Industryites’ protest at outdated film law hits event

Greek industryites who pulled their pics from the Thessaloniki Film Festival in a dispute over the country’s outdated film funding laws have forced the cancellation of next Monday’s Greek State Film Awards.

More than 200 directors, producers and screenwriters withdrew 52 films from the fest, undermining the state awards, which selects winners from Greek films that unspool at the fest.

The current law, introduced more than 20 years ago, should provide around $4.5 million in public funding from a levy on cinema ticket sales and on public and commercial TV stations.

The Filmmakers of Greece (FoG) — a group of younger industryites formed in March — claim the money is not being fully channeled to them. They accuse the government of a lack of transparency and failing to introduce production tax incentives of the sort common across the European Union.

FoG’s decision to pull 18 features, six documentaries and 28 shorts from Thessaloniki, left the organizers of Greek’s leading international film showcase with a scant selection of the past year’s 65 local productions in a year it was celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Instead, FoG staged a week of screenings that drew audiences of more than 5,000 at the Elli Cinema in Athens just before the Thessaloniki fest opened on Friday.

A new national film law is “crucial for the survival and evolution of the Greek film industry and its position in Europe and the rest of the world,” the group said.

Its action comes at a time when Greek cinema has received public interest and international acclaim in Cannes, Berlin and Locarno this year for films that include “Dogtooth” by Yorgos Lanthimos, “Strella” by Panos Koutras and Filipos Tsitos’ “Plato’s Academy.”

Political wrangling over updating and revising the film law began five years ago but has failed to produce a consensus.

A new Ministry of Culture initiative set up last year and headed by director Costa Gavras identified a need for reform of public film funding and the introduction of tax incentives.

It foundered when early elections brought about a change of government this year.

Speaking at the fest’s opening, new culture and tourism minister Pavlos Geroulanos pledged to work on a film law. But protestors are unimpressed.

“There is a lack of a general cinema culture or understanding of its importance as a cultural product and export in Greece,” says FoG member Alexis Alexiou, whose first film, “Tale 52,” screened at the Rotterdam and Toronto fests last year.

The attention has done little to give Alexiou’s next project much of a domestic boost. He has received around $300,000 from the Greek Film Center for “Fade,” a Danish co-production, but is struggling to find enough money to begin shooting.

“We do not understand films, see films or show films in Greece,” Alexiou said.

Part of the problem may be that the country seems intent on resting on its historic cultural laurels, relying on ancient archaeology and what Alexiou calls a “Parthenon complex” to project an international cultural image.

What that means, Alexiou says, is that the modern issues of Greek society and politics fail to find a film voice in a Europe where countries, such as Romania, with much weaker economies than Greece, have created their own film culture.

Konstantinos Kontovrakis, head of the Greek film program at Thessaloniki, said it would have been “disastrous” had the State Film Awards gone ahead based on the handful local films shown at the fest.

He is critical of FoG, which failed to send any official representation to the fest although individual members like Alexiou were present.

“It is very sad that the filmmakers who are protesting were not here to support their cause. We have international press and television reporters at the festival keen to cover Greek cinema and current issues. Greek filmmakers cannot afford to close a window on the outside world at this time.”

The fest did make its own effort to highlight the issues that confront Greek filmmakers. In a panel discussion hosted by the fest’s Agora market, French, German and British industryites outlined the public funding systems in their own countries.

Yorgos Papalios, president of the Greek Film Center, said the wealth of public funding for films in France and Germany left him feeling “sick.”

“Greece must have a film law that represents its culture,” Papalios said, noting that the country almost lost location filming of “Mamma Mia!” to Malta when petty bureaucracy threatened to scupper shooting on a Greek island.

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