RCabral Março 2015

Ricardo Cabral is assistant professor of Economics, former Vice President, and former Economics and Management Department Head of the University of Madeira, Portugal. He holds a PhD in Economics from the University of South Carolina.

His research interests include the euro crisis, banking, EMU architecture and governance, and sovereign debt restructuring. He has published several articles and policy papers. He has participated as a speaker in more than 50 conferences and authored or co-authored more than 500 opinion and analysis pieces in national newspapers such as Público and online platforms such as VoxEU.org and eu.boell.org.

He is the co-author of two different proposals to restructure Portugal’s debt, one of which as a member of a Government-nominated Working Group on the sustainability of Portugal’s debt. He has appeared before the ECON Committee of the European Parliament and before the COFMA Committee of the Portuguese Parliament.

Cabral talks to Greek News Agenda*about the post memorandum era for Greece stressing that the Eurozone adjustment programs were quite destructive to debtor economies like Greece’s and Portugal’s, because their objective was to make sure that these countries could service their debts in the short and medium term, regardless of whether the debt was sustainable and or could ever be fully repaid. Further on, Cabral elaborates on the necessary measures for the enforcement/ deepening of monetary and economic union. He also comments that the recent and current Eurozone reform agreements, not only regarding migration, but particularly regarding economic and financial issues, signal a heightened level of distrust between member states and if Eurozone policy makers “stay the course”, as they seem intent on doing, the Eurozone is bound to experience a crisis unprecedented in the developed world.

The recent European agreement on migration was a minimal compromise which could hardly conceal the profound discord between the 28 EU member states. What is your view on this agreement and what does it mean for the EU?

It is difficult to address this complex topic in a few words, a topic that is really outside my field of expertise. It is illegal to refuse entry to war refugees, which many of these migrants are.

But the theory and the laws clash with the will of many of the peoples of Europe who have little sympathy or understanding for the horrors experienced by many of these migrants and who are perceived by many as a threat.

The problem in Europe is aggravated by the architecture of the European Union. Most political negotiations are zero sum, in the sense that for one country to benefit, all other countries must bear the costs.

Given this, I am not surprised about the disappointing agreement over migration achieved by the European Council.

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Greece, after the historic Eurogroup agreement which foresees the conclusion of the assistance programmes and guarantees a “clear exit” to the markets, is preparing for its post memorandum era. Could Greece become a success story, following the Portuguese example? Can Portugal serve as a role model for post-memorandum Greece?

The short answer is no. Neither Greece nor Portugal will become success stories in the medium and long term. However, in the short term the economic situation can improve markedly, particularly in Greece’s case, if the ECB expands the Quantitative Easing programme to also buy Greece’s public debt, though this seems unlikely.

Portugal and Greece are both economies condemned to ‘debtors’ prison” by Eurozone authorities. Note that the end of ‘debtors’ prison” was a significant and positive civilizational development (the writer Charles Dickens was no doubt inspired by the ‘debtors’ imprisonment of his own father).

The Eurozone adjustment programmes were very destructive to debtor economies like Greece’s and Portugal’s. Their objective was to make sure that these countries could service their debts in the short and medium term, regardless of whether the debt was sustainable and of whether their debt could ever be fully repaid, i.e., the proverbial “kick the can down the road”.

The adjustment programmes could have failed. Their “relative” success was strongly aided by favorable external conditions, namely the fall in the price of oil, the devaluation of the euro vis à vis the dollar, the more expansionary course of the US economy, the willingness of China to lower its current account surplus through expansionary domestic policies, and the low interest rate environment.

In sum, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and to a less extent Greece, have been able to massively improve their current account, because the rest of the World was willing to run larger trade and current account deficits.

When the current account deficits return, Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy will face difficulties again. Moreover, the austerity measures adopted have reduced the growth potential of these economies particularly in the long run, namely due to the large emigration of young professionals and the high levels of youth unemployment, which have negative quasi-permanent effects on growth potential.

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Europe is facing a series of challenges that relate to the common currency architecture as well as its own structural weaknesses and shortcomings. Which measures do you deem necessary for the deepening of monetary and economic union?

The key Eurozone reform occurred in the second half of 2012 with the launch of the Outright Monetary Transactions programme (OMT), whereby the ECB announced it was ready to buy unlimited amounts of a member state public debt. Unfortunately, the OMT was defined as a programme with strict conditionality to be controlled by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

Separately, the quantitative easing programme of the ECB since 2015, particularly the Public Sector Purchase Programme, contributed to a marked improvement in the Eurozone macroeconomic conditions and to bring about a stark reduction in the financing costs of member country governments, with a permanent effect that represented several points of GDP.

Nonetheless, these were among the few reforms since 2010 that contributed to an improvement of the resilience of the Eurozone architecture.

All other main reforms that occurred in the Eurozone since 2010 have had a stated rationale that significantly diverges from their main effects. Thus, one could argue that the stated rationale differs from the true objectives of the reforms. Public policies always have different objectives and effects. The issue is what is the dominating objective and effect.

In my view, the main reforms that were enacted in the Eurozone since 2010 aimed to:

(1) close loopholes so as to prevent financing of government deficits, fiscal transfers, or “stealth bailouts” (e.g., Banking Union);

(2) force debtor member states to service their debt in the short- and medium-term, i.e., put these economies in a sort of debtors’ prison (e.g., Fiscal Stability Treaty and the “adjustment” programmes); and

(3) to prevent debtor member states from a potential “debtors’ prisonbreak”, that is prepare for the eventual disintegration of the Eurozone and otherwise to prevent debtor member states from unilaterally restructuring their sovereign debts or from exiting the euro (e.g., creation of the European Stability Mechanism, the introduction of “euro-CACs”, the recently approved new powers for the ESM, the sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, the proposed harmonization of insolvency laws, the proposed reforms to TARGET2, banking sector risk weights for member state sovereign debt, etc.).

Though there are positive features to all of these reforms (e.g., the lower interest rates on ESM loans), in the whole, these reforms weakened the resilience of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).

A separate question is what reforms are necessary if the Eurozone is to survive and thrive, which, given the format of this interview, it is not possible to fully address here.

In short, I believe, the EMU architecture is flawed and dysfunctional. The EMU can only properly operate if all member states run on average current accounts roughly balanced or in surplus.

To become sustainable the Eurozone needs much larger open-ended fiscal transfers between member countries, particularly in the form of automatic fiscal stabilizers.

These could be based on a new Eurozone (or EU) federal budget with its own fiscal revenues, for example based on a minimum alternative tax for both personal and corporate income taxes. Other possibilities include taxes on income obtained from residents of one member state in another member state or contributions based on member state current account surpluses.

A new Federal Treasury (a potential successor to the ESM) should issue the Eurozone (or EU) federal debt in the markets. This Eurozone federal debt should not be mutualized. This way, if the Eurozone was dissolved, the federal debt would not be repaid.

The Eurozone should run a small recurring deficit at the Federal level, which would increase its spending capacity without direct costs to member state budgets.

The Eurozone budget spending should target foremost fiscal transfers to member states as well as a common Eurozone investment programme.

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Can Europe make a fresh start based on a real monetary and economic union, when member states turn against each other, as the migration crisis management proved?

It is difficult to believe in a new beginning in the present. But a new beginning is always possible through political will and vision.

In my view the recent and current Eurozone reform agreements, not only regarding migration, but particularly regarding economic and financial issues, signal a heightened level of distrust between member states. It is as if, in the technocratic details of innocuous sounding accords, member states were already preparing for the disintegration of the Eurozone and for economic conflict between member states.

Is Europe going through an identity crisis?

The European Union and particularly the Eurozone is confronting again its original sin and its dystopian objectives. Its policy makers have wanted to create a single economic and monetary union, a Federal Union, without fiscal transfers.

This is an impossible political objective. Every single functioning economic and monetary union that we know of has large levels of fiscal transfers and significant fiscal stabilizers.

Otto von Bismarck once said “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best”. The converse is that politics should not be the art of the impossible nor the art of the unattainable – ‘arts’ in fact that Eurozone policy makers of the last two decades have sought and imposed by sheer will power (‘Machtpolitik’). The decision to practice the policy of the impossible has had disastrous economic consequences and has caused unnecessary hardship to millions of Eurozone citizens.

If Eurozone policy makers “stay the course”, as they seem intent on doing, the Eurozone is bound to experience a crisis unprecedented in the developed world.

* Interview by Margarita Adamou, Head of Press and Communication Office, Embassy of Greece in Lisbon, Portugal.

F.K.

Badum Lisa komp small

Lisa Badum is a German politician and climate policy spokeswoman for the Bündnis 90/Die Grünen party at the Bundestag. This summer, along with vice-president of Bundenstag and ex Green Party leader Claudia Roth, she launched an initiative of solidarity for people affected by the devastating fires in Attica. Since October 2016 she is the district chairwoman of Die Grünen in Upper Franconia and in September 2017 she was elected to the 19th German Bundestag with Bündnis 90/Die Grünen. Her work focuses on gender equality and energy policy, in particular the promotion of renewable energy. She is a member of the Environment Committee and of the Greek-German parliamentary group in Bundestag. Badum has also studied in Thessaloniki and is fluent in Greek.

Lisa Badum spoke with Greek News Agenda* on the environmental impact of climate change, what can be done on a EU and regional/local level, the initiative she started to help those affected by the fires in Attica, how Germans view Greece, and finally, on her own relationship with Greece.

In the aftermath of the fires in Greece, Sweden and Portugal, climate change is the forefront of public debate in Europe, as evidenced by covers in major publications as Der Spiegel and The Economist. Would you care to comment on that?

Obviously, this year we deal with the hottest spring/early summer (April to July) ever recorded in human history. But also during the last years we are seeing that extremely hot and dry weather is not an exceptional occurrence any more, even in Central Europe. Climate change means that extreme weather phenomena are becoming more and more probable. That concerns not just heat, but extreme rainfalls also. Some people believe that heavy rains help with the heat; it is a paradox, but actually they don’t: as rainfalls occur more and more and in times of the year when the soil is not prepared to absorb the rain, we have more floods. So Climate Change means we have more often hot and dry weather and at the same time more heavy rains, all with unpredictable consequences.

So yes, obviously and sadly climate change is here and it is having a huge impact on our lives. That’s why we have to act now.

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You are an MP in Bundestag with the Green Party. What does your party believe can be done to tackle the issue of climate change at the EU level?

The German Green Party actively contributes to policy-making on climate change at the European level through its membership in the fraction of the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament. We believe the EU should be a strong driver for ambitious climate policies in the member states. At the same time, enhanced cooperation on climate and energy issues has the potential to restore citizens’ faith in the European project and revitalize European integration.

In terms of concrete climate legislation at the EU level, I would like to focuse on three legislative proposals that I believe are particularly important to tackle the issue of climate change at the EU level:

The “Clean Energy for all Europeans” package: It is the EU’s core policy to reach its target for 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. As a part of the Clean Energy for all Europeans new package of measures presented European Commission, European institutions agreed this June on a target of 32% for Renewable Energy and 32.5% for Energy Efficiency by 2030, as well as on the Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union. While the Greens would have liked the targets to be more ambitious, this is the compromise we have to work with. Now it is crucial to proceed with the implementation of these goals and to make them work in practice in the member states. In addition, it is important for the EU institutions to adopt the remaining legislative proposals under the Clean Energy Package, namely the regulations on Electricity Market Design and the rules for the operation of ACER, the EU Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators.

Emission standards for the transport sector: The European Commission has made a proposal for the CO2 emissions of light-duty vehicles (mainly cars and vans) to be reduced by 15% by 2025 and 30% by 2030, compared to 2021. The German Green Party believes this target needs to be quite more ambitious - we want a reduction of 70% by 2030. Unfortunately, the German government has been blocking the ongoing negotiations. We strongly urge our government and the other member states to agree on an ambitious target which would benefit both the climate and the development of green technologies in Europe. However, besides ambitious targets for CO2 emissions, it is also important to provide more incentives for a modal shift from road to rail in the European transport market.

Long-term climate strategy 2050: The European Commission has set out to develop a strategy for long-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction and to present it to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the upcoming 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 24) in Katowice, Poland. The Commission has recently launched a public consultation will serve as a basis for developing the final strategy. In my view, for the consultation to be transparent and fair, contributions from industry, civil society, and citizens have to be equally considered. The final strategy should set an ambitious target for emission reductions in the EU – zero emissions by 2050 at the latest – as well as defined targets for each sector separately. This way the EU has the potential to be a climate leader, strengthen its economy, and engage its citizens at the same time.

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What at about on the regional or local level? A standard ecology slogan is “think globally, act locally”.

Yes, of course. Apart from these concrete legislative proposals, which are fundamental for implementing strong EU climate policies, I would like to emphasize that a regional approach to climate and energy policy is also key for the success of the EU’s efforts. The EU and its member states must recognize that, despite resistance from the big polluting energy companies, many important citizen-led clean energy initiatives are mushrooming across Europe. In many cities and regions, people are meeting in their neighborhoods to search for new ways of producing and consuming energy, but also of cooperating. Instead of focusing on national authorities, the Commission and the EU member states should look at the great potential that exists at a smaller level and realize that citizens’ involvement is a key ingredient for Europe’s transition to renewable energy. Citizens matter not only as consumers; they can also participate in supporting and financing new infrastructure and technologies. Local governments – who are currently undertaking a lot of initiatives to fight against climate change and make their regions nicer places for their populations to live in – have a lot to offer in this regard; they can really put the European idea into practice at the local level, engaging the citizens in public life and enhancing the added value of Europe.

Can you tell us about the initiative of solidarity with people affected by the fires in Attica you launched with vice-president of Bundenstag and ex Green Party leader Claudia Roth?

I was really shocked by the pictures and the suffering of the people in Attica. It’s unbearable that nowadays 90+ people die in a fire. So I asked for Claudia’s cooperation and support to realize a solidarity initiative and send out help for the victims. The next step could be to ask ourselves question such as: How can we prevent such a catastrophe from happening again? Is there a way German government or firefighters can provide support?

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The University of Athens has published a report with scientific data and preliminary conclusions regarding the fires in Attica. How was the news of the fire deliberated about in Germany?

The report shows that suffering and damage could have been less severe for various factors: Firstly the warning system didn’t work. There could have been sirens, some alarming system so people would have had time to respond to the catastrophe. Secondly, there was no real evacuation route, so people couldn’t get to the sea. This could have been prevented with a better area development planning. Thirdly: the buildings made of concrete and more stable material were less damaged. The right kind of housing and city planning could protect the inhabitants. So in the end, a lot can be done to prevent a disaster like this from happening again.

What would you say is the public image of Greece in Germany now 10 years after the financial crisis broke out?  

When the financial crisis in Greece was at its peak, reporting on Greek issues in Germany was full of clichés and prejudices. We made a progress since then. German media is now also interested in presenting “the other side” so, for example Yannis Varoufakis had the possibility to speak on different topics and present his opinion on the financial crisis, the Eurozone and so on. Just today I read a sophisticated article about Prime Minister Tsipras, which showed him as a complex character: his merits but also his failures were described.

Greece has for a long time, and is becoming more and more an attractive destination for German tourists. So they have their own real life experience with the country which they come love for its beauty and filoxenia. But in the end, Greece is still linked in people’s minds with financial problems, bankruptcy and chaos. So there is still a lot to do.

Can you tell us more about the Greek-German Parliamentary Committee in which you are a member?

The Greek-German parliamentary group is headed by Gregor Gysi from the Die Linke. We are all parliamentarians who want to strengthen Greek-German relationships. We already met with the Greek Ambassador in Germany to discuss the political situation in Greece and we will make at least one journey in Greece to meet with the government and parliament.

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Lisa Badum with president of th Greek-German parliamentary group Gregor Gysi

You have studied in Thessaloniki, you speak Greek fluently and have Greek friends. What drew you to Greece in the first place? How would you describe you experience of living in Greece and visiting the country throughout the years?

It was a decision from the heart to come to Greece. I was fascinated not only by its history but also its modern vivid culture with elements from the wider Mediterranean and Balkan culture, but also the Ottoman Empire. And Thessaloniki is the best mirror of all these influences. I wanted to learn Greek because Greek language is exceptional in Europe, as it has a history of more than 2,500 years.  Besides: Greece is a really beautiful country!

What I didn’t know before I came to Greece was the Greek mentality. So I was really overwhelmed by the filoxenia I experienced. This is not something you would always expect considering the fact I am from Germany. Sometimes the Greek way might be very direct but you can always tell generosity comes right from the heart.

Throughout the years I had so many great experiences and visited lots of different places, mostly islands. I met all kinds of people: intellectuals but also farmers or mechanics; I always had meaningful discussions with everyone on topics like for instance, Greek and German politics. Of course I enjoy cultural staples, like the food and the celebrations of panagyria. Finally, I really appreciate the rich and unexpected history of the islands like Ikaria and Anafi, which seem really pure and untouched, but were used as places of exile and imprisonment for leftist political dissidents in the past.

* Interview by: Ioulia Livaditi and Nikolas Nenedakis

Massalas

Growing up with MTV, film maker Christos Massalas dreamt of a careless adulthood full of wild summers. Too bad it never came to be. It seldom does. So, he constructed his own exotic colony. It’s called “Copa Loca”.

Christos Massalas was born in Greece in 1986. He studied Film Theory at Kingston University, London and Filmmaking at the London Film School, LFS. His short filmsFlowers and Bottoms” (2016), “Bon Bon” (2013), “Woman with the Plastic flower” (2012) and  “Make-Up” (2011), have received multiple awards and have screened at film festivals around the world, including Cannes, New Directors/New Films, AFI Fest, Guanajuato, BFI, Nouveau Cinéma and many more. He was selected as one of 15 most promising directors from around the world at the 69th Locarno Film Festival, 2016. His latest short film “Copa-Loca” (2017) was nominated for the European Film Award, received the Greek Academy Award and has qualified for the Oscars, 2019. He is currently developing “Broadway”, his debut feature-length project, which was selected for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.

Massalas talked to Greek News Agenda* about “Copa Loca”, an abandoned Greek summer resort - a place where memories of wild summers disintegrate under the faint winter sun. Paulina is the girl at the heart of Copa-Loca. Everyone cares for her and she cares about everyone - in every possible way. Massalas explains that “Copa Loca” is a reverberation of his experiences rather than a comment. He clarifies that the term “Weird Wave” is not his cup of tea, as is the case with many of his peers. Finally, he stresses that the problem with film making in Greece is the problematic relationship between Greek films and Greek audiences, a distrust that has to be reversed.

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You have studied film theory. Has your theoretical background influenced your work as a filmmaker?

First of all, I should say that I don’t think that studying film theory is a prerequisite to making films. Any kind of theoretical knowledge you gain goes into your practice and it’s valuable, but, in reality, talent grows in places which the intellect can’t quite grasp. That’s why perhaps it’s always more difficult to assess why we feel a certain film or work of art is really good, while it’s easier to deconstruct something that we feel doesn’t quite work.

As a filmmaker, you need to gain fluency through practice rather than theory. And you need a lot of practice. Theory is a different story, and you may want to go there or maybe not; that’s how I see it, at least.

In some cases, theory helps you organize your thinking and reveals possible underlying meanings and patterns – and that’s all useful, as long as it doesn’t cancel your capacity to see certain things for what they are, here and now. So, I guess that, through film theory, I’ve become more aware of how certain things are perceived and about visual semiotics and certain frameworks of criticism. And for sure, I have probably inherited certain patterns of thinking.

But I have to say that even in University, I was bit of a rebel in the sense that I wasn’t following the textbook. In one instance, I remember that I had written an essay on “How Green Was my Valley” by John Ford; I hadn’t used any bibliography, I just wrote down my thoughts and I was quite happy about it - it was more of a poetic account than a theoretical evaluation, really. And then, one of my teachers read it and called me in the office to inquire about my references on the piece, because he thought it was quite interesting, but there were no citations. “I just wrote it”, I replied. He was furious – and I got a D.

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"Copa Loca",  (2017)

The film format and photography have the visual effect of an old Polaroid. In Copa Loca nostalgia meets decadence in the form of an anthropological documentary. Is it a commentary on contemporary Greece?

I would say that “Copa-Loca” is a portrait film. A portrait of a young woman and, at the same time, a portrait of a place; or perhaps the cinematic equivalent of a landscape painting; but a landscape painting of a person - if a person were a landscape. “Copa-Loca” is an abandoned summer resort; a ‘tropicalist’ colony in an industrial zone. It’s a wonderland that has fallen apart, revealing a rusty skeleton underneath the colorful surfaces.

There are various ways to look at the film and the relationship between character and setting. But there’s also an underlying idea that after a disaster there’s immeasurable grief but there’s also a possibility to reinvent things, to re-orientate. And there’s always a delay in the process of adapting. First the weather changes andthen your body has to adapt to it, it’s not possible the other way around, even if you can foresee what’s coming. And in this delay, there’s always a sense of absurdity – caught in ambivalence, between the old ways and the new circumstances. So, I wouldn’t use the term ‘commentary’ for the film. Perhaps, I would say that it’s more of a reverberation of my experiences on different levels.

I sense influences by the Weird Wave in your film. Am I wrong? How do you feel about the Greek Weird Wave?

I’m not quite sure what the term ‘weird wave’ means. I assume it is meant to suggest a canon of films with a common, inherent aversion toward ‘normative’ attitudes. By definition there’s a fallacy there, in the sense that by including such films in a canon you make them part of a norm. And this problem has affected both the way in which these films are perceived abroad but also the way in which filmmakers in Greece have been forced to accept this canonical evaluation of their work.

So if we’re talking about individual films of the period rather than a canon then I can tell you that there are films that I like and films that I don’t like. There are films that I relate to and films that leave me cold. And my appreciation of a film can change with time. And surely, some of these individual films have influenced me in ways, even if I’m not fully aware of it.

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"Copa Loca",  (2017)

What is the function of music in your film?

There are three musical axes in the film, which operate parallel to each other – the one fades out, the other comes in and so forth. The first axis, the ‘tropical’ one, is made up of samba rhythms and for this I used street recordings of percussion improvisations that I found. These pieces, blended together, create the ambience of Copa-Loca. The music comes and goes and its source is never revealed, like a ‘ghost’ track performed by the indigenous players, who (never) lived there.

The second axis is where an electro/trance theme comes in. This is where Σtella came in and wrote an original piece, which is the dance theme of Paulina, the main character of the film. We discussed a lot about the mood of the piece, listening to 90s club/trance tunes. This piece corresponds to, what once was, the nightlife of Copa-Loca.

The third axis is one that comes from the outside, from beyond Copa-Loca; it is a song which accompanies the character of Paulina’s mother (played by Jenny Hiloudaki). The character arrives like a blast from the past – and so does the music. The song is ‘Tosa Kalokairia’ written by Mimis Plessas and Lefteris Papadopoulos, performed by Dakis in 1967. It is a Greek nostalgic summer ballad with acoustic instruments and full string orchestra. It was featured in a popular musical comedy of the time (“Gorgones kai Magkes” by Dalianidis). It’s a song written exactly 50 years before “Copa-Loca” and, interestingly enough, it came out just around the time when the political system in Greece collapsed and the dictatorship took over.

So each ‘axis’, each piece of music has an almost narrative purpose in the film; but I don’t expect that spectators will make such specific associations. The music works on its own terms, beyond this semiology and it carries its unique atmosphere.

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"Copa Loca",  (2017)

How would you describe your experience as a filmmaker in Greece?

It’s not easy to make films in Greece, and because it’s not easy you get a real kick out of it when you actually manage to make a film; italways feels like a little feat. And the excitement comes hand in hand with a lot of work; I guess that’s not just a Greek thing. When you make films you have to be prepared to work your socks off and the result may not always be what you expect it to be. So it’s constant risk-taking.

But the cultural landscape of Greece right now is so rich and paradoxical that you can see art flourishing in all kinds of disciplines. The added difficulty with cinema is that cinema is a very costly endeavor and requires a wide audience - it’s a feedback system. And particularly for the latter, when it comes to feature films, there’s still a problematic relationship between the films that are made in Greece and Greek audience. And the problem goes both ways, as if there’s mutual distrust. So for me, that’s really the important discussion right now, how this distrust can be reversed.

You are about to make your first feature film. Would you like to say a few things about it?

The title of the project is “Broadway”. It is the story of a group of street performers and pickpockets in contemporary Athens. It’s a thriller, at times it’s a comedy, there’s a lot of dance in it, a lot of sequins and feathers and characters as rich as the Athenian landscape.

I started thinking about this script a couple of years ago and this last January I developed it further at the Sundance Lab in Utah. There’s still some time ahead to find all the necessary resources to make it happen, but I guess we’re on a good track.

COPA-LOCA (trailer, 2017) on Vimeo.

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

Read also: “Copa-Loca” video interview for Academie des Cesar, interview on “CopaLoca”, Clermont Ferrand Short Film Festival, interview on “CL” with Yellow Bread Shorts

raptop1Vangelis Raptopoulos is one of Greece’s most notable contemporary writers of fiction. He published his first book, a short story collection, to wide acclaim at twenty years of age, and has since been a steady presence in Greek letters, with over twenty-five books. He mainly writes novels and short stories, but has also published collections of essays and articles. With studies in pedagogy and journalism, Raptopoulos has also worked as a publisher’s reader and script reader, as well as a radio broadcaster, and has also been a regular contributor to many newspapers and magazines of wide circulation.

Raptopoulos has taught creative writing in various colleges and institutions; his novel The cicadas (1985) has been translated in English, and The Incredible Story of Pope Joan (2000) has been translated into Italian. His first two books have been adapted for television, while his 1993 novel The bachelor has been adapted into an award-winning film by acclaimed Greek director Nikos Panayotopoulos. Raptopoulos has become known for his personal style of writing, often creating a mixture of tragedy and comedy, deliberately verging on parody. This is particularly obvious in his latest novel, The man who burned down Greece, an alternative history book inspired by Greece’s financial crisis, which has already been praised as one of his best.

The book’s protagonist is Dimitris Apostolakis, whom the author himself describes as a “modern day Don Quixote from Greece”. Born with the rare gift of pyrokinesis, the hero often sets fires unintentionally, usually in stressful or unsettling situations; for him, it is a deeply soothing experience yet one with a frightful outcome. During the Greek financial crisis, Apostolakis loses his job and eventually abandons his family to go live on the streets.

Caught in a maelstrom of misery, resentment and, in the end, fury, the hero -who has now managed to master his own powers- decides to go on a mission, targeting buildings he views as symbols of capitalist injustice; he sets a number of destructive fires that trigger massive popular revolts in Athens and all major Greek cities, resulting in extensive damages and multiple deaths – including his own. Vangelis Raptopoulos spoke* to Greek News Agenda about his latest novel, his thoughts on contemporary Greek reality and fiction, and the symbolic theme of pyrokinesis.

Your book is written in epistolary form – where did this idea come from? In fact, it shares many common traits with Dracula, one of the most widely acclaimed novels of the horror genre, which is also directly referenced in your book: it predominantly consists of diary entries but also letters (e-mails), newspaper clippings, messages, transcripts, etc. Was Dracula a strong inspiration for you?

With regard to the novel’s form, or rather its structure, my initial inspiration came from the rather unknown in Greece psychological thriller What She Left, by first-time novelist T.R. Richmond. It is a contemporary epistolary novel, a patchwork of Facebook posts, forum comments, tweets, emails, text messages etc. This book further reminded me of another celebrated debut novel, this time by one of my favourite authors: Stephen King’s Carrie, which in turn seems inspired by Stoker’s Dracula – and not just with regard to its structure. Dracula, probably the most compelling novel I have ever read and one of horror fiction’s quintessential works (together with Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), manages to make a convincing case for one of speculative fiction’s most incredible subject matters, thanks in great part to its composite, fragmented structure. King uses a similar structure and technique to convince us of the existence of his telekinetic heroine, I use it to make my pyrokinetic hero’s existence convincing.

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Generally speaking, you do not attempt to mask your influences. Books, films, songs, mottos that are likely to spring to the one’s mind while reading your novel are often referenced by the characters. Do you intentionally use these direct allusions, as does Brian De Palma for example, famous for recreating scenes or plots from Hitchcock or Eisenstein in his films?

This choice is as deliberate as is anything resulting from one’s disposition or temperament. In other words, there are writers who are secretive and others who are very open when it comes to their sources of inspiration, but I guess no one gets to choose which will be his type. This streak in me was sharpened from one point onward, as I incorporated many pulp elements in my work in order to more profoundly express not just myself, but also our time. A time bereft of values, ideals and a slave to money; a time of which we cannot talk by means of the high art of the past, making it almost imperative that we approach it through popular genres, starting from crime and horror fiction all the way to pornography. These choices have put me in the line of fire of literary critics and the literary status quo, so I found it necessary to inform my readers about my influences and my intentions, which the critics either overlooked or were simply unaware of.

One the novel’s central themes is the growing number of homeless people in Greece, as well as their social status. In the hero’s first-person narration you include some very disturbing details about life on the streets. Where did you draw such detailed knowledge about the homeless’ living conditions?

Some of the homeless characters portrayed in the novel are based on news stories from the media, as I mention in my postface at the end of the book. Other details I drew from my own keen observations of the homeless in the centre of Athens, mainly between 2012 and 2014. Nonetheless, I would say that, as always, most of the work was done by my imagination. The same more or less happened with Loula (when readers consistently asked how I knew so much about female orgasm) and Lesbian (with questions this time focusing on my knowledge of homosexuality), just to mention two blatant examples. A novelist observes his surroundings and then imagines the rest, that’s how it always has been and always will. A novel in Greek is very aptly called mythistorima, combining the words “myth” and “history”: it is part invention, a tale, and part history, reality. As for the homeless, they constitute the crux not just of this novel, but also of the financial crisis. In a country where owner occupancy is still the rule (and where as a rule all institutions, save that of the family, are imported and impaired) there is no greater misfortune than to not have “a roof over one’s head”. Finally, I think that, if family wasn’t as important as it is in Greece, then the crisis wouldn’t have just increased the number of the homeless, it would have literally wiped us out.

In your postface you note that a major inspiration for your book was the (Greek) Left’s fixation with social revolt, as well as “the obsession of almost all of today’s Greeks with wanting to see the world burn”. Following the hero’s path into utter deprivation, the reader empathises with his eventual catastrophic outburst; can we assume that you partly justify his destructive urge – and, in particular, his desire for catharsis by fire? Or do you agree more with the fictional commentator's claims that no substantial change can come from destruction?

Surprisingly, I agree with both these views. After all, this is one of the privileges of writing a novel; it gives you the space to elaborate on opposing and contradictory opinions (something strictly forbidden in real life by threat of being labeled schizophrenic, at best). Our lives in this tiny corner of the globe can often become unbearable, unlivable actually, due to certain, apparently systemic, social defects and afflictions that plague us. Especially in these times, Greece can be surrealistically dysfunctional and wretched, whilst the prevalent unfairness, favouritism and apathy can often drive you to the end of your rope. So leveling everything to the ground may seem like the only solution and way to catharsis. On the other hand, I don’t believe there’s anyone in Greece who believes that this would actually change anything and bring deliverance. If you just think about it, my novel falls into the genre of political fiction or alternative history, and yet it chronicles an imaginary, invented uprising, after which everything falls back to normal, as if nothing had happened; this is quite original. In novels of this category the hero travels back in time to, say, kill Hitler’s parents and spare the world of WWII. In my novel, we pant and gasp all over again, like Sisyphus, rolling the same boulder up the hill, no matter what or how much we’ve tried to change our fate. As if we are doomed to perpetually bear our burdens, whether we fight back individually and collectively or not.

raptop collage2Before embarking on his ultimate arson spree, the hero, Apostolakis, gets a shave and haircut and takes a long hot shower, bringing to mind the Spartan custom before battle. Regardless of the final outcome of his rebellious mission, do you think of Apostolakis more as a fighter, like the anarchist organisations view him, or as a madman, as his own daughter describes him? Or, possibly, as a part of you which you are struggling to leave behind, as does Apostolakis’ widow, who wavers between her guilt of betrayal and her desire for a new life?

Once again, I think that he is in fact all of those things. And above all, I believe my hero is still a part of me that I myself have mocked, scoffed and scorned as much as I could. However, if I had to choose just one answer, the version I would point to would be that of a comic yet tragic hero, a noble madman, a naive rebel, a romantic radical. Dimitris Apostolakis is a modern-day, Greek-born, Don Quixote, like any self-respecting hero in a novel since the genre itself was introduced by Cervantes. Just as the other two heroes, his wife, Lena Apostolaki, and their friend, Giorgos Theodoridis, can’t help but exemplify a dual, two-headed, Sancho Panza. Maybe this is inevitable and there is no other possibility for human existence. Not to mention that, in fact, each of us incorporates both sides, Don Quixote and Panza, otherwise we are not humans, but monsters.

Mourning is another pivotal theme in the novel; the hero mourns for his parents as well as for his victims, while his own loss (made known to the reader early in the book) is mourned by his loved ones. In your postface you claim that what triggered the idea for this story was the loss of your father. You also say that pyrokinesis is the ideal metaphor for the process of writing; does this have to do with a book’s ability to spark thoughts like flames, or rather with writing as a soothing energy discharge that relieves one’s pain, reminiscent of the alleviating effect that the fire-starting occurrences have on the hero’s psychology?

It is true that mourning is a pivotal theme in the novel (although this could sound misleading since this isn’t an elegiac novel but rather a black comedy); especially mourning, one could even say, for the absence of a massive uprising, a reaction against the crisis that has crushed us all these years. And, of course, mourning for the human losses caused by the crisis. As for the writing metaphor, I believe that almost all paranormal abilities are ideal for this purpose. Especially telekinesis, since the writer essentially controls the heroes with his mind, and we have the feeling that this psychic power has been invented just to express the creativeness of storytelling. The same is more or less true for pyrokinesis, and other such paranormal powers as well. I refer to the fact that these powers are obviously fictional (as are literary heroes and their actions) as well as the fact that the creator, like a small god with supernatural powers, controls his brainchildren like a puppeteer. What’s good about metaphors is that they are open to countless interpretations which are all legitimate. For instance, I had never thought of “a book’s ability to spark thoughts like flames”, as you said, but it really befits pyrokinesis as a metaphor for writing. And, of course, this is even truer for your other suggestion, i.e., what better way to describe writing and creativeness in general than as a “soothing energy discharge that relieves one’s pain”? What’s even better however is that any other interpretation you think of for a metaphor is also true. In other words, welcome to the infinite, perpetually expanding, and thus ever uncharted realm of metaphors and their interpretations that compose and comprise the unchildlike game that is fiction.

In your novel you reference Stephen King, especially in relation to his book Firestarter, however by the end there are strong allusions to Carrie: we empathise with the tormented hero (like the bullied and domestically abused Carrie) using psychic powers to wreak havoc terrorizing the just and the unjust, and leading to his own demise. However, the story ends with the ominous revelation that those same powers have manifested in someone else. Is this a warning: “As long as injustice prevails, there may well be another fierce reaction”?

It is obviously a warning on the eternal perpetuation of events, on the endless rebirth of the notion of rebellion against authority. And, above all, it is another turn of the screw in the black comedy that is my book, as are our lives. It is also a sticking out of the tongue in front of a mirror, against even my own self, a taunting, sarcastic sticking out of the tongue by the subconscious, irrational part of me against the sensible, Apollonian, logical and reasonable part of me. This latter part of me, of each of us maybe, is the part that thinks of the future reappearance of those pyrokinetic powers in the population as something ominous. On the contrary, our fiendish, Dionysian and rebellious part is absolutely delighted at the prospect, since this would actually be its own resurfacing from the dark vaults of the subconscious. So the end of the novel tries to warn rational readers and citizens that they shouldn’t rest assured, evil lurks, sneaks and creeps, ready to rise again from its ashes like a phoenix, at any time.

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Having just released an epistolary novel, your next project is a publication of your written correspondence with your mentor and close friend, celebrated writer Menis Koumandareas (1931-2014). How long did this correspondence last? What can the readers learn about both of you through this volume, and what insights would you wish them to gather from it?

My correspondence with Menis Koumandareas began in 1979, before I even published my first book, and continued until 2001, the time of the publication of my eleventh book, the short novel Black wedding. Yet, most of it comes from a period of barely over a year - 1981, when I lived in Sweden. The book’s title will be Confession and tutelage - because this is exactly what we did through those letters; in fact this was a mutual confession (although his reached deeper, due to his age and experience) and a mutual tutelage (because, even though I was the novice, the apprentice, Menis possessed the rare gift of not being patronising, and of constantly trying to learn, even from a beginner like me). In addition to a preface, written by me, the book will also feature an essay by Antigone Vlavianou, an academic who, by good fortune, was also a friend of Menis. Readers will know more about Menis through this book, since at the time he was one of our most prominent prose writers in his prime. As for myself, I think it’s obvious in the correspondence that I was already resolved on following the literary path I eventually took; or, to say it differently, that even when taking his first steps, a prose writer is more or less already shaped. However, what I really hope the readers will get from this publication is a feeling that its first two readers -my wife, Stavroula Papaspyrou, and Antigone Vlavianou- told me they got: they were moved by this 400-page volume, now under publication, because, apart from its literary value, it never ceases to be a deeply emotional book, bringing a male friendship to life.

You have also recently released a reprint of your book A bit of Modern Greek Literature History, featuring 39 interviews and essays on 82 contemporary Greek writers -from established figures such as Andreas Frangias and Thanasis Valtinos, to representatives of the younger generation, such as Vangelis Hatziyannidis, Angela Dimitrakaki and Sophia Nikolaidou- published between 1985-2005. Revisiting those texts now, with the benefit of hindsight, what is your assessment of that period’s literary production? Do you subscribe to the often-repeated belief that Greek fiction is overshadowed by Greek poetry, taking into account the latter’s broader international recognition thanks to our two Nobel Prize winners in Literature?

Fiction in Greece is no longer overshadowed by poetry. Not because contemporary poetry is inferior to that of the past, but because it has been marginalised in our unpoetic times. Especially lyric poetry, which had brought both local and international fame to our literary production in the recent past. I explicitly express these thoughts in an essay on the death of Odysseas Elytis, featured in this volume. The problem with prose produced in our times is that readers and good literature seem to have divorced: On the one hand, readers have developed a consumerist approach, and only look for escapist fiction of no real value, which in Greece means either historical novels or romances, whilst on the other, novelists of a certain calibre often flounder between experimental writing exercises and obsolete viewpoints or choice of subject. The result is that important works of fiction do not reach their natural readership, since readers are faced daily with piles of books that are trivial or just pointless. The last essay of my book bears the ambiguous title “The royal path”. When I began publishing my works some fourty years ago, the writer revered by the literary world of the time was Kostas Tachtsis, who had published only a few books, while the prolific Vassilis Vassilikos, who remains one of our most translated writers, was sneered at. My colleagues praised the first for his aristocratic approach to writing, and dismissed the latter as perfunctory. As things stand, it is obvious that life followed the path of the latter, hence the wordplay (vassilikos means royal in Greek); Tachtsis as a paradigm seems to be definitely a thing of the past.

*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi (Opening photo by Katerina Raptopoulou)

Read also on Reading Greece: Thanasis Valtinos, A Highlander at the Academy of Athens; Vangelis Hatziyannidis: "Writing for an opera was like a puzzle I really enjoyed"; Angela Dimitrakaki on Subjectivity in Global Landscapes; Sophia Nikolaidou on the Representation of Greece’s Political Past in Contemporary Literature

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Gregory Paschalidis is Professor of Cultural Studies and Director of the English-taught Master of Arts in Digital Media, Communication and Journalism at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.  Τhe School of Journalism and Mass Communications of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, established in 1991 offers a full-time, four-year long BA degree program as well as a Master's programme in Journalism and in Mass Communications. In 2015 the Univesristy established the English language Master’s program in the areas of Journalism and Communications, the first of its kind among Greek public Universities. The MA offers three pathways: ‘Digital Media, Culture and Communication’; ‘European Journalism’ and ‘Risk Communication and Crisis Journalism’.

Professor Paschalidis spoke to Greek News Agenda* on the course's structure, aims, professional and research prospects, on why study journalism in Greece and specifically in Thessaloniki, the dynamic created by the course's international students and finally, he offers his take on how social media have shaped nation branding and cultural policy.

What was the idea behind establishing an English-taught MA in Digital Media, Communication and Journalism in Thessaloniki, Greece? Why would a foreign student choose to study media and journalism in Greece?

In the late 1990s, our School organised an undergraduate English-taught course package for the benefit of the incoming Erasmus students. This proved hugely successful, and, before long, we had 25-30 students from all over Europe studying at our School every year. Many of them expressed their wish to continue their studies at our School on a graduate level and this is what originally gave us the idea of organizing an English-taught MA. In 2011, when the law regarding higher education allowed Greek Universities to set up graduate programs in the English language, we decided to go ahead. During the planning stage we investigated thoroughly and idenitified which graduate specializations would give us a edge in the highly competitive and diversified field of graduate studies across Europe. Subsequently, extra care was given to preparing all aspects of the MA programme (structure, course contents, website, student services, etc) taking into account the best international practices. The success of our MA program in attracting high-calibre students from abroad was largely due to those two factors: offering innovative graduate specializations and having an up-to-date model of graduate studies and services that makes sense and can be appreciated by foreign students. According to the regular student evaluations, another crucial factor of the program’s appeal is the high cost/quality ratio, in other words, a highly satisfactory academic experience for a relatively very low cost. Last but not least, Thessaloniki as a vibrant, low-cost, youth-friendly city certainly has its own significant contribution to our success so far!

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What has been your experience after three years since the establishment of the MA programme? Which countries do foreign students come from? Where are your graduates employed?

Perhaps the most intriguing experience I had in these three years was the way the Greek students (there are quite a few) are inflenced by their interaction with the foreign students, by the fact that they participate in an internationally oriented programme. They have a discipline and a work ethic that is quite rare to see amongst Greek graduate students, and they quickly develop a visibly more dialogic and cosmopolitan attitude. They are literally transformed! As regards our student intake, most of the applicants come from non-EU countries, mainly USA, Turkey, Russia, India and China. Most of the EU applicants, on the other hand, come from N. European countries. Most of our graduates are employed in the fields of journalism, digital communications/marketing, non-profit organizations and NGOs. Many, however, are already employed and take a year off to upgrade their skills and competencies.

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The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki is a leading university in South Europe. Has the School of Journalism and Mass Communications established parternships with other universities in the region and / or throughout Europe and internationally?

Our School has placed a priority in developing international partnerships. We have Erasmus contracts with a wide range of Jourmalism and/or Communications Shools abroad, and are active in the European Journalism Teaching Association. The presence of a sizeable cohort of foreign students – both on undergraduate and postgraduate level – the regular presence of Visiting Professors from abroad, as well as the international Summer School in Global Journalism we organize with the cooperation Deutsche Welle, provides us with live, active bridges with the international academic and professional community.

What are the areas of research the School of Journalism and Mass Communications focuses on?

Just as any other Journalism/Communications School in the world, our School is highly multi-disciplinary and that reflects not only on our teaching programmes, but also on the variety of our research interests and projects. Amongst them special mention should be made to data journalism, journalistic cultures, fake news, media/cultural consumption, popular television, narrative journalism, photojournalism, documentary, advertising history, health communication, science journalism, public campaigns, peace journalism etc.

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One of the three pathways offered in the MA is “Digital Media, Culture and Communication” and your research interests include cultural and visual studies and cultural policy. Do you believe that the predominance of social/digital media has made it more difficult to implement concise ‘nation branding’ and cultural policies?

There’s a lot to be said about the impact of social/digital media on nation branding and cultural policy, but I will limit myself to just two recent developments: Most nation branding campaings, nowdays, involve some sort of crowdsourcing and/or web-facilitated public vote! What used to be the marketing specialists’ domain, has largely moved into the public sphere. At the same time, there is no form or level of cultural policy that has not been fundamentally upset by the radical changes in the areas of cultural creativity, distribution, communication and participation instigated by the rise of social/digital media. In an era when rearticulation of the relationhsip between society/culture/communication, cultural policy-making needs to reivent itself.

See also:

  • "New Trends in Media and Journalism: Disinformation, Verification of News and Constructive Journalism in a Changing World" is the theme of the second edition of the International Media Summer Academy, organised by the School of Journalism and Mass Communications of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki (13-20 July 2018)

*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi

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Social Hackers Academy is a non-profit organization based in Athens, whose mission is to provide refugees and other socially vulnerable groups with comprehensive software engineering skills and to assist them with finding work. Sister publication GrèceHebdo met with the Social Hackers Academy founders to learn more about this different kind of school that has just completed its first “academic year”.

Tell us a bit about Social Hackers Academy. What was the idea behind its foundation? How easy was its implementation?

Million of refugees arrive everyday in Greece and unfortunately our country's infrastructure cannot fully support their integration inτο our reality. Thus, several NGOs are focusing their operations on covering their basic needs, but other needs such as education, or guiding them through job research process are not adequately coverd.

And this is the gap that Social Hackers Academy wants to fill: to educate, help integrate and find employment for people from vulnerable groups, including refugees, long-term unemployed citizens and people with disabilities. Our co-founders, Damianos Vavanos and Chris Owen are passionate about social impact and software programming, so they decided to combine those two and create the first coding school for refugees in Greece.

The implementation of our idea was not that difficult, since there is a growing need for good programmers in the job market worldwide. Our expertise and solid knowledge in the software development field helped us build partnerships with tech companies in order to achieve our mission and expand our operations.

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Why a school for refugees & other social vulnerable groups?

Our main target audience is refugees, as Greece currently hosts approximately 50,000 refugees, 70% of whom will remain here. We were feeling so frustrated with the deadlock they are facing, so we thought of creating a school that would help them in a more sustainable way, by educating and helping them unlock their true potential, so that they can rebuild their lives.

We also do not like the fact that there are 100,000 Greek STEM graduates who can not find a job, and we believe that this is due to our educational system’s insufficiency in adequately preparing students for the job market. We want to fill this gap by offering training forskills that companies today need.  Through technology and programming, we can create a hub in Greece where big companies can open branches that will operate for as long as developers need it. This trend is recorded in many surveys and it is estimated that by 2020 the world market will need 20 million developers.


How easy is it for vulnerable groups and refugees to learn about education programs in Social Hackers Academy?

Well it is not that easy. It’s hard to take a person who is still suffering from trauma and “convince” them that a different life is possible. They also hear that the economic situation here is not the best and so everybody just wants to leave the country.

One of our initial mistakes was that we were pitching our beneficiaries by saying that we’ll train you in software engineering for 6.5 months and then we’ll get you a job. That was a disaster as we got people who were in need of work at that very moment and didn’t have the time to wait for 6.5 months. To support our students we provide a integrated program by offering Life Coaching, LinkedIn Coaching and Soft Skills courses and trying to cater to each person’s unique needs.

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How does Social Hackers Academy operate on a daily basis? Which are the impressions and outcomes of the first round of web-development sessions?

Following the successful example of similar educational projects abroad (Hack Your Future - The Netherlands, Gaza Sky Geeks - Palestine), we deliver a comprehensive education programme in software engineering, including courses as Full Stack Web Development, Wordpress (front end web development) and Computer Literacy (basic skills). Our key differentiating point is our employment-focused approach and comprehensive support for each student’s unique needs. Our holistic services include: LinkedIn, business, and job interview coaching; soft skills seminars; study groups/tutoring; access to ethical micro-loans from Pythea’s Path.

Courses are provided free of charge at BIOS Romantso Incubator in Athens and range in length from 2 weeks to 6.5 months. We provide students with laptops for the duration of the course so that they them to study and complete assignments. The lessons are taught by volunteer professional developers, not teachers, so that they can better acclimate the students to the “real world”. Courses start every 2-3 months and we expect to start 5 cycles next year. The duration of the courses is five and a half months and another one month for the final project.

The first course has begun in September 2017, with students from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was our pilot and we expected to make many mistakes and face major challenges. This effort was greatly helped by our partners in the Netherlands, Hack Your Future, as well as a network of similar schools in Great Britain and Denmark.

Do other initiatives, similar to yours, take place abroad?

Similar initiatives to SHA are also running abroad due to worldwide lack in tech education and efforts in the integration of social vulnerable groups. Thus, we are part of a six-countries network of schools who share knowledge, curriculums and teaching methodology, with one goal: to educate, develop and enable people to find placement in the job market and provide value for themselves and their host nations.

Read more via Greek News Agenda: Teaching refugees in Greece how to codeJune 2018 Newsletter on the refugee-migrant situation in GreeceRethinking Greece: Lina Venturas on Greek migration, population movements and integration policies for refugeesHealth care and children’s education are Greece's priorities for refugeesOnline language classes for asylum seekers on Lesvos

*Interview by: Maria Oksouzoglou

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YiannoudesSozos Yiannoudes (Cyprus, 1946) is a graduate of the School of Fine Arts. From 1972-2004 he taught fresco painting and portable icons technique in the Athens School of fine Art. In 2004 the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew honored him with the title of Grand Master for the 10 years of missionary service in Korea. He has worked in Greece, Cyprus, Korea and England. In his interview with Greek News Agenda* he talks about his experience as an iconography teacher in Korea. The initiative of these workshops was taken by His Eminence the Most Reverend Metropolitan Ambrose (Zographos) of Korea who,in addition to his service, is also full professor at the newly established Department of Greek Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea.

How did you decide to come to teach iconography in Korea?

It was in 1994 when former Metropolitan of Korea, and current Metropolitan of Pisidia (Turkey), Mr. Sotirios Trambas, invited me to paint the Metropolis of St. Nicholas in Seoul. I always wanted to go on a mission trip and so I accepted his invitation. Since then I have painted around ten churches in all of South Korea.For the implementation of this difficult project, I worked with a team of students from the Athens and Thessaloniki Schools of Fine Arts, various other collaborators and my children. We all worked on a volunteer basis.His Eminence the Metropolitan, strangled to find sponsors both in Greece and abroad to cover our travel and subsistence expenses. In exchange, we decorated the churches that the Metropolitan had so painstakingly built during the previous years. When the economic crisis hit Greece, sponsorships came to an abrupt halt. As a result, iconography in Korean churches stopped for a long period. Two years ago, I received a request from both the former and the new Metropolitan of Korea, Mr. Ambrose Zographos, to organize a one-month byzantine iconography workshop in Korea. We are now on our third year and the interest is great.

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Alternate Minister for Foreign Affairs George Katrougalos together with His Eminence the Metropolitan Ambrose on the steps of St. Nicholas church in Seoul

What is your impression of the Korean Orthodox community?

My experience from the Orthodox Community in South Korea has profoundly marked my life. The community has currently 6500 to 7000 adherents, many of whom used to be atheist, areligious, Buddhist, Protestants or belonged to other religions. Their love for our Orthodox Church has impressed me very much. There are worshipers who travel up to four hours just to come to the Sunday mass. They sing with devotion, they know the service, the psalms and the order of the canons. The majority has received formal music education and they contribute to the service in an effortless manner. Sometimes I feel awkwardly when I realise that they know so much more than I do. They love their community that revolves around the church, which they consider their refuge. The decisions are always taken collectively. They discuss things and together they reach a decision. When I first went to work there, they told me what kind of religious paintings they wanted me to paint. I had to follow the byzantine style of course, but, at the same time, take into account their tradition, their customs and their experiences. For instance, they feel fear when the eyes of the Saints look at them straight in the eye or when the scences are too densely painted. They also do not like colours when they are too bright. I respected all that. I also give my own intepretations. One would be that in the entrance of the Buddhist temples, there are the so called "protectors of the temple", four figures on the right and left of the entrance with fierce looking faces and protruded eyes. Also, the Buddhist temples are very densely painted with very bright colours. It is possible that the Orthodox Community does not want its churches to look like Buddhist temples.

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The Byzantine iconography workshop in St. Nicholas church in Seoul

What is the profile of your Korean students? What do they seem to appreciate the most in byzantine art?

The people who take part in the workshop belong to different religions and are eager to learn more about the interpretation and the symbolism of each icon. Many are Fine Arts graduates so they already know how to draw and how to use color and composition. Thus, they are able to quickly determine the subject-matter. Nevertheless, through the workshops they try to approach the symbolism, the style and the expression of the Byzantine icon and to appreciate its transcedental and rich content. My students are mostly Koreans. They are diligent, organised, meticulous, kind and they appoach what they do with great respect and love. Their love for the environment and nature is also remarkable. At this point, I would like to take the opportunity and talk about something that impressed me a lot. After the war, both South and North Korea were completely burned by Napalm bombs. Once a year, everything used to be closed by law so that the citizens could go and plant trees. This law was abolished almost twenty years ago but by now the country has been fully replanted from one end to the other. I wish our beautiful country would follow the example of Korea. I try to do so by planting trees inside and outside my house even though I have received not only positive but also negative comments about it.

What deeply impacts my students as they immerse themselves in the expressive richness of the icon, is the diversity and the explanation behind each brushstroke that is charged with symbolism. Once they understand the icon, my students get to love it so much that I feel they take something away from my own immense love for it. In order to appreciate the byzantine icon, they need to understand its philosophic interpretation: the illustration of any natural or perishable element is to be avoided; the illustration of a sainctified, transcedental face is very different from a common portrait or photograph; the rule of the two dimensional illustration with the abolition of dephth and perspective; the beauty of the illustrated face which is understood once we analyse the proportions and the inclination of the face (always in three-quarter view). Finally, the rich colour palette that is used for the dresses as well as the way a woolen dress is differenciated from a silk one are some of the various elements that highlight the unique artistic expression of the byzantine icon and raise many questions with my students.

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The byzantine iconography workshop. On the left, Ms Tatiana So talented iconographer who created the mosaic which decorates the entrance of St. Nicholas church

Have the workshops inspired your students to learn more about Greece and the Greek culture? 

Koreans know a lot about Greek civilisation and culture and want to come to Greece to see for themselves all the things they have read about or learned during the workshop. For instance, they are familiar with Manuel Panselinos, Theophanes the Cretan and Theophanes the Greek, the teacher of Andrei Rublev. They also express great love for the ancient civilization and a great interest for its continuation, the Byzantium. Many ask me to be their guide when they visit Greece. They are good-souled people, eager to enrich their knowledge of the Greek civilisation and tranfer it to their own country.

I would like to digress a moment to note that in the basement of the Metropolitical Church of Seoul there are a lot of plaster casts of ancient works of art (donated by Melina Mercouri when she was Culture Minister). They include works of Cycladic, Minoan, Archaic, Classic, Hellenistic, Roman and, of course, Byzantine art that is taught up to date. A result of that teaching is the decoration of the Metropolitan Church of St. Nicholas that was completed in three phases of 20 days each.

Are there similarities between byzantine iconography and Korean traditional painting?

There are indeed some similarities between the Byzantine and the very old Korean and Chineese art. An exemple would be the halo that we find in both Buddha and Jesus. Of course the halo is something that exists since the Hellenistic times, and it is to be found around the heads of Dionysus and Apollo (see the mosaic of the birth of Dionysus, in Paphos, Cyprus) and other Greek Gods. Other similarities would be the fine, clear line, the pastel coulours, the flat surfaces in the dresses and faces. Also, the casual placement of the figures on the surface, like a child who places all figures in the foreground. On the other hand, there are huge differences that have to do with the symbolism and the dogmatic interpretation of the two arts.

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A Korean Buddhist and a Byzantantine mural

*Interviewed by Lina Syriopoulou

 

KDFtitleKalamata International Dance Festival, the most important contemporary dance event in Greece, returns for its 24th edition in the city of Kalamata, in the picturesque region of Messinia. For ten days, on July 13-22, 2018, acclaimed Greek and international dancers will present their work to art lovers from around the world. The programme includes indoor and outdoor performances as well as workshops.

This year’s edition features performances by Greek and foreign internationally recognised dancers and choreographers, in performances that range from contemporary circus to street dance. For the first time, outdoor performances free of charge will also be taking place daily in the city’s central square. The programme also features workshops by dance masters (including one for children and one for people with disabilities), a photography exhibition and a Latin/jazz evening.

The Festival is an initiative of the International Dance Centre of Kalamata, established in 1995 as part of the Municipal Society for the Cultural Development of Kalamata. Its aim is to support and promote the art of dance and the organisation of the Festival has become one of its central purposes, helping it place the city on Europe's cultural map. The Festival’s artistic direction was assumed in 2017 by Linda Kapetanea, who was the one to introduce the outdoor dance performances.

KDFcollageLinda Kapetanea (photo: Mike Rafail)

Linda Kapetanea is a dancer and choreographer, with studies in Athens and New York. She performed with several dance companies in Greece and abroad, including the Flemish company Ultima Vez for three years. In 2006 she and Jozef Frucek formed the dance company RootlessRoot as a vehicle for their own productions, research and teaching. Together they have developed Fighting Monkey, a practice with applications in various fields such as dance/movement therapy, sports and art. We interviewed* Linda Kapetanea on her aspirations for this year’s edition of the Festival.

What did you have in mind when you put yourself forward as a candidate for the position of artistic director? Do you feel that the programme of the Festival’s 24th edition fulfills your vision?

I wanted to show the audience and young dancers my perception of contemporary dance. I have witnessed its power, and I wanted to share with others what I have seen and been touched by.

KDFCarluccio(Photo: Didier Carluccio)

I have the feeling that this year's Festival will leave a strong imprint on the city and on Greek cultural life. My vision stems from the ways young people learn how to move, dance and perceive life through the art of dance, as well as the ways in which the audience reflects on dance. I would like for the Festival -and not just this year’s edition- to function as a school for everyone, for both audience and dancers.

The Kalamata Dance Festival is an internationally acclaimed institution. How did you manage to successfully organise an event of this calibre, while also a practicing dancer and choreographer with the Rootless Root dance company?

The overall success of the event will be evaluated in the end. Thus far, we can talk of specific accomplishments. As far as my other endeavours are concerned, I think one can see that I engage in activities that stimulate and invigorate. This is the way I live. For now, I have sufficient stamina and, of course, excellent colleagues, wonderful friends and immense support from my family.

KDFEngelsman1(Photo: Saris & den Engelsman)

Is this experience as fulfilling as your more physical ventures as a dancer / choreographer? Did it open up new artistic perspectives?

There are many instances of stress and anxiety, a lot of work to be done and a great deal of communication with people who understand things very differently to the way that I do. All this has been a great source of knowledge.

A new initiative of yours has been the public outdoor performances: every afternoon, in the central square of Kalamata, a dancer or a group of dancers taking part in the Festival will be offering a free performance. How did you come up with this idea? Do you think that we lack initiatives of this type, bringing the general public in contact with contemporary dance?

I wanted to do something for those who consider dance boring and would not be willing to buy a ticket, as well as for those who would love to watch dance performances every day but could not afford to so. The central square of Kalamata is ideal for opening the city to the art of dance. I had experienced this practice as a dancer many times in various European cities and I really loved it.

KDFMartinez(Photo: Mario Arturo Martinez)

Do you already have some thoughts regarding the Festival’s future editions? Will it still be priority for you to attract young people?

I am drawing a plan as regards the style and character I would like next year’s edition to have. Yes, young people and children are among my priorities because I am concerned about the way in which the next generation of dancers and spectators will develop.

*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi

Read also via Greek News Agenda: Music Village Pelion: Mountain, sea and… music!; Kalamata International Dance Festival 2017; The art of dance at Michael Cacoyannis Foundation

 

Vassilis Lambropoulos has been C. P. Cavafy Professor of Modern Greek and Director of the Modern Greek Program at the University of Michigan since 1999, teaching in the Departments of Classical Studies and Comparative Literature.  Before that, he was Professor of Modern Greek at the Ohio State University for eighteen years.  Among his former graduate students are two generations of today’s faculty promoting Modern Greek across the United States and beyond, including Giorgos Anagnostou (Ohio State University), Eric Ball (State University of New York), Vangelis Calotychos (Brown), Etienne Charriere (Ankara University), Maria Hadjipolykarpou (Columbia), Asli Igsiz (New York University), Konstantia Kapetangianni (North Texas), Neovi Karakatsanis (Indiana), Gerasimus Katsan (City University of New York), Martha Klironomos (San Francisco State), Eva Konstantellou (Lesley) and Yona Stamatis (Illinois).

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A native of Athens, Lambropoulos received his B.A. from the University of Athens and his Ph.D. from the University of Thessaloniki. He has been teaching courses in Modern Greek language, literature, criticism, and culture, as well as literary theory and comparative literature. His main research interests are modern Greek culture; classical reception and the classic; civic ethics and democratic politics; tragedy and the tragic; word/poetry and music.  His books are Literature as National Institution (1988), The Rise of Eurocentrism (1993), and The Tragic Idea (1996).  He has co edited the volumes The Text and Its Margins (1985) and Twentieth-Century Literary Theory (1987) and two special issues of academic journals on "The Humanities as Social Technology" (1990) and "Ethical Politics” (1996). He has also published papers, articles, reviews, and translations in journals, periodicals, and newspapers. He is currently writing a book on the idea of revolution as hubris in modern tragedy.  He blogs regularly on music, literature, friends, and resistance at https://poetrypiano.wordpress.com

Vassilis Lambropoulos spoke to Reading Greece* about his main areas of research during his thirty-six year academic career as a Professor of Modern Greek, as well as about his most recent work in progress, “a study of some thirty modern tragedies from several countries spanning the eighteenth to the twenty-first century, which dramatize revolution as an emancipatory yet ultimately self-destructive project”.

He notes that “literature does not exist as such, it happens in collaborative spaces and across historical times”, and comments on the term “left melancholy”, which he uses to characterize the Greek poets of the 2000s. He explains that “poetry seems to capture the general crisis exceptionally well because it has itself gone very creatively through an immanent crisis”, and adds that “the new Greek poetry is distinguished not only by its broad, multi-lingual cultural learning but also by the superior university training and theoretical sophistication of its writers”. He concludes that “modern Greek literary studies remains an introverted and solipsistic field which keeps sole possession of its subject and is not interested in conversing with other scholars and critics, let alone sharing it with them. Without an extroverted, comparative, and up to date literary study to support them, new translations will join earlier ones in quick, permanent obscurity”.

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For thirty-six years now, you have been a Professor of Modern Greek in the US. What were your main areas of research during your academic career?

I have been a Professor of Modern Greek in the U.S. for thirty-six years, the first eighteen at the Ohio State University and the rest at the University Michigan as the first C. P. Cavafy Professor. I have been teaching and writing in four major areas. a) The literary canon and its margins: I explore forces which control what is promoted, reviewed, admired, taught as important literature, and what is deemed inferior. b) Western Hellenism: Since, as a Greek, I am a figment of the European imagination, I am fascinated by what scholarship, thought, and culture define as superior or false Greek. c) Autonomist politics: I am interested in questions of radical governmentality, such as self-institution and the tragic antinomies of constituted society, that is, how we can be free and at the same time rule ourselves. d) Modern Western music: I study why, more than any other art, music has been the domain where major cultural matters have been tried out and negotiated. Since 2014, I have been combining these four research interests in a blog on poetry, politics, friendship, and music: https://poetrypiano.wordpress.com

What could you tell us about your latest work in progress Revolution as Hubris in Modern Tragedy?

This is a study of some thirty modern tragedies from several countries spanning the eighteenth to the twenty-first century, which dramatize revolution as an emancipatory yet ultimately self-destructive project. I argue that modern tragedy has as one of its central topics the ethical and political dilemmas of rebellion, namely, periods of revolutionary founding when a new polity is caught between limitless self-authorization and self-limiting rule. Tragedy stages the drama of the Greek arche in its double meaning of beginning and rule, and asks whether self-rule may control itself. It explores the inherent contradiction of auto-nomia captured in its very etymology: Can freedom and rule co-exist? In order to experiment with both format and ideas, for the time being I am working on this project not as a book but as a blog-in-progress, which will be published in August: https://tragedy-of-revolution.complit.lsa.umich.edu/

Υοu seem to approach the world of literature with an interest to restore the socio-political dimension of its interpretation. Is this a unifying thread of your work?

You put it very well. In addition to the text, literature has many other integral components and dimensions, such as its production, circulation, reception, consumption, and appropriation. Literature excompasses all of them, and we need to study them whether we are discussing the multilingual manuscripts of Solomos, the private editions of Cavafy, the illustrated books of Dimitris Kalokyris, the installations of Phoebe Giannisi, the collaborations of Katerina Eliopoulou, or the performances of Patricia Kolaiti. Literature does not exist as such, it happens in collaborative spaces and across historical times.

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You have commented that “the Greek poets of the 2000s, the Generation of the Left Melancholy, have a strong civic awareness and are very interested in the public presentation of their work. To them, poetry making does not end with writing verses but extends to the domain of their circulation broadly understood”. Could you elaborate on the “left melancholy” term and its various connotations?

The melancholic individual cannot overcome the loss of his favorite person/ideal/object by mourning it, therefore keeps longing for it and reliving it. He internalizes the lost object as a way of refusing to let the loss go. The bankruptcy of the revolution, along with the exhaustion of post-colonial emancipation, have inspired in Greek poets a combination of resignation and resilience which I have been calling "left melancholy." With their sophisticated skills of composition and performance, the poets of 2000 practice left melancholy as a technique of reflective engagement. Involved as they are in their collaborative and collective poetry/music making, these poets, most of them born around 1980, do not need the consolation of affective attachments which people born twenty or more years before them seek in order to sustain their cruel optimism for the Greek left government.

They never anticipated a left rule as a survival mechanism in their “damaged” world in the first place. Long before the “crisis” exploded, they saw it coming and reflected on it. Living under the devastating economic deprivation that followed so rapidly the 2004 Athens Olympics, the new poets have learned to look at the ancient ruins through the ruins of the neoliberal order. They do not envision liberation or advocate rebellion. They anticipate that the next revolt will explode suddenly, dissipate fast, yet also leave its mark. In the meantime, they are working together with their fellow countrypersons towards bottom-up communities of solidarity, towards a common of sharing, founding, building, even diasporic living. The exemplary collaborative and public work on left melancholy of the Greek Poetry of 2000 shows that the ethics of this political disposition may be driven by refusal, not resignation; defiance, not defeat; rage, not retreat.

Of all the Greek arts, poetry has been identified as the most representative of the current national crisis. Yet, you argue that to speak of “poetry of the crisis” can be misleading given that a crisis of poetry preceded the “poetry of the crisis”. How did Greek poetry manage to move from its artistic crisis of the 1990s to its ‘secessionist autonomism’ of the 2000s and beyond?

The literary generation of the 1990s sank without trace, as poetry underwent a fundamental crisis of civic confidence: for the first time in its modern history, it lost its faith both in its social mission and in emancipation. This was due to the collapse of the left utopia together with the Berlin Wall and to the pervasive narrativization of public discourse, which turned all storytelling into testimony. Following the exhaustion of political utopia and the rise of the traumatized self, Greek poetry felt ideologically and culturally marginalized.

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In response to the decline of literary and political grand narratives, a new collective project emerged early in this century: the poetry of left melancholy of 2000. Poets de-territorialized the main milieu of literature by designing provisional zones in its peripheries. For example, they began operating in terrains like the bar, the gallery, and the bookstore. In the realm of mood, they introduced critical attitudes of autonomous disengagement, such as left melancholy, which arrived officially with the 1st Athens Biennale, “Destroy Athens” (2007). When poets realized that certain artists preferred to mourn over the classical ruins, they seceded from the mainstream milieu by establishing their autonomous terrain within the Biennale where they collaborated with other artists to create “nomadic art.” In general, because the crisis of left culture preceded that of left politics, poets were able to anticipate not only the “coming insurrection” of Athens in December 2008 but also the ensuing crisis and the self-implosion of the left in 2015.Today poetry seems to capture the general crisis exceptionally well because it has itself gone very creatively through an immanent crisis.

Modern Greek poets have quite different attitudes toward the Greek visual arts and to music. How is this overwhelmingly visual conception of the world that Greek poets have to be explained?

Greeks tend to be more ofthalmocentric that otocentric, that is, they prefer to see than to hear. They enjoy landscapes, not soundscapes. Listening enthuses them but it also confuses and disorients them. Through sight, they feel united with nature, where all is visible, identifiable, and self-contained; nothing moves, nothing happens. In nature, physics constitutes metaphysics, view grants vision. Greek poets, in particular, used to have an overwhelmingly visual conception of the world. Even when experimenting, they pursued a visualist expression, which might be realistic, symbolic, surreal or other but ultimately was based on a Cratylist understanding of language where word, image, and world become one.

Writers did not discuss music with composers because Greek poetry is iconolatric and pursues a total presence, whereas music cannot provide this comfort since it is never fully present and is always in need of actualization. Composers do not work with images, illustrate words, or imitate reality. As a result, their sonatas, symphonies, and quartets were alien to writers, for whom there were only two kinds of music: pieces drawing directly on demotic/popular dances or mimetic settings of poetry – ideally, a combination of the two. This phenomenon has been changing dramatically with the new poetry, because many of its writers are excellent musicians too and many others have impressive musical sophistication. It is exhilarating to see, for the first time in the history of modern Greek literature, poets and composers conversing and collaborating for reasons other than just illustrating verses with music.

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Recently there has been an international interest in Greek poetry, as the growing number of translations, poetry anthologies, special sections or individual selections show. Yet, you argue, that this broad dissemination, is treated unsurprisingly in Greece (only!) with (at best) silence or (at worst) scorn. How would you comment on that?

The new Greek poetry is distinguished not only by its broad, multi-lingual cultural learning but also by the superior university training and theoretical sophistication of its writers. Unlike their predecessors, its members do not work on personal confession and national commemoration. Instead, they explore philosophical issues from aesthetic, ethical, political, legal, medical, economic, and other angles. To put it metaphorically, they have been schooled in post-colonialism, post-Marxism, accelerationism, genealogy, deconstruction, queer studies, and similar approaches –– and this theoretical awareness has created a big gap: Greek critics do not know these schools, and Greek scholars detest them, and as a result neither group can handle the new poetry, which is steeped in them. The extraordinary result is that, in response to the silence greeting them, poets have taken their critical reception in their own hands, and review each other's work regularly and ingenuously, thus extending their creative range. In fact, this is how theoretical reflection has finally made it into Greek literary thought, from performance studies to digital humanities and from translation theory to autonomist politics.

You have argued that Greek writers who live in Greece play no role in the so-called “world republic of letters”, noting that no Greek author or trend is included in textbooks andsurveys of, say, Romanticism or the Avant-Garde, feminism or post colonialism, the ballad or the short story. Yet a promising development is that in recent years Greek poets and novelists have been circulating all over the world. Is there a way for the challenges of integrating Greek literature in the international field to be met? What is the role of Modern Greek Studies in this respect?

Greek writers have not been citizens of the "world republic of letters" because their work is absent from its conversations and references. Translation in itself, indispensable as it is, means very little unless a work subsequently circulates in reviews, essays, studies, and textbooks. Many Greek writers have been translated to some reasonable extent yet they have not attracted any systematic interest from the opinion-making elite, and therefore have not entered any literary histories, surveys, or anthologies, and have gone quickly out of print. The reason is simple: modern Greek literary studies remains an introverted and solipsistic field which keeps sole possession of its subject and is not interested in conversing with other scholars and critics, let alone sharing it with them.

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Without an extroverted, comparative, and up to date literary study to support them, new translations will join earlier ones in quick, permanent obscurity. Cavafy is the single exception precisely because critics and scholars (as well as artists and other creators) have been engaging actively with his work, building a large body of thought, research, and art with it. Like him, alien writers are admitted to the "republic of letters" when some of its most distinguished citizens make their translated works part of their everyday conversation and required learning.

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

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Remember MacGyver, the 80’s action series about an inventive guy who could make explosives with chewing gum? What would MacGyver do in the YouTube era? Film maker Dimitris Tsilifonis offers an answer to this critical issue in his film titled “Do it yourself”. “DIY” is an escape film about a small-time crook, Alkis, who agrees to star in a video that will be used to restore the public image of a corrupt businessman. When Alkis realizes that his accomplices are going to kill him, he only has a few hours to organize his DIY escape from the porn studio in which he is imprisoned, using his wit, digital skills and a toothbrush.

Dimitris Tsilifonis probably doesn’t know MacGyver. He was born in Athens, Greece in 1991. He is an American Film Institute fellow, holds a BA in Communication, and has worked extensively in the film industry. “Do it yourself” is his directorial debut feature. It received the Special Youth Jury Award at the 58th Thessaloniki IFF.

Tsilifonis talked to Greek News Agenda* about “Do it yourself” underlying his intention to mock the unrealistic expectations that pop-culture films build up expectation in the viewer. As “DIY” is an intertextual film full of references to other films and viral videos, Tsilifonis stresses that he makes no effort to hide his cinematic influences as a film director. The same goes for the characters in his film, who feel very wary of the situations they are in, comparing them to their favourite crime dramas. Tsilifonis concludes that through its mocking of cinematic conventions, “DIY” is exploring what is real in the “fake news “ era and tries in its own way to urge the audience to “Search for yourself”.

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Konstantinos Aspiotis, "Do it yourself" (2017)

What made you decide to do a Greek action film?

Well, I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as an action film, although there are action scenes in it –but I get your point. I wanted “DIY” to be a mainstream, yet entertaining cinematic experience. The whole film in a way mocks the unrealistic expectations that pop-culture films build up in viewers. I thought the tragic consequences of pretending to be “James-Bondish”-awesome, would be interesting grounds to explore. I mean, our biggest inspiration with our fight choreographer, Chris Radanov, were Jackie Chan and the Bridget Jones fight scenes. At every opportunity, we tried to infuse comedy into them. “The dudes, who don’t know how to fight, but are trying their best”, that was our motto. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iapVomK4eFA)

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Christos Loulis, Mirto Alikaki, "Do it yourself" (2017)

What are your cinematic influences and how did you incorporate them in your film, which as you have said, is a very personal project?

I was born in the ‘90s, so it’s obvious that pretty much all big innovations of the early 21st century had a very big impact on me. People are very skeptical of technology, and usually very negative towards the future. I wanted to make a movie that would highlight the potential that the Internet and its anonymity offer us, but also illustrate its flaws and dangers, if we are not careful about filtering content. As for my cinematic influences, I really tried not to hide them. “Breaking Bad” is by far the most obvious one, as well as Scorcese’s and Jason Reitman’s directing styles. I could literally write a book about all the scenes I stole from different movies I love. Some of my “incorporations” were very abstract and more thematic, whereas some others were taken verbatim from other films. A case in point is this masterful scene from The Sopranos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtR_1Ve-jKg panou

Themis Panou, Konstantinos Aspiotis, "Do it yourself" (2017)

How did you overcome budget limitations?

By planning. A LOT. Me and my Director of Photography, Angelos Papadopoulos, knew very well that time and money weren’t on our side, so creating detailed shot-lists as well as visual photoboards was the only way to achieve the shots and performances we hoped for.

Our preproduction lasted a bit more than 3 months, and it focused on specifying exactly what we would do each quarter of our 20 shooting days. I think at the end, 70% of our shot-list ended up making into the film, exactly as it was photographed. Finally, the script was written intentionally in a way that afforded us to save money on the majority of the movie, but allowed us to “splurge” on the bigger heavy-action set pieces.

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Makis Papadimitriou, Argiris Xafis, "Do it yourself" (2017)

The vast majority of the personae in “Do it yourself” love videogames, technology and refer to films or viral videos. Are these mostly characteristics of the millennials? What do you think is the influence of digital technologies in everyday life?

I feel it depends on how a person chooses to lead their life. For me, a big immersion breaker is when characters inside movies pretend they’ve never watched a movie before. Zombie/ Alien invasion films are usually the biggest perpetrators of this. So, I wanted my characters at least, to feel very wary of the situations they were in. They had sort of seen these circumstances play before in their favorite crime dramas. As for the influence of digital technologies in everyday life, I am not sure. I only have anecdotal evidence, but I feel there is a healthy majority of millennials, who aren’t necessarily involved with videogames and/or films. More and more people become tech savvy, millennials and older generations alike. I have to admit that it was a very pleasant surprise, when a lot of people in their 40s or even 50s approached me and told me how they spotted some of the most obscure references I had placed inside the film. So, yeah, I don’t think I have a good answer here.

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According to Collins dictionary, “fake news” was the word of the year 2017. “Do it yourself” is at heart a film about fake news. Would you like to comment?

Yeah! It’s funny cause I wrote the first draft in 2014, and even then, I felt it was a prevalent topic. We’ve yet to find a good way to combat fake news, and it doesn’t look like we’re near a solution. Critical thinking is the foremost important element we all need in our lives. In its own way that is what “DIY” is trying to urge the audience to do. Search. “Search for Yourself”. “Investigate for Yourself”. “Do It Yourself”.

What are your future plans?

Right now, I am developing a near-future science fiction VR film and working on my next screenplay. It’s hard to say, what’s going to come first, but I promise it will be worth the wait!

 

* Interview with Florentia Kiortsi

Read also: “Filming Greece”: our series of interviews on Greek Cinema.