CULTURE

Harsh reality: Greeks prefer foreign films

The figures are, no doubt, very disappointing: Since October 2002, 24 Greek films screened at local cinemas (20 features and four documentaries) have, so far, garnered 200,000 ticket sales. «The answer lies with the movies themselves,» says director Katerina Evangelakou. «If the film was British, perhaps more people would have turned up,» comments Giorgos Tziotzios, head of a new distribution and production company. «Greeks are drawn to sure and established things, they despise anything Greek and are still impressed by foreign film,» adds another film director, who did not wish to be identified. This cinematic year was defined by newcomers: a new generation of 40-year-olds (mainly women) who gave a new impetus to local cinema through solid films, full of maturity, imagination, humor and sensibility, primarily focusing on the complications in relationships. Yet the public’s overall rejection has become some kind of reflex on the audience’s part. Over the last few decades, local cinema has come to be considered a «patient» in need of special medication, while public opinion goes through sensational ups and downs. Three years ago, Greek cinema’s renewal was heralded by the blockbuster success of «Safe Sex» – the film was pivotal to the 2.3 million ticket sales registered that year. In the 2000-2001 period, the number of ticket sales went down to 1.4 million, followed by 800,000 in 2001-2002. What’s the conclusion to be drawn? A great percentage of local moviegoers never attend Greek films – 40 percent, according to a survey conducted on behalf of the Greek Film Center in 2001. In conjunction with the annual European Union survey showing Greece as one of the least cinema-friendly countries (with average cinema attendance of 1.3 times in 2001) then the ratio for Greek movies appears very small to nearly non-existent. Should we perhaps come to terms with the figures and stop complaining? «No, the portion of those watching Greek films is much bigger,» says Katerina Evangelakou, director of «Think It Over,» a romantic comedy praised by local press and critics. So far, the film has registered 20,000 ticket sales. «My film has nothing powerful to cause someone to get up from his chair and draw him to the cinema. I think that box-office success is a combination of infrastructure (promotion, advertising and media publicity) and the film, as an event. Sokurov’s ‘Russian Ark,’ for instance, was built on something original and powerful, ultimately creating its myth – the single continuous shot. That is why it was advertised as the greatest single camera shot in the history of cinema. I believe that we Greek directors have to stop acting like children and take into account two very important factors: The audience is small and there is no proper support mechanism for each film. From this year’s crop, I believe that only Yiannis Economidis’s ‘Matchbox’ had appropriate distribution.» One of the year’s surprises, «Matchbox» is a black-and-white film shot in a flat in Korydallos portraying the decomposition of the Greek family. «I don’t regret picking the film, it was worth it, but I feel that an opportunity was lost. Perhaps it would have had better luck in English! There is a prejudice when it comes to Greek movies,» notes Giorgos Tziotzios, a seasoned film distributor who now runs Playtime. «I hate to say this, but the issue of Greek film is an ideological one. This year, for instance, there were three interesting productions – each one for different reasons: ‘Think It Over,’ ‘Hard Goodbyes: My Father’ and ‘Matchbox.’ Yet they failed to make an impact on the public. Meanwhile, cinemas showing quality European films are increasing, while their audience remains limited. We have the movie theaters, but not the moviegoers. More specifically, I think that Greek cinema needs a few, small cinemas, and a longer life span.» Penny Panayiotopoulou was introduced to the Greek public after receiving recognition abroad. Following an award at the Locarno Film Festival (Best Actor for young Giorgos Karayiannis), and coupled with critical acclaim, the film sold 35,000 tickets in Greece. «A charming and affecting study of family grief,» according to the Guardian, the film’s career continues abroad with distribution in Britain, Belgium, Germany, Canada and Japan, among other countries. «I don’t agree with generalizations. We talk about Greek film as if it were a genre, in the manner of a thriller or a suspense story. Greek cinema cannot be categorized,» says Panayiotopoulou, who believes that there is a general lack of support, with distributors constantly in doubt: «They worry: ‘Will it make its money back? Why should I invest even more?’» she says. «Business is one thing and cinema is another,» she adds. «Business is nurtured through cinema.» Panayiotopoulou suggests lower ticket prices for Greek films, in order for them to compete with the big productions. «Is it more profitable for a film to stay in a box?» she says, adding, «Donna Karan goes on sale, so why shouldn’t ‘Think It Over’ do so as well?» The figures Nine of the 24 Greek films screened at cinemas around country from October 2002 to April 2003 had ticket sales ranging from 2,500 to 40,000 tickets. (Films with fewer ticket sales are not listed below) Figures were reported by film distributors: «Liza and All the Others» directed by Nikos Perrakis (40,000) «Hard Goodbyes: My Father» directed by Penny Panayiotopolou (35,000) «I’m Tired of Killing Your Lovers» directed by Nikos Panayiotopoulos (35,000) «Think It Over» directed by Katerina Evangelakou (20,000) «Loser Takes All» directed by Nikos Nikolaidis (18,500) «Garden Acrobats» directed by Christos Dimas (6,600) «Lilly’s Story» directed by Roviros Manthoulis (5,000) «The King» directed by Nikos Grammatikos (2,500) «Matchbox» directed by Yiannis Economidis (2,500)