it's even older than the dinosaurs that so much fascinate the little boy in the film.
Now to the second part of the question: when we were growing up in the '80s, there was a huge fascination with the '50s and the '60s. They were the years of our parents' youth and our parents were in charge. Now we are the grown-ups and we are in charge so to say, so we talk about our youth in the '80s, we feel nostalgic or we hate it, we analyse it, we generally enjoy dealing with it. Sofia, one of the characters in the film, says that she doesn't believe that we tend to think like our parents, as we grow older. Well, I'm afraid we do sometimes...
There is something similar in Germany too, but it has many different parametres of course. In Greece we were living the crazy optimism of the very first socialist government, the promise of social justice, more democracy, equality and other social-democratic ideals, together with a promise of a generalised progress and prosperity. All of that later proved to be a little too much, but people then were naive enough to believe in a bright and easy future. Germany was still divided in two countries. East Germany was living the last years of socialism in poverty and isolation. West Germany was clearly influenced by American pop culture, without any guilt feelings though – contrary to us, with our deep-rooted Anti-Americanism. The girls in my film were dreaming of the far away cities of the song that marked our teenage years "London, Amsterdam or Berlin...,"** the capitals of the underground. Everywhere would be nicer than in the neighborhoods of Athens. We didn't know that the underground, the post-punk, gothic and new wave scene, as well as the alternative cinema and arts that we were dreaming of, was not a generalised phenomenon in Europe either! In Germany the centre of the sub-culture was the tiny city-island of West Berlin, this walled-in microcosm. Whoever wanted to live differently would flee from a prosperous but conservative and boring West German city or little town, and move to the charmingly run-down, depressing but creatively inspiring West Berlin. It was a different world that we grew up in.
The funny thing though is that the fascination with the '80s as far as fashion goes, is much more obvious today in the streets of Berlin than in Athens. You see kids perfectly styled, like jumping out of a 1980s magazine! But again, Berlin is such a tolerant city, you can just wear whatever you want, do whatever you want, be whoever you want to be basically, as long as you are true. This is unique, and it is liberating, and it has nothing to do with just the '80s of course! The tolerance, the free spirit and the hedonism of this city is part of the subject of the documentary that I'm working on at the moment.
What did growing in Athens during the eighties mean for you?
I had to make this film to find out! Well, I still don't know exactly. The truth is that I spent literally my whole adolescence in the 1980s. In the early eighties I was just a kid listening to Duran Duran, observing my parents' total euphoria, despite our constant financial problems. By the end of the decade I had become a restless teenager who still couldn't relate to the political situation, suffocating in a post-working-class/ new-petit-bourgeois environment, desperately wanting to look like Siouxsie Sioux, but who would never dare walk like this in the streets of my neighborhood! So I was content listening to my dark music and falling for my dark idols, closing my eyes to the ugliness around, and hoping that the decade of adolescence (mine and that of my country's, sort of...) would at some point end. Inevitably, it did. In 1989 I became an adult and the decade ended.
I didn't know then, what the heroines of my film also tried to forget, that there is absolutely no way you can throw away the past; especially your teens. I am still that girl, like my heroines are still the same girls. We have grown up, but it's still us, and there are many more around us lost in the crowd. I hope they come to see my film at some point. I think I have a lot to share with them!
How does the city of Athens function in your film?
Athens is like a character in the film. I treat her like a real person. It's not just a location. But that's how I see Athens in real life anyway. She's something like an older sister to me! We have a rather complicated relationship!
If I however wanted to describe in details the role of Athens in the film, it would be like making a thorough analysis of my own film, which I wouldn't like to do. Let's just say that "The Surface of Things" is a declaration of love to the city. My heroines are trapped in a similar complicated relationship as me: Ioanna is still living in the same neighbourhood where she grew up and she hates it, it scares her and oppresses her, but she also somehow feels safe there; Sofia lives in a flat with a view over the whole city and she doesn't even look at it anymore; Mrs Nardi finds refuge in the dead silent ancient cemetery of Kerameikos, an oasis in the heart of the city; And Katerina moved as far away as she could, to a city less ancient, to Berlin, and builds houses there, she's an architect. They are all defined by the city. "The Surface of Things" is certainly an urban film. It plays in apartments, in streets and on concrete. But it also has the strong bright sun of Athens, the city’s anarchic appearance, its sounds, noises and people. Oh, I miss her terribly now that I talk about it!
I wouldn't say that the film deals with "women's issues", I'm afraid that it would make it sound essayistic. I didn't try to present and analyse problems or propose solutions - that was not my intention. But "The Surface of Things" is certainly a film about women, in the sense that it shows interesting, I hope, female characters that have a story to tell. Men are very obviously absent in the film, because my aim was to show how women cope with difficulties when forced to be on their own. In that sense, yes, women's issues are being addressed. And that was very obvious after the screenings at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, when we had long discussions with the audience about women in Greek society, the women of our generation, the role of women in general. But the most beautiful thing is that many women were moved as they saw themselves in the film, they could identify with the characters and the story. A lady in her 60s identified with the character of the history teacher and made comments on behalf of that generation, she talked to me on behalf of my mother and her generation so to speak! And some very young members of the audience began to talk about the teenagers of today, about imagination, dreams and what it means to be young today as compared to the 1980s. This was so exciting and so very moving, and that is why I wanted to make films in the first place. This is my way of discussing "issues", by telling stories and making people feel emotional. I am not an academic or an essayist. I prefer to communicate my ideas by moving people.
And more important than making films that deal with women's issues would be for me to see more women making films, to see more women artists, more women in politics and science. This world needs more of the women's perspective! As a female filmmaker in a rather male-dominated field, I had to struggle a lot in order to be able to make films. But the most important battle I had to fight was not against old patriarchal figures and old-fashioned male colleagues, but against my own personal fears and fixed ideas. The characters in "The Surface of Things" have to come to terms with their position in life, with their decisions, conscious or unconscious, their traumas and their mistakes, their broken dreams and disappointments, and then they are free.
What are your future plans?
I have written the script for a short children's film. It's imaginative and funny and playful, it's very refreshing to write for young children, it's liberating! I've done it before and I enjoy it very much.
My biggest project is a documentary which does actually deal with women's issues! It concerns the life and work of a woman German painter of the 1920s, who loved painting women. The film is about the role and position of women in society today, how this began to take shape in the 1920s in Berlin and how it is depicted in the work of this painter. It's a fascinating period, and I'm portraying a great painter and a very brave woman. Because there were times when it took a lot of courage to be a free creative woman! And somehow, it still does.
I'm also working of course on the script for my next feature film, a drama which will most probably again be set in Athens.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
** "London, Amsterdam or Berlin you've forgotten exactly where you want to go...": Wondering Soul song by "Tripes" Greek Rock Band (1983 - 2001)
"The Surface of Things" was projected in the 58th Thessaloniki International Film Festival International Competition Section and was available in the international film viewing professional platform Festival Scope, a TIFF initiative for the promotion of Greek cinema abroad.
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Welcome to the Greek 80s: Interview with Panayis Panayotopoulos, Reading Greece: Angela Dimitrakaki on Subjectivity in Global Landscapes
Watch the "The Surface of Things" trailer: