CULTURE

Silver screen lights back up at Petit Palais cinema in Pangrati

Is it possible that the announcement of a movie theater’s reopening can lift the morale of an entire neighborhood?

As things stand in many urban neighborhoods around Greece, the opening or closure of a cinema, theater or even a simple business now has a much bigger impact than before the crisis. And when passers-by on Vassileos Georgiou and Rigillis streets saw the jolly message on the marquee of the Petit Palais cinema, with which the enterprise’s new management announced its relaunch, they felt a deep sense of relief. The truth is that the shutting down of a movie theater is always a sad loss, and even though Pangrati is much more fortunate than other parts of the Greek capital, both on a social and economic level, the closure of the Petit Palais, even if only for a year, hurt.

What many Pangrati residents who fretted over the fate of the cinema did not know was that the business had many suitors, but it eventually went to George and Jimmy Stergiakis, two brothers best known as the managers of the Asty cinema in downtown Athens and the heads of the AMA Films distribution agency.

“The Petit Palais has fallen into good hands,” George Stergiakis assures Kathimerini while explaining the brothers’ plans for the venue. “This is a cinema with a history, an identity and potential.”

Even though it was best known for maintaining the delicate balance between art-house and commercial fare in the past few years of its operation, the Stergiakis brothers want to take the movie theater back to its roots, with strictly art-house films.

The revamped Petit Palais has around 450 seats and the enterprising brothers are thinking about expanding its operations to include theater and even shadow theater performances. “But we need to be cautious,” says George Stergiakis. “Everything that is shown will have to go through a filter.”

A bit of history

According to “The Movie Theaters of Athens 1896-2013: Stories of the Urban Landscape,” a very well-informed encyclopedia on Athens’s movie theaters compiled by Dimitris Fyssas and published online last autumn, the Petit Palais was inaugurated in February 1963.

“We have always been a school on good cinema,” Alekos Lambrou, one of the business’s former managers, is quoted as saying in the encyclopedia.

“But now it is embarrassing to admit how many tickets we sell. This year, for example, we didn’t manage a run longer than two weeks. As for next year, I can’t say whether we will still be around.”

According to Fyssas, Lambrou took over the Petit Palais some 20 years ago, after the Astron cinema he had been managing in the neighborhood of Aegaleo shut down.

He had started in the business as a boy, working for seven or eight years as a projectionist in big movie theaters in Peristeri. In 1967 he made the move and rented the Astron, his first cinema.

“I had predicted the decline of cinema and thankfully turned my children in a different direction,” he told Fyssas.

“There was a time when four or five movies would come out every week and two or three would do well. Now it is surprising if even one does well. Unfortunately, the new audience, kids aged 15 to 16, have been raised on multiplexes. You go in, eat popcorn and nothing happens. We have clients who grew up in this cinema. They feel for it. Sure, nostalgia is great, but you can’t live on it,” Lambrou told Fyssas.