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Greece Logs Strong Box Office Returns Despite Turbulent Year

ATHENS — As a turbulent year winds down in a country wracked by political and economic uncertainty, Greek bizzers have some reason for holiday cheer after a strong year at the box office.

With local helmer Christoforos Papakaliatis’ “Worlds Apart” opening this week, and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” slated for a Christmas Eve release, exhibitors are expecting to see roughly a 9% increase in ticket sales from 2014, with total sales approaching 10 million for the first time since 2012.

Ziotas Dionisis, of Village Roadshow Greece — which is distributing “Worlds Apart” — says it’s a heartening sign in light of the ongoing troubles afflicting this Mediterranean nation.

“In such situations, to present something like a 9% [increase] — it’s great,” he says.

Echoing the sentiment of other distribs, Dionisis partly credits the boost to a strong slate of American studio releases, with “Spectre,” “Minions” and “Inside Out” leading the pack. “If we don’t have good product, we’re not going to work well,” he says, “regardless of how well the whole political and economical situation might turn out.”

Irini Souganidou, managing director of Feelgood Entertainment, which is distributing “The Force Awakens” in Greece, notes that cinema also offers some affordable, old-fashioned escapism for a country that’s been battered by bad news in recent years.

“Greeks have had enough of all the terror that comes from the television, and the news,” she says. “[They] need a way out…[and] to find a rather inexpensive way to entertain themselves.”

Still, it was a trying year for the industry, as the introduction of capital controls in July — which limited the flow of money in and out of the country — “had a serious negative impact on our ability to acquire foreign movies,” according to Makis Diamantopoulos, general manager of the Odeon Cineplex chain, who says his company’s foreign acquisitions took a two-month hit.

Bizzers are also at loggerheads over the government’s decision in August to drop the public spectacles tax, a 12% surcharge added to the price of movie tickets, which was traditionally used to fund local productions. The move came after parliament nearly doubled the value-added tax to 23% in July as part of the austerity measures urged by Greece’s European creditors.

Producers argue that the funding was an important lifeline for a local industry struggling to finance new productions. But if the 12% tax were implemented on top of the higher VAT, argues Souganidou, it would put movie tickets on par with “luxury products like cigars and caviar.”

Despite a government promise to earmark money from its annual budget to replace the tax-generated revenue, bizzers are skeptical that the cash-strapped government has both the money and the political will to do it.

Some strike other notes of caution over the industry’s overall health. Takis Veremis, of indie distrib StraDa Films, worries that with more than 300 new releases a year in a country of just 12 million, the market is “overclogged.”

Pointing to declines in video sales and the struggles of the local TV biz, he says, “There is no backend….Everybody has been looking to the theatrical market to make back their investments, and it’s just not enough weeks in the year.

“If that doesn’t correct itself… I think some of us will suffer tremendously,” he says.

While local indies in particular are feeling the squeeze, hopes are high that “Worlds Apart,” starring Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons, will be a chart-topper for the Greek biz, after Papakaliatis’ directorial debut, “What If…,” raked in more than $4.3 million at the box office in 2012.

Dionisis, of Village, expects “Worlds Apart” to surpass the half-million mark of actor-turned-helmer Papakaliatis’ debut, even as fans line up for “The Force Awakens” next week.

Exhibitors can take heart. Regardless of which movie auds are going to see, says Feelgood’s Souganidou, “Having people going back to the theaters… is what we should see as a very optimistic sign.”

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