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Greek filmmakers protest cutbacks

National Film Center cuts funding to the business

As Greek public servants shut down cities with strikes to protest the belt-tightening sweeping the country, the film business has joined in the chorus of malcontent.

“The crisis unveiled completely the structural deficiency of the Greek Film Center and the Ministry of Culture regarding cinema,” says Filippos Tsitos, helmer of black comedy “Unfair World.” He adds that the Film Center, for decades, the primary source of coin for local filmmakers, has been promising funds — sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — although it has not been dispersing any coin in the past two years.

The center won’t even give out the 20% required by most co-production agreements needed to partner with foreign productions, says Tsitos, who adds that the Film Center has massive debts, although numbers weren’t available.

Calls and emails to the Film Center have not been returned.

Long criticized by the emerging generation of Greek filmmakers for being a haven of cronyism and red tape, the org was slated for reform with the passage of a new film funding law last year that included tax incentives and streamlining rules. But the changes were put on hold when the latest wave of austerity measures, forced on the debt-laden country by European lenders, took hold, say Greek film officials who did not want to be named.

With Greek filmmakers unable to raise even their 20% share of budgets, they’ll no longer be able to join forces with countries in better financial health, as other small nations in the region do. That’s frustrating to the new wave of Greek filmmakers like Athina Rachel Tsangari (“Attenberg”) and Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth”), who are winning kudos abroad and rely on co-production coin to make their films.

But the problems of Greece go well beyond the nation’s borders. The world financial community doubts the beleagured country will be able to dig itself out from under its €340 billion ($454 billion) debt as it struggles to find legal ways to slash constitutionally protected state jobs.

The Thessaloniki Film Festival, which unspools Nov. 4-13, has been spared some of the pain, thanks to a European Union grant, support by the EU’s Media program and coin dedicated to its digital market library and Crossroads co-production forum. The fest is on firm footing for at least the next two editions after 2011, says fest prexy Dimitri Eipides, who adds that after taking over the public-sector organization last year, his team has reduced the fest’s $8.6 million debt to just $2 million, and is working to pay it off entirely.

Other key film orgs have not been as fortunate. The Hellenic Audiovisual Institute, which coordinates media support programs, and Greece’s national film archive, the preserve of thousands of historic prints, are being shuttered. And the larger of pubcaster ERT’s two channels is set to stop operations, eliminating scores of jobs.

“The government could have shut down other useless organizations instead of giving up on something that actually has to do with our national culture, in terms of films, TV documentaries and audiovisual material,” says Greek helmer Constantine Giannaris, whose films are getting a retrospective at Thessaloniki.

Despite all the closures, Giannaris says, there seems to be a renaissance taking place. “It is on a low-budget level, but, nevertheless, there seems to be an explosion of creativity and a lot of work being done, particularly by younger filmmakers in their 30s and early 40s,” Giannaris adds.

That the creative surge is taking place amid a national crisis, says Giannaris, is all the more inspiring.

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