ATHENS — As weary Greek voters headed to the polls this week for the third time this year, hoping to find a way out of an ongoing political and economic quagmire, local bizzers gathered Thursday night to toast an industry that’s proven surprisingly resilient throughout the country’s protracted crisis.
While the event hosted by the Hellenic Film Academy, which screened trailers for the country’s upcoming slate of new releases, brought in a packed and spirited crowd, many in attendance echoed the dour mood of recent months.
“I think everyone is exhausted and fed up,” said producer Amanda Livanou. “I can sense a mood of helplessness.”
Throughout the gloomy years of the economic crisis back home, Greek helmers have met with global acclaim. Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Dogtooth,” which won the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2009, earned a foreign language Oscar nomination. Athina Rachel Tsangari’s “Attenberg” was nominated for a Golden Lion in Venice in 2010, the same year that Syllas Tzoumerkas’ debut, “Homeland,” premiered at the fest’s International Critics’ Week. This year Yorgos Zois’ “Interruption” had a Venice debut, while Lanthimos’ “The Lobster” was a hit at Cannes.
The critical success abroad, though, has belied the domestic challenges. “The market has shrunk a lot since five years ago,” said producer Maria Drandaki. “The last five years, more money comes from abroad … and less from the Greek box office.”
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From a peak of almost 12 million tickets sold in 2010, fewer than 9 million were sold last year. And after 31 feature films were released in 2011, just 17 hit the screens in 2014.
The financial environment for local productions is bleak. A political shake-up at the state-funded Greek Film Center last year has slowed its disbursements. Pubcaster ERT — abruptly shuttered by the government in 2013 — has been slow to commission since being reinstated in June. And last month, the government abolished a tax on ticket sales that had been a significant source of coin for Greek producers.
“There hasn’t been proper funding,” said Livanou, who’s currently in production with “Park,” by first-time helmer Sofia Exarchou. “Park” was the first Greek project ever selected for the Sundance Directors Lab. Instead, she said, producers have been forced to adapt.
“We just found some private money [for “Park”] and we went ahead,” said Livanou.
Bizzers are also awaiting the relaxation of capital controls, which currently limit cash withdrawals and spending in Greece, as well as the ability to send money abroad. The limits have been a blow to the many small, indie productions which rely on cash in hand to get made.
“Low-budget is dead with capital controls,” said Livanou.
Like many Greeks looking for a ray of hope, Drandaki saw a positive sign that the government of prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party emerged from its strong showing in Sunday’s elections with a “clear mandate” to govern.
Now bizzers are waiting for a “very clear decision from the government” to show its support of the industry, she said.