Outsiders in charge of transformations

When Michel Demopoulos took the helm of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in 1992 and promised to transform it from an isolated, all-Greek event into an international institution, he met with suspicion, sarcasm and outright hostility. A cinema academic and critic with a Greek-French education, he seemed a fish out of water in the solidly entrenched reality of the festival which had been built upon navel gazing, miserliness and backstabbing. Disregarding the fine balances within the coterie of the festival and the forging of useful alliances, Demopoulos plunged ahead amid much reaction but also with the support of much of the press and all the heads of the Ministry of Culture to create a window onto the world… Now, examining the records left by Giorgos Loukos in his first stint at the Athens Festival and Stefanos Lazaridis at the National Opera, the story seems familiar. Well-respected Greeks from abroad both took the reins of conventional, fading institutions. The first resurrected the Athens Festival and the other is looking at bringing the National Opera into the 21st century. Neither is recalcitrant about stating his mind… Their agendas have and will run into the crashing rocks but, with the support of the political leadership, they have, so far at least, moved ahead without compromises and without backtracking. They wonder at and comment upon all the strange things they must face on a day-to-day basis, at the persistence it takes to meet so many different pressures and to achieve the obvious: the freedom to operate based on a vision and not on hidden agendas. Two foreigners in the same city. Some see them with skepticism, while others are waiting for them to fail, simply so they can say, «I told you so…»

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