Cameras focused on Athens transformed for Olympic Games

The spotlights are trained on Athens as hundreds of cameras broadcast around the world images of changes that have taken place in this Olympic city, the ancient monuments, modern architecture, the streets and squares, the people and the atmosphere. We asked five Greek film directors what they would highlight in this changed metropolis. Dimitris Athanitis «Welcome to the Athens Olympics! Anything can happen here! Welcome to the city of miracles!» cries the reporter in Dimitris Athanitis’s film as she greets and introduces the characters in the Games pouring into the Greek capital from every corner of the globe. A Japanese couple come to be married in the Olympic city, a female American student meets and falls in love with a French photographer, a Greek athlete is faced with dilemmas, all personal struggles being played out as a backdrop to the Games. «I’m trying to see the city within the film’s heroes and to recreate an image of Athens,» said the director as he prepared the day’s shooting in the port of Piraeus. «It is amazing how little contact we have with the sea although it is right beside us. That is because the city has no access to the sea.» In his fifth full-length feature film, «The City of Miracles,» Athanitis uses his architectural training more than in other films. «I once entered an architectural competition for a project in Kerameikos. I am very interested in the historic center of Athens, the areas around the Acropolis and Metaxourgeio. I think the greatest problem with our city is that private space prevails over public…I think the feeling that Athens emanates is unique in the world. It combines the dynamism of a megalopolis with a laid-back atmosphere.» Antonis Kokkinos Kokkinos spent six months jogging through Athens – his hero begins training for the marathon six months before the Olympics and finishes off at the end of the Games with a jog from the Olympic Stadium to Glyfada. As he runs, the town changes around him. «Although over the past few years everyone has been racing away, they don’t know what from. Just before the Olympics, the city itself was racing, to meet a deadline. I think that we are still in the middle of this process, of the city’s attempt to change. The results will become evident at some future date. During the filming, I got to know a city that was in an orgy of construction being carried out by a multicultural swarm of workers. I talked to Poles, Romanians, Pakistanis, Russians and Yugoslavs, and experienced an appealing babel, although I still believe that Athens is a city whose history is written by solitary people. Take my hero, for example: He ‘races’ between his personal and professional lives, while essentially remaining alone.» Constantine Yiannaris Yiannaris is one of the first film directors to deal with Athens’s nightlife in the western suburbs, among the immigrants who seek a release through dreams or nightmares. His latest film, «Hostage,» is not as focused on the city to the same degree, since most of the film was shot in a bus, but the director does not really move away from Athens. (The film relates the true story of an Albanian immigrant who in 1999 hijacked an intercity bus and took seven passengers hostage.) «The atmosphere has changed in Athens and I have mixed feelings about it. After half a century, Athenians are trying to develop an urban consciousness as citizens of a Balkan megalopolis, a multicultural city that has restored its sense of pride. The infrastructure and transport have distracted Athenians from their petit bourgeois individualism. They are abandoning the mind-set of ‘me and my car’ and are trying out the public transport. I find that wonderful. On the other hand, I no longer feel I am ‘home alone.’ I am under continual surveillance. «A new Greek nationalism is on the rise today…The question now is: ‘Am I a proud Greek and xenophile, or a proud Greek and a xenophobe?’ There is also a sense of an emerging self-confidence. The public works are to a great extent responsible for that, particularly the architectural masterpiece by (Spanish architect Santiago) Calatrava, which serves as a reference point for the future, the starting point for innovative changes. Personally, what attracts me most about Olympic Athens are the metro stations. I would like to film a nighttime journey with the metro or the old urban rail.» Panos Koutras «To tell you the truth, I can’t see that much of a change. Life in the city is the same,» says Koutras, as surprising as in his films, from the futuristic «Attack of the Giant Moussaka,» where Athens is threatened by a huge sliding mass of the «national» dish, to the recently completed «Real Life», in which Athens appears as if on a postcard. «I use the city as a background, but to be honest, this is what I feel about Athens – it is an imaginary city. I left it to live in France, but when I returned it exercised that same imaginary power. Perhaps this is because of its stark contrasts, the fact that there are no constants. On the one hand is the ancient, poetic city and on the other, a landscape that is absolutely modern. There is no logical continuity or cohesion. The Acropolis seems almost unbelievable, it looks like a stage set. It is a city in continual flux. There is no sense of legality, permanency, nothing is sacred. I like that a lot. Buildings are pulled down and others go up in their place. Athens is like a ‘work in progress,’ it creates a temporary feeling. It is different and anarchic, just like the spirit of the people who live in it.» Nikos Panayiotopoulos «I would like to make a film on the orange line along the main roads (separating the lane reserved for Olympic officials, athletes and VIPs from the rest); that is, to show how one side sees the other. I imagine feelings of pride mixed with pity on the part of those in the left lane and on the other side, on the part of the beleaguered commuters and common mortals, admiration mixed with envy. You see, anything can be a subject for a film.»

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