When a landmark of the Greek cultural scene like the Ilion Cinema reopens in a part of the capital that most people had more or less given up on, there is good reason to feel optimistic that a turnaround could be on its way.
The relaunch of the Ilion on Trias Street near Amerikis Square is one more move, along with the opening of new cultural and art spaces, indicating that the neighborhoods along Patission Street are making a comeback after nearly a decade of decline.
The Ilion Cinema reopened its doors to the public on October 11 on the initiative of its new owner, Fotis Papageorgiou. Over a month later, he has not regretted the decision and speaks with enthusiasm about the response of the public to the relaunch.
“The time of hardship for Patission is over,” he told Kathimerini in a determined tone. “It is time that we give back what we took.”
Papageorgiou is especially warm when talking about the people who live around Amerikis Square and constitute the cinema’s most loyal patrons.
“These are people with dignity and at some point, the lights just went out for them,” Papageorgiou said of the neglect the neighborhood has suffered. “This can’t go on.”
The response to the relaunch of the Ilion of people in the neighborhood and cinema-goers from further afield has been better than expected, according to Papageorgiou.
“The people wanted the Ilion, wanted it to be open, and not just because they wanted to watch movies, but because they needed it to be a part of their cultural and social life.”
The Ilion is not just another cinema that stood among so many others in the Patission Street stretch, which was renowned for its cultural venues. It was smaller than the more commercial theaters in the area such as Radio City, Attica and Aello, but had a more eclectic screening program that struck a perfect balance between good-quality mainstream fare and art-house selections. The Ilion Cinema has an identity, but this was not enough to carry it through more than a decade of urban decline and neglect.
Despite the efforts of the movie theater’s previous management, the Ilion was forced to close down last year after a lengthy period of being unable to afford first releases.
For Papageorgiou, the role of cinema manager is a new one, even though he has significant experience in the broader movie industry from working as a distribution director at Spentzos and knows the quirks of the Greek market. The screening choices he has made since relaunching the Ilion appear to have met with the approval of its audience. Even the neon sign he decided to put back up in the entrance has been a success.
According to Papageorgiou, the focus of the screening program will continue to be on art-house films with a selection of quality big-budget films also thrown in for good measure. He is also planning to erect a small stage that will host live music and theater performances.
The biggest plus for Papageorgiou, however, is how far the neighborhood has come in the past year in terms of safety.
“It is nothing like it was last year and the year before that. You can walk around freely at night; there’s plenty of light in the street and no one to bother you.”