This summer a new board of directors took the reins at the Greek Film Center (GFC), the body that oversees all aspects of the country’s film policy, from bolstering the development and production of local cinema to luring international film and television shoots to the Mediterranean nation. Despite recent years in which the GFC has often appeared adrift, industry veterans have thus far been cautiously optimistic that the shake-up will bring much-needed stability and continuity to the organization.
Markos Holevas, who was recently named president of the GFC’s board, told Variety that the center would waste little time in ensuring that the Greek industry hits the ground running in 2021. “We want to change many things before the end of the year, to begin the new year with a new profile,” he said.
As the Thessaloniki Film Festival winds down, Holevas said the new board was now determined “to make a policy for the next two to three years in order to follow the strategy that you need as a small country like Greece, to be at the center of [production] in Europe, and for all the world.”
Since the introduction of a cash rebate in 2018—which, after an increase this summer, now stands at 40%—Greece has finally been able to add robust financial incentives to attractions such as its sun-splashed islands and ancient wonders. The strategy has been quick to pay off, with a number of high-profile productions lensing in the country in recent years, including “The Trip to Greece,” the fourth installment in Michael Winterbottom’s acclaimed comedy franchise, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and the John David Washington starrer “Born to Be Murdered,” a political thriller directed by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, which was recently acquired by Netflix.
Despite the travel restrictions and safety protocols that have upended film and television production across the globe this year, the GFC and the Ministry of Culture have worked together to keep cameras rolling in Greece during the pandemic, even as the country entered its second lockdown on Nov. 7. Principal photography recently wrapped on “The Lost Daughter,” an adaptation of the Elena Ferrante novel, written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal and starring Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson, as well as the Woody Harrelson-starring “Triangle of Sadness,” directed by Oscar nominee and Palme d’Or winner Ruben Östlund.
The Greek Film Center also offered a measure of financial relief to keep the industry running during the first lockdown last spring, launching a €2.8 million ($3.3 million) fund with the Ministry of Culture to support small-scale productions, even as most of the Greek economy had ground to a halt.
One of the big challenges for the new board will be streamlining the application process for state financing and unclogging some of the notorious bottlenecks that have delayed funding in recent years, something that has in turn made it difficult for Greek producers to collaborate with foreign partners. “If you don’t have your national support, you lose the opportunity for co-production,” said Holevas. “And that is one of the problems we will resolve.”
The changes come at a time of great optimism for the Greek biz, which has weathered years of austerity measures and economic crisis to produce a new generation of rising talent. A decade after the Greek Weird Wave introduced international audiences to directors like Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Favorite,” “The Lobster”) and Athina Rachel Tsangari (“Attenberg,” “Chevalier”), Christos Nikou opened the Venice Film Festival’s Horizons sidebar with his feature debut, “Apples,” while Georgis Grigorakis’s “Digger” premiered in the Berlinale’s Panorama strand. Last year the Greek director Vasilis Kekatos took home a short film Palme d’Or in Cannes.
The Greek Film Center currently operates with an annual budget of roughly €4 million ($4.7 million) to support the development and production of local films, a relatively small amount, even for a country of Greece’s size. The industry has been hamstrung in other ways as well. The scrapping of a tax on cinema ticket sales in 2015 eliminated a vital source of funding for Greek producers. A tax on Greek broadcasters, meanwhile, which is likewise meant to stimulate local production, largely exists in name alone; though the law has been on the books for years, pubcaster ERT is currently the only broadcaster in compliance, according to Holevas.
Addressing such shortfalls is front and center for the new GFC topper at the start of his three-year mandate. “The issue is that we need to find more money. Not only from the Ministry of Culture, but from other sources—other ministries, or other funds that can support Greek cinema,” he said. “It’s important for us that the government use the tools that we have from Europe, the taxation of all these platforms like Netflix, to support the national industry.”
The goal for the Greek Film Center’s new leadership moving forward, said Holevas, is to create policies that are in line with the realities of film and TV production today, and “not to [have a] GFC that stays in the 20th century.”