George Frentzos has been working in cinema since 1982. He has worked as Director of Photography in short and feature films and over 3000 commercials. He was CEO of Cinemax production company from 1989 to 1996. His selected filmography includes “I dream of my friends” (1993), “The Bachelor” (1998) by Nikos Panagiotopoulos, “It’s a long road” (2010) by Pantelis Voulgaris and “J.A.C.E.” by Menelaos Karamagiolis. He is Deputy-Chairman of the Hellenic Film Academy and a founding member of Greek Society of Cinematographers and member of European Film Academy.
Interviewed by Greek News Agenda* on the occasion of the tenth anniversary since the founding of the Hellenic Film Academy and the Iris awards ceremony on April 23, Frentzos talks about the activities and initiatives of the Academy, Greek cinematographers and what a cinematographer is or is not.
Lefteris Voyatzis in “I dream of my friends” (1993), dir. Nikos Panagiotopoulos
What were the reasons for founding the Hellenic Film Academy?
The Hellenic Film Academy was founded in November 2009 and is celebrating its tenth anniversary. The main reason was the need to unite film professionals under the same roof, in order to address the numerous issues that concern them. It’s important to note here that the Academy members – all 380 of them – are active in the film industry, which means that they face the same problems and share the same concerns regarding the trade. It all started with the movement called “Filmmakers in the Fog”. The main reason for the creation of this movement was the reaction against the State film awards in Thessaloniki. The HFA’s primary focus is to hold the Annual National Film Awards, also known as Iris Awards. The Hellenic film Academy created its articles of association having examined the statutes of other European Film Academies.
What are the criteria for the film awards?
First and foremost, only the Academy members vote, that is: film directors, actors, producers, directors of photography, makeup artists, production designers, cinema owners and film critics. So, experienced film professionals decide on each year’s best film, best cinematography, script etc. So, I think it’s quite a fair process, ascribing the status that the awards should have.
On the set of “Block 12” (2012), dir. Kiriakos Tofarides
What about the other events the Academy organises?
The most important Academy event is the Iris Awards ceremony. Besides the awards, the Academy aims to inform its members on issues related to Cinema as well as to contribute to the education of film students and film buffs, it’s important to promote cinema-going. It’s something we’ve lost to television and due to the decrease of cinema halls in many Greek cities. In this context, the Film Factory is an important Academy educational activity that takes place at the end of each year, at different venues each time. Each year, the winners of the Iris Awards offer seminars and workshops, in their field of expertise. These seminars are open to the public for free and they attract both film students and film lovers who are interested in approaching cinema through a different perspective.
I have also worked on a program we run with the Ministry of Education, where film making is included in the courses taught in primary and high schools. Last year, we offered tutorials and instruction to about 350 teachers and high school professors on how to make their films. This is a very successful part of the Film Factory, because through teachers, we educate future cinema audiences and we encourage a love for Greek cinema. I would like to mention here that there was a teacher, who was so affected by this experience that he started studying film-making and I have helped him in his first short film, which currently is in the post-production stage.
“Fragma” (Dam), (2017), dir. Yorgos Teltzidis
I would also like to add that every year we have an honoured guest who is bestowed the Iris Honorary Award. We have invited Vanessa Redgrave and Alexander Desplat in the past, who had also offered a Masterclass, which was not in the film factory context, but followed the same rationale of informing the public on the art of cinema.
The Hellenic Film Academy in collaboration with the European Film Academy organises the “Young Audience Awards” where schoolchildren are invited to vote for the best films for young audiences. The HFA organises the screening of films for pupils, followed by an introduction to films and a Q & A. This event takes place in many European cities.
In collaboration also with the French Film Academy, the HFA organises “Le Nuits en Or” a short films Panorama. The short films that are awarded by Film Academies around the world each year are brought to Athens and their film directors come as well, and are screened during a three-day event. So we offer the audience the opportunity to find out about these films and their filmmakers for free. We also organise The Greek Cinema Party usually in October.
Let’s also mention that for three consecutive years (from 2015 to 2017), in collaboration with our sponsor Cosmote, (until last year), we organised the Film Factory Short Film Funds, a contest for short film scripts. Twelve finalists were chosen by the Academy members and they were offered mentoring on plot elaboration and production. The two best scripts were awarded 15,000 euro each for film production. Several short films came out of this procedure. Unfortunately, Cosmote is no longer our sponsor and this contest has stopped for a year, but I’m trying to find a way, in collaboration with the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) and the National Film Centre to find the means to run this contest again, because its outcome is two films per year.
“J.A.C.E.”, (2011) dir. Menelaos Karamaggiolis
The Academy celebrates its tenth anniversary. What has changed over these ten years?
To celebrate its tenth anniversary, the Academy organises a series of screenings through an event called “Ten Years. 10+1 Cities”. The screenings comprise films awarded by the Academy. This event enables a wider audience to watch Greek films that would probably not be distributed in small Greek cities.
The Academy has to think of its future and the ways to expand. The current statute provides that for a new member to enter the Academy, he/she must have made five feature films, which means they have usually reached a certain age before they enter the Academy. I believe that we should have more new members and more young directors. If a short film wins the Iris Award, the director automatically becomes an Academy member, according to the statute. If a film maker starts at forty years of age, when will he or she become an Academy member?
One of the most successful Academy initiatives was commissioning the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research with an in depth analysis of the domestic film market and its impact in Greece. It was a study that has been frequently quoted, especially now with the rightful action undertaken by National Center for Audiovisual Media & Communication (EKOME S.A.).
“Fragma” (Dam), (2017), dir. Yorgos Teltzidis
You have been in the Greek film industry since the 80’s. You also were one of the founders of Greek Society of Cinematographers. What is the landscape of Greek cinematography?
I entered cinema as a cinematographer in 1981. I worked in commercials with many Greek film directors. All Greek film makers make advertisements. I gradually went on to features with film director Nikos Panagiotopoulos, whom I also met while shooting commercials. I made my first feature with Panagiotopoulos and we also worked together in four other films of his. The Greek Society of Cinematographers was founded in the same context as the corresponding societies abroad. All Societies of Cinematographers belong to IMAGO (International Federation of Cinematographers) that started off as a European association, and ended up as an international one for all societies of cinematographers. We attend the annual meetings of IMAGO and that gives us the opportunity to discuss the problems of our profession.
The term Director of Photography (DoP) is vague or completely unknown to a wider public. In Greece, by the term photography, most people think it means taking pictures, stills. The term can also be understood as merely operating a camera. Some other people have asked me if I own a cinema. Cinematographer is the term that defines more precisely what the DoP does in Cinema. The DoP tries through his tools, i.e. the camera, lenses and lights to visualise the film director’s vision. Before the coming of the digital age, the possibilities of photochemical material were limited. There was a lot of work on set and a lot of mystery, because one could only see the result of the cinematographer’s work during the screening. Digitalisation revolutionised everyday experience and demystified the DoP’s work. Everybody can work today on a digital camera with a mobile phone. Obviously going digital has revolutionised our work and has given us unlimited possibilities, which are multiplied during post-production. But the cinematographer’s work doesn’t stop there. The cinematographer must visualise the film script, he or she must create emotions through the frames, control the changes of light when shooting a scene takes a whole day. The cinematographer manages a big part of the film crew and will be the closest co-worker of the film director from the beginning to the end of the film.
Thanassis Veggos in ‘’Ola einai dromos’’ (It’s a long road), (1997) dir. Pantelis Voulgaris
During the last years, a new set of financial and tax incentives have been set to attract investment in audiovisual production in Greece. Some say that there are no experienced film crews in Greece. What do you think about that?
For many years, cinema had a marginal place in Greece as far as investment is concerned. There was no concrete cinematic policy. EKOME is the most positive development in Greek cinema in the past few years for cinema production. It is very important to have foreign productions here in Greece, the same productions that some years ago went to other countries that already had tax rebate policies. Greece is a country that has a big morphological variety in a small geographical area, great locations, sunny weather most of the time, and also reliable and highly experienced crews. I say that, having worked with foreign crews around the world (from New Zealand to New Orleans, from Iceland to United Arab Emirates etc). The problem is that there are not many such crews.
Victoria Charalambidou in ‘’Nyfes’’ ( Brides), (2003), dir. Pantelis Voulgaris
What is the relationship between cinema and advertisement in Greece?
Advertisers always work with cinema crews. I don’t see any difference between shooting an advert, a short film or a feature-length film. We use the same means: there is always a script we have to follow, a film crew that has to work. In advertising there is always a client that wants you to promote the product in the optimum way and because there is a substantial of money paid, you have to be very meticulous with details. Most film directors make commercials and it is the field where we experiment on new techniques, new lights and cameras and I can say that it is a sector that I love.
“The Weight of Sea”, (2019), dir. Kostis Alevizos (pre production)
Have you been influenced by the work of your peers?
When you work in the film industry, obviously, it is a good idea to see as many films as possible. I cannot say that I have been directly influenced. I may adore the work of internationally acclaimed cinematographers, such as Sven Nykvist, but the same might happen with the work of a Chinese DoP. What is important for a DoP is to visualize the script in the right way. For me, success is when the audience comes out of a screening saying “what a great film!”. If someone says the film was nil, but the cinematography was great, for me the cinematographer has also failed in that case. I feel that what makes cinema such a difficult kind of art is that in a very defined (not by you) and limited point of time, a large group of people has to not only work together, but give its best as well.
Over the last two years as a cinematographer (and a producer), I have tried to help newcomers in film directing. This year, I have made six short films and there are more to come. I like to work with young directors, because I like helping them, but I also learn new things, which is very refreshing for me.
You have also worked on “Man Wanted” a stop motion animation by Irida Zhonga
Yes, I’m always trying to work on new and challenging experiences. Stop animation is very intriguing for me. It has many challenges regarding the light, the setting and the duration of filming. Cinematography is a profession that motivates and inspires you to try new things and experiment, and that is what I mostly love about it.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
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