Confirming the rule that in times of crisis artistic production thrives, four Greek films will travel to the upcoming Venice film festival — overcoming financial crisis, internal industry feuding and lack of initiative by the Culture Ministry.
Such a massive presence of Greek films in a major festival, especially at a time when the country is at the middle of a financial and political turmoil, is unprecedented. Last time a local film was present at the Lido competition was Nikos Panayotopoulos’ Delivery in 2004.
The films are Athina Rachel Tsangaris’ sophomore feature Attenberg (in competition, sold by Match Factory); Syllas Tzoumerkas’ debut feature Homeland (Critics Week); George Zois’ Casus Belli (Horizons) and Filippos Tsitos’ 2009 Locarno award winner Plato’s Academy (Venice Days).
Tsangaris has an impressive background in visual arts (her video creations were part of the 2004 Athens Olympics Opening Ceremony) . The coming-of-age story offers a moving portrait of an adolescent girl dealing with her best friend, her dying father and her awakening to and acceptance of the opposite sex.
Tzoumerkas, who has a solid background in shorts, presents with Homeland a multilayered portrait of a family from the 1974 fall of the military junta to nowadays.
Developments among the members of the family follow and reflect those of the country resulting in a passionate and engaging film which could prove to be what Theo Angelopoulos’ The Travelling Players (1975) meant for the Greek. (Sales companies are in talks now and a deal is expected to be closed before Venice.)
The likes of Tsangari, Tzoumerkas, Dogtooth director George Lanthimos, Strella director Panos Koutras and Correction director Thanos Anastopoulos are leading a dynamic generation of local filmmakers who are distinctive in their subjects and narrative approach.
Their films all deal with subjects concerning Greek society, as well as works by other young directors like Constantinos Giannaris (Hostage) who is in post with the much anticipated Man in the Sea, Yannis Fagras (Forget me not), and Alexandros Voulgaris (Roz).
Subjects close to home mean growing market share for local productions. Of Greece’s local films — spearheaded though by comedies and other commercially minded fare — command now between 10-15% of admissions each year.
This group of young directors can bond together to face issues such as the lack of structural and financial support by the Culture Ministry, as well as the open hostility of a substantial part of the film unions.
Collaborations include Lanthimos producing and acting in Tsangaris’ Attenberg (Tsangaris produced Lanthimo’s Kintetta in 2005), and Anastopoulos producing Tzoumerkas’ Homeland before starting his own new film Stray early next year.
There is a common point in all these films: they are produced on shoe string budgets, at an average of $964,000 (Euros 750,000) per film, thanks to the participation of crew and cast plus the support of a small number of private financiers — while the financial support from the Culture Ministry-subsidised Greek Film Centre (GFC) remains very limited. This is not only due to the one year old financial turmoil affecting the country but also to the fact that the Ministry, even under past governments, has always failed to provide the GFC with regular cash flow.
While Tsangaris and Tzoumerkas fight to squeeze the maximum out of their meager budgets to finish post-production on time, the situation has turned even more sour and threatens the very presence of their films in Venice.
Labs refuse to bring out the prints unless they are paid by the GFC for past debts and intellectual rights for music and songs being used in the films remain unpaid.
The amount needed for that is around $257,000 (Euros 200,000) and though the GFC general director George Papalios has the funds available he cannot hand them over as the GFC is currently under interim direction following the celebration of its general assembly and the failure by the Ministry to appoint a new board of directors.
The situation is quite similar to that of a classical ancient tragedy – and is further complicated by the Ministry’s eight months delay to produce the new promised film law. The new law is expected to provide an updated infrastructure for local production. As of now, the Ministry doles out $33m (Euros 26m) to the cinema sector every year, with only $5m (Euros 4m) of that going to film production.
This lack of production support has led to the Filmmakers in the Mist protest movement, which boycotted the State Cinema Awards at the November Thessaloniki Film Festival and created the Hellenic Film Academy which handed out its own awards last April.
On top of that a substantial part of the film unions are putting strong pressure on the GFC as well as on the Ministry, fearing that their positions are threatened given the country’s financial situation. Unions have enjoyed a longterm decision-sharing participation in the administrative structure of such cinema related and state funded institutions as the GFC.
Film unions are set to be squeezed altogether out of film financing decisions, as rumors have it, in the upcoming draft of the new film law by the Culture Ministry, and this is expected to be nothing less than positive and transparent concerning the cinema sector financing by public funds.
This is of course dependent on the law actually being presented. A Culture Ministry spokeswoman told ScreenDaily that the draft of the law will be ready in late August or very early September and that it will also include such novelties as the introduction of a tax shelter for foreign productions shooting in the country.
She also insisted that Ministry will introduce this week a new board of directors at the GFC allowing for the funds reserved for the Venice-bound films to be handed out.
“The Ministry is set to do whatever has to be done so that the films are in Venice on time,” she said.
Rumours have it that the Minister Pavlos Geroulanos, is juggling with the idea to profit by the important presence of Greek films in Venice and announce details about the new law in Venice itself during the festival.