Greek Debuts Show Dire Need for Co-productions

in 56th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Joseph Proimakis

In a country with as small a film production as the one in Greece, one might say it’s rather comforting to find that one out of three local titles presented in its national film festival is a debut. What’s not as comforting is the wideness of the gap separating the top and bottom tiers of the six feature debuts presented this year in Thessaloniki.

Each of them as Greek as the next one, these six debuts tackled topics as widely ranged as immigration in a pre-Apocalyptic society (Blind Sun (Kafsonas), violence perceived as spectacle by a neutered populous (Interruption), personal identity as molded through collective memory (Impressions of a Drowned Man (Oi Entiposeis enos Pnigmenou), decency in the whirlpool of a chaotic existence (Fate (Eimarmeni), finding one’s place in a world of rejection (Tabula Rasa) and the unique magic of life in its serial mundanities (In the Kitchen (Stin Kouzina). Yet what set them apart was not the richness of their subjects, nor their varying degrees of ecumenical approaches.

For every prestigious film like Yorgos Zois’ Venice-screened Interruption, there was a poorly produced and severely flawed attempt, like Spiros Amiropoulos’ In the Kitchen, destined for oblivion, and for every richly knit genre attempt like Joyce A Nashawati’s FIPRESCI-winning Blind Sun, there was an effort as misguided as Natalia Stratou and Iro Donta’s Tabula Rasa bound to leave one baffled. And nowhere was the divide of auteurism more evident than between Kiros Papavasiliou’s solemn Impressions of a Drowned Man and Andreas Marianos’ cacophonous Fate. What set these films apart was, sadly, the amount of countries (and therefore hands and minds) involved in their production: the three best were co-productions; the three worst were no-budget self-financed attempts.

What co-productions bring along is more than just some extra cash: if the amount of effort required by directors in order to secure a producer even in their own country is a test of determination in itself, the hoops they need to go through so as to find assistance from abroad is a wholly other beast. To say the least, the project must be solidly set up both artistically and business-wise, and even then one must be prepared for massive inspection of both his artistic vision and their plans on how to best materialize it. And in an economy as weary as the one throughout Europe, it’s a bumpy road even for the dreamiest of projects, let alone for one signed by a newcomer.

So what co-productions bring along, is more than just some extra cash: they bring along a square-minded, orthodox and canonical route from conceiving an idea to developing it into a script, and then refining it into a project. Which you then have to set-up, shoot, cut and polish, before the worst part comes along: getting it in front of people’s eyes, through their minds and into their hearts.

Obviously, co-productions are hard work. But so is film-making. And what some enthusiastic artists might forget, is that hard work is not just picking up a camera and filming an acquaintance acting out a script you finished with a friend just the other day. It’s standing by your project through a tight set of procedures that will help it grow and make you grow along with it.

Contemplating the very recent and very prestigious successes of films like Yannis Economides’ Golden Bear nominee Stratos, Panos H Koutras’ Un Certain Regard contender Xenia, Syllas Tzoumerkas’ Locarno-screened A Blast, and Yorgos Lanthimos’ Venice-awarded Alps as but a few prime examples, it’s been made more than obvious that co-productions are the only way not just to help Greek filmmakers grow, but help the entire Greek film industry grow. It’s therefore rather worrisome to see the Thessaloniki International Film Festival’s section that’s suffering the most from the country’s financial woes, to be the section the local film industry needs the most: The Agora.

It’s only reasonable that with as tight a budget as the one available to the TIFF in recent years, some of its aspects are bound to suffer. Yet it’s dire to note that the Agora, being the meeting place and molding pot of the country’s cinematic future, it should not be allowed to have its flames subside. The FIPRESCI-winning film Blind Sun, by newcomer Joyce Nashawati, was only made possible because the Agora was there to locate and foster it a few years back, and was there again to present it to distributors, investors and hopefully partners as a work in progress just last year. This is why the director was so quick to thank the institution when she picked up her award, with what was easily the most impressive local debut in the festival’s Greek Films program.

One could argue that the project could have found success in other project-fostering fora, but it would be quite naive to expect a non-Greek festival to give a Greek project the same attention. As it would be quite optimistic to suggest it would retain its sense of topicality, not just in its narrative of course, but in its place of shooting. Which is what gets the monetary juices flowing in as small and cash deprived an industry as the one in Greece.

Fostering the co-production culture means shaping better internationally oriented film makers, to make more co-productions come to Greece. And more Greek-centered co-productions means more cash flow back to Greece. But in order to get that you, the country, needs to invest. And there’s no better place to do that, than its own, national co-production forum.

Edited by Steven Yates