Greek Cinema: “Radical New Beginnings Under Difficult Circumstances”
Ms. Kohler, a film series entitled “Modern Greek Cinema” was screened at the Arsenal Berlin in May 2012. Could you give us an idea of what it was about?
The films I compiled for our “Modern Greek Cinema” programme at the Arsenal are extremely varied and heterogeneous. There are a variety of quite distinct genres and diverse unconventional aesthetic approaches which are quite clearly different from what had been produced previously in Greece. In order to give some idea of this variety, one could say that contemporary Greek cinema is bold, it is amusing, unwieldy, crazy, visionary, non-conformist and radically idiosyncratic. It experiments with different artistic forms and cannot be pigeonholed. This variety is an essential element of the phenomenon of modern Greek cinema.
What is it about, which specific themes are addressed?
The films often draw mood pictures that reflect an atmosphere of nervous tension. The sense of crisis that is tangible in the films can quite clearly be related to what is actually going on in Greece in terms of the economic collapse and political disaster. These films all tell a story in a more or less direct way and, above all, in an aesthetically very idiosyncratic way, of the same problems, without that making them socially critical films. Recurring themes are speechlessness between the generations, a latent tendency towards violence and also, of course, very specifically the economic crisis. Unemployment and its social repercussions, xenophobia, lethargy and a lack of vision are other recurring motifs. It is striking that the focus is often on harsh criticism of the role and state of the family. Many of the latest Greek films show families in a state of dissolution, to some extent a parable of a dead-end society or a country in a state of emergency. All these films also have a great sense of the grotesque. They are full of bizarre moments and in some cases an absurdity reminiscent of Beckett.
Under what conditions are the films made? To what extent do they receive state support?
One asks oneself, of course, how it was possible in a country where cinema has played a subordinate role for decades that such a large number of highly interesting and aesthetically innovative films are suddenly being made. Modern Greek cinema is by no means the result of a political or economic initiative, however. The films are being produced under difficult conditions, largely without state funding. There has been hardly any assistance on the part of the state in recent years. There was wrangling for decades about a funding law committing the film and television industry to reinvest a share of its annual turnover in national film production and - an untenable state of affairs - Greece is the only country in Europe that does not have a film academy. That means that young directors either teach themselves or have learnt their skills abroad.
How are Greek film-makers coping with this difficult situation?
They are braving the crisis, partly by not allowing themselves to be discouraged in view of a scarcity of financial means and by cooperating with one another. A major point is that the filmmakers are networked with one another, often work together and support one another with their projects. They produce films for one another, write for one another or take roles in other filmmakers’ films. This solidarity is the driving force of modern Greek cinema.
And how do they finance their films?
Filming usually involves great financial effort. Since only minimal budgets are available, that only functions on the basis of tenacious, selfless, painstaking work - you have to persevere and be willing to exploit yourself. The actors in Yorgos Lanthimos’ film Alpeis, for example, could only be paid after the film had been invited to come to the film festival in Venice and was successful there. Modern Greek cinema would not have been able to develop without a great deal of passion and commitment.
One would not like to imagine the scenario of the demise of Greek film …
Although the framework conditions are poor, I do not think that is likely at the moment. There is too much lively energy for that. However, international coproductions are vital in this context. Some of the money to finance films has to come from abroad.
Could you please give us an outlook. How is Greek film rated at the moment?
Greek cinema has again and again produced great individual filmmakers, but not really a wide cinema culture. The young generation of film-makers is stepping out of Theo Angelopoulos’ shadow – for decades, he was practically the only representative of Greek cinema. Their work distanced itself markedly from the melancholy symbolism of his films. That was a veritable turning point, a real break with the past, a new departure away from traditional formats and conventions. It is a radical new beginning under inauspicious circumstances, but it could clear the way for the emergence of a distinct Greek film culture. Especially since the films are very successful internationally. They created a furore at the big film festivals and their imaginativeness provides new impetus for international auteur cinema. Modern Greek cinema is one of the most exciting things currently on offer in European cinema.
asked the questions. She is a freelance journalist in Frankfurt am Main.
Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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