Greek films have been performing strongly at the local box office this year, pulling in more than 2.5 million admissions - a five-fold increase over last year - and are poised to reach three million during the summer season, when open-air cinemas rerun recent films plus a few new releases. Admissions for the 1999-2000 season are expected to total 14 million.
The rekindled love affair between the public and the local industry is due partly to increased screen availability for Greek films and partly to the increased range of genres on offer.
The most successful recent titles have been light comedies. The Tasos Papandreou-produced Safe Sex pulled in a record 1.3 million admissions, outperforming all foreign titles, while Mythos' Greek-Australian co-production Beware Of Greeks Bearing Guns starring popular local comedian Lakis Lazopoulos chalked up over 400,000. Nikos Perakis' Female Company came in close behind. A considerable number of films in production are also comedies, including Olga Malea's Risotto, Lakis Lazopoulos' My Best Friend and Vangelis Seitanides' Eternal Student, prompting some to fear a comedy overdose sending film-goers back to their living rooms to watch them for free on TV - exactly what happened in the 1960s.
The rise in local production, with more than 20 new films expected by the end of the year, focuses attention on the need for screens. Exhibition is thriving thanks to multiplexes and extensive refurbishment, but, as elsewhere, US films dominate. To redress the balance, the Greek Film Centre (GFC) has launched its own exhibition venture. Working with upscale independent circuits, it has created Film Centre 2000, to programme local films alongside selected foreign product in five strategic venues in Athens.
This GFC venture seems all the more risky as incoming culture minister Theodoros Pangalos has not yet greenlighted the GFC's $70m 2000 budget pledged by his predecessor. A shortfall, says GFC president Manos Efstratiades, "may seriously affect the local film industry, as now is the time investment is needed to sustain recent growth". The GFC is the principal source of production finance, alongside the burgeoning group of new independent producers.
Among the most active of these are Dionyssis Samiotis and Tassos Vassiliou of Mythos, back on home turf following the successful Greek-Australian co-production Beware Of Greeks. They seem determined to depart from the local auteur tradition and team directors with screenwriters. One example is Absolute Poor, penned by actor-writer George Kotanides and now shooting, directed by Antonis Kokkinos, whose 1994 End Of An Era notched up 200,000 admissions.
Internationally, the positive results of such films as Beware Of Greeks, co-productions between Greece's Hyperion and Turkey's Nikos Kanakis (Cumhur Bey, My Darling Istanbul, The Boatman) and the Greek-Swiss Thelma, have brought foreign film-makers to Greece. The biggest of the current crop of productions shooting in the country is Working Title's Captain Corelli's Mandolin starring Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz, and co-financed by Universal Pictures and Canal Plus. The film is shooting on Cephalonia. The island of Simi is hosting Greek-German-Spanish co-production Anna's Summer, helmed by Jeanine Merapfeel and executive produced by FS Productions.
Meanwhile, Greek films are making their mark on the international market and festival circuit. Voula Georgakakou, head of GFC sales and promotion division Hellas Film, reported brisk business at Cannes. Dimos Avdeliodis' highly-touted Berlin Forum selection, The Spring Gathering, clinched theatrical distribution in Germany while Kostas Kapakas' Peppermint, which screened in the Panorama section, sold for theatrical distribution in Hong Kong and Japan. Konstantinos Giannaris' From The Edge Of The City was released in the US through Picture This Inc, while Panos Koutras' The Attack Of The Giant Moussaka was sold theatrically to Japan.