OPINION

Letter from The Association of Greek Filmmakers

There was a time – you wouldn’t remember – when I traveled from country to country almost every week. It was then that I lived almost in darkness. It sounds improbable, but it has actually happened that after a – dimmed – fortnight in places such as Mar del Plata or Acapulco I took the plane for another exotic, obscure location, with such names as Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta; incidentally that’s where and when unfortunate film critic Guy Henebelle got polio from the hotel pool) or Ulanbaatar in Mongolia. In my early days as a journalist, I covered mainly international film festivals. That was real fun. Now, being such a seasoned moviegoer, they – that is the film section of the Greek Ministry of Culture – have included me in the jury that is going to bestow this year’s State Film Awards. There is cash, for the winners, in that. Since I have almost always reported in this column on my whereabouts, and since this last week, or at least for the most part of it, I have been nailed in the dark projection room of the Association of Greek Filmmakers in Athens watching the bulk of the recent Greek film productions (missing thus everything about the war to wipe out terrorism, bio or otherwise) I have absolutely nothing to report on. Honestly not! As a member of the jury I am bound to secrecy, and I am most positively not permitted to write on the films I have seen. Well, generalities, yes. Such as: The decline in Greece’s film production seems to have made it increasingly difficult for aspiring young directors to get financial backing. On the other hand, thanks to prospective TV grants, there is a substantial underground culture working outside the commercial cinema – if and when it works. Three years ago, when the culture minister was Theodoros Pangalos, he promised that the government would take measures to ensure that a 1.5-percent tax on television station gross was effectively enforced. And although legislation was ratified, it has been usually neglected by most private stations operating in Greece. His successor, Evangelos Venizelos, has undone much of what his predecessor did in the short time he stayed at the ministry. Another logical conclusion is that from the films I have seen within the past week (with another nine days to go), few could be shown in traditional cinemas, but they provide strong evidence that, on the frontiers of moviemaking, experimentation is far from dead in Greece. Another observation: In the heyday of the Greek studios, effectively 40 years ago, a time commonly regarded as the golden age of the cinema in our country (yet for others this period is often dubbed that of cheap commercial movies and of all about sensual anticipation), there existed a highly developed apprentice system. Assistant directors understudied established ones for years before being allowed to make their solo flight. Not so anymore. Now, with no nursery to make mistakes in, would-be moviemakers produce them often directly while working on their first films. For all their superficial exoticism, dialogue in inaugural works is sometimes allowed to continue with no change of camera angle for minutes on end. Even in pre-TV days, this would be considered unpardonably uncinematic. Over the span of two generations, and after the recent commercial success of top-grossing Safe Sex (1999, by Michalis Reppas and Thanasis Papathanassiou) young filmmakers seem to be afflicted by a new syndrome: multiple parody. It is all cathartic and not meant to reflect real life. Using many of the ingredients that Mel Brooks used in his hilarious, wild surreality titled Springtime For Hitler more than 30 years ago, some of our younger talents walk a fine line between intelligence and disaster. Although the 1950s and 1960s were hardly, and in any respect, the good old days for Greece, there is still a clear tendency for our current cinematography to observe them through rose-tinted glasses. Films set in those innocent years tend to bubble over with felicities. Romanticism is in again. Perhaps the overflowing seven-letterization of Greek TV (starting with an M) began to disturb film-creators more than one could possibly imagine. Once more, didacticism and sentimentality seem to be in as well. Incidentally, there are hardly any movies about politics, the way it used to be, say, 10 or 20 years ago. And when we stumble on a current political subject (Pink Forwards by Dimitris Yatzoudakis) the subject is no longer idealism betrayed, but about gay sex. Nevertheless, in today’s popular culture, the norm is currently no norm. And that is rather positive. Anything goes. Nevertheless, doing my best to sound as vague and as mysterious as I am entitled to, I must admit that I have seen lots of amazing stuff, and I am convinced that the forthcoming Thessaloniki Film Festival, starting November 9, is going to be, in its modest way, one of those to remember. Patience is therefore counseled. This paper will certainly report extensively on it, prizes or no prizes. Whatever. When, three years ago, world-acclaimed cinematographer Nikos Koundouros was queried on why he ever competed with his Photographers in the festival, he retorted (jokingly?) in all honesty: You see, I am here to win the award. If I don’t win it, then no, I am not in competition! P.S. Although all letters received in Greece during this last week containing white powder (which turned out to be white powder) were proven to be innocuous, in this time of the awesome cast of anthrax all-stars, I bet they will think twice before they open any envelopes at the prize ceremony at the Olympion cinema on the night of Monday November 19.