Cacoyannis looks to the future

If maniacally active is any way to describe a person, it is apt for Michael Cacoyannis. Currently, the director is preparing tonight’s Athens Concert Hall premiere of a different, cabaret version of Aristophanes’ ancient comedy «Lysistrata,» while also putting together an appearance at the annual Hellenic Festival with Shakespeare’s «Coriolanus.» Translated by himself, this is a mammoth production with large crowd scenes, which will take place on July 25 and 26 at the Herod Atticus Theater. «And I’m 83 years old,» he points out, smiling lazily, yet full of energy of spirit and satisfaction, with all melancholy thoughts banished. «This is a party for me. Not that it’s easy, but since I have two excellent actors – Maia Morgenstern and Vladimir Ivanov – the execution is a ball,» he comments, while drinking his morning coffee at the Athens Concert Hall before rehearsals. There is an envelope on the table and in a while he will have to hurry away for a meeting with the foreign affairs minister. The Cyprus issue is on his mind now more than ever and he is passionately concerned about the future of his homeland. At the same time, he is also running around to expedite procedures to establish the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation (and has already met with the prime minister on this issue). Art and politics share common ground for the Limassol-born director, who turned his back on Hollywood at a time when he was much sought after, returning to Greece instead and giving the local cinema industry the first real boost that allowed it to transcend the country’s borders. What prompted you to select «Coriolanus»? I always begin with the lead actor. Like with «Hamlet,» by choosing Constantinos Markoulakis first. The idea for «Coriolanus» began with Vladimiros Kyriakidis. His mother, a very important role, will be played by Martha Vourtsi. His old counsel will be Yiannis Voglis and the two mayors are Nikos Hadzopoulos and Manos Vakousis. The costumes are designed by Yiannis Metsikoff. «Coriolanus» contains the best and juiciest oaths that have ever been said by a politician. It is a very contemporary play. It refers to the relationship of the politician with the people. What is it that makes «Coriolanus» contemporary? Just that: The relationship of the politician with the people. The people as a guided mass. Coriolanus, a pure man, can’t stand the political game and he pays for it. Which present-day institution do the two mayors represent? The opposition. Which guides badly and doesn’t forgive flaws. How does Coriolanus compare to modern-day politicians? He cannot play political games. He is not a politician, he doesn’t have the talent for it. Through him, though, we see how a politician ought to behave. How should he behave instead? He must learn to compromise, contain himself and take care not to offend those who he may scorn, but may also need. Coriolanus is too pure to do this. Today’s politicians are willing to swallow a lot… In that respect, politicians are a lot like artists… Speaking for myself, no. Many doors were opened to me, to incorporate me into the Hollywood system, with a lot of money, swimming pools and huge mansions, and not only did I reject it, but I tore up contracts and walked out when I felt my freedom was being infringed upon. I have been to court with Fox [studios] over a screenplay I had written about Christ’s final days. They hired me to write it. Then they began interfering. I stopped, took the screenplay and left. A while later I found out that they had used entire scenes for a television drama. I sued them. I took them to court and I won, despite the fact that everyone was saying, «You must be mad to go up against Fox.» What, in your opinion, has the price of your success been? Nothing comes easy in life, especially when you are not prepared, both the negative and the positive. I know that I have been a man of my word, reliable, even when there were no financial incentives. I have significantly backed my own activities financially, for the theater and for the cinema. On Cyprus How would you describe yourself today? I’m growing out of my laziness. My whole life I have felt that I am not giving enough. Maybe because I get involved in so many different things… Like the Cyprus issue. I have a sister, Stella Soulioti, who used to be a minister [in Cyprus] under the Makarios regime, with whom I work and whom I consult when I sit on boards, like now, for example, so that we do not fall into the trap of the Annan plan. There are constant efforts to reintroduce the Annan plan, which I know. It is trying to impose disgusting, unacceptable terms that serve Turkish interests. Your fervor for your homeland seems to have strengthened over the years. In times of crisis, yes. It all started with the toppling of a society in which I grew up, which was balanced, in which the Turks were assimilated. I am crushed by the idea that my country, as I knew it, as I experienced it, is hemorrhaging, is dismembered. I can’t even stand thinking about it. What about the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation? You are very actively involved in that. I have bought the land, at 207 Pireos Street. There, I will construct a building containing an exhibition space, cinemas and theaters, all of which will be aimed at cultural exchanges with Europe. I hope to live long enough to inaugurate it… It took me two years to lift the legal protection over a ramshackle building on the site that was listed. The plans are now complete and construction should begin soon. Everything I have is invested in this. Even the house I live in belongs to the foundation. I have explained to my heirs that any profit they may want will be through the foundation exclusively. I am not leaving a will. I want a living monument. The Michael Cacoyannis Foundation. Any artists interested can use it. Like Dimitris Papaioannou for example. Why are you working so hard at a time in your life when you could be limiting your activities? There’s something eating away at me. The fact that my mind is beating time. Maybe this will be my critical moment. When the weakness of my body clashes with the strength of my mind. That is my only fear.

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