Local lensers up the ante at the box office

In hardscrabble Greece, where reaching auds of 1 million constitutes a coup, most of the coin still comes from the Culture Ministry-funded Greek Film Center. The organization’s Stavroula Geronimaki says average annual production backed by the fund is 15 feature films, 10 shorts and six to seven docus. A further five features find backing in the private sector and from distribs like Odeon or from television.

Of the 33 Greek feature pics released theatrically in the last two years, making up about 10% of all releases, 22 were co-produced by the GFC. Those films took 16% of the 17.2 million in total audience for 2007-2008, a tiny step forward from 2006’s 15%.

Helmer Iannis Smaragdis, whose Nick Ashdon starrer “El Greco,” set the bar for Greek feature successes with 770,000 admissions, achieved its status via international co-production, utilizing Spanish and Hungarian partners. But most key was the script, an adaptation of the book “Greco the Painter of God” on which Jackie Pavlenko and Phil Parker collaborated with the helmer. It won over distrib Audio Visual Enterprises, says producer Helen Smaragdis.

Two other hits, “Little Greek Godfather” by Olga Malea, and “Wedding Party” by Christina Krokos, fill out the vanguard of the Hellenic film renaissance.

“The steady upward trend in admissions for Greek films and the international distinctions garnered have generated new hope and development possibilities,” Geronimaki says. Along with the spread of new technologies, he adds, “The skyrocketing increase in box office figures marks a mass return of audiences to the cinema that has a direct and indirect influence on development.”

Thessaloniki is doing its part. Local pic “Without” unspools in competition at the fest; director, Alexandros Avranas is considered one of the filmmakers to watch in Greece. It’s the first feature from the former fine arts student in Germany, showing him to be, in the terms of fest programmer Kontovrakis Konstantinos, “a visual artist” with a pic that is “visually stunning” expected to nab foreign sales.

World sales rights are selling better than ever, with shingles such as Notro Films picking up “El Greco,” while Delphis Films contracted for “Little Greek Godfather.” M-Appeal bought world rights for “Tale 52,” the fantasy thriller by Alexis Alexiou, and Spier Films picked up “Correction,” a mystery by Thanos Anastopoulos.

The exhibition sector has also kept up the pace of change. The GFC-backed Film Center, a group of five screens in Athens that program Greek features, docus and shorts along with European pics, has made strides in reviving arthouse culture in the capital. Its retrospectives of Greek and European auteurs are run in close cooperation with the National Book Center of Greece, the National Theater and the Orchestra of Colours, resulting in rich pickings thematically connected to literature, theater and music.

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