‘Gentlemen’s game’ at pre-World Cup festival in Athens

There used to be a time when a major soccer event, like the World Cup or European Cup, divided family opinion, enraged husbands and ignited small-scale domestic controversy. The disrepute attached to soccer seems to be diminishing today, even in Greek society, especially since the national team’s astonishing Euro 2004 triumph. If any evidence of the game’s higher profile is needed, a quick look at local bookstore shelves should convince. Soccer has filtered its way into literature. Deep-rooted commentary and analyses offered on TV and radio by two of the country’s most popular sports journalists, Antonis Karpetopoulos and Antonis Panoutsos, also underline the increased sophistication surrounding the sport. Without a doubt, in the eyes of fans – and non-fans – soccer is experiencing a sort of a revival, not because it has suddenly acquired greater interest. Instead, the sport’s followers have begun to recognize the game’s social dimension and various fundamental aspects of life that soccer can symbolize. Present conditions are also enhancing the positive vibes being felt – as this is a World Cup finals year. To celebrate the upcoming major international sporting event in Germany this summer, the Goethe Institute in Athens will stage a week-long film festival, featuring soccer-related selections, between March 13 and 20. The material includes feature films, documentaries, short films and animated films hailing from various corners of the world. The festival will make what could be regarded as an unanticipated opening with the projection of a silent German film made in 1927, «Die Elf Teufel» (The Eleven Devils), by Zoltan Corda. The silent film’s plot is based on the conflicting worlds of rich and poor, represented by two soccer teams, one manned by honorable working-class men, the other by aristocrats of questionable moral values. The one-week festival also features well-known, and far more recent, films, among them 2002’s «Bend It Like Beckham,» a box-office hit in Greece. But the organizers haven’t forgotten that a film festival’s credibility is established by selecting films not widely available. A tribute to the late George Best, soccer’s first pop star, has been included on the festival’s agenda. A German-Spanish production, «One Day in Europe» by Hannes Stohr, highlights soccer’s universal appeal by presenting four concurrent stories from as many European cities set against an imaginary final between Deportivo La Coruna and Galatasaray. As is common practice at such events, the best has been left for last. In 2004, the Berlinale’s Talent Campus organized a competition for young directors. A total of 611 from 75 countries took part. Of these, 44 will be screened on the festival’s final day. Interestingly, unique cultural traits filter their way through to the respective works. Competitions offering two prizes, tickets to Germany’s World Cup final and a year of free education at the Goethe Institute in Athens are also on the agenda. March 13-20, Goethe Institute, Athens (14-16 Omirou, Kolonaki, 210.366.1000).