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For an event that functions as the premier showcase for the Greek documentary industry, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival again offered a prime platform for local docmakers at its 24th edition, with 77 feature-length and short Greek documentaries screening across the festival’s various competition and non-competitive sections.

Marco Gastine, a co-founder of the Hellas Doc Association, a trade group representing the interests of Greek documentary filmmakers, has witnessed the industry’s steady evolution since the association was founded in 2013.

“There was nothing specific about documentaries [in Greece’s film policy at the time],” Gastine told Variety in Thessaloniki. “It was underrepresented in the public programs at the Greek Film Center and [public broadcaster] ERT.” The pubcaster was in fact shuttered from 2013 to 2015, as part of cost-cutting measures by an austerity-minded government, plunging the documentary industry into crisis.

Much has changed in the years since, partly thanks to the association’s efforts to shape film policy at public institutions like the GFC and the National Center of Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME), the government body tasked with administering Greece’s incentive scheme.

The GFC’s current regulations ensure that all of the center’s funding programs are accessible to documentary filmmakers, according to Gastine. Hellas Doc also lobbied EKOME to revise a cash rebate that was all but inaccessible to documentary filmmakers, who rarely managed to reach the local minimum spend threshold of €100,000 ($110,000).

“We succeeded to get them to listen, and they made it €60,000 ($66,000),” said Gastine. “So that means serious documentary production in this country can have access to this program. It makes it much easier to fund documentaries.”

Three Greek documentaries appeared in this year’s international competition at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival: “Femicidio” (pictured), a documentary written and directed by Nina Maria Paschalidou, about the wave of brutal attacks and femicides that in recent years have rocked Italy; “The Other Half,” by first-time filmmaker Giorgos Moutafis, which compiles footage taken by the veteran photojournalist between 2009 and 2021 as he reported on the Mediterranean’s refugee crisis; and “Tilos Weddings,” by Panayiotis Evangelidis, which tells the story of the first two gay and lesbian civil weddings ever performed in Greece.

Variety spoke to Gastine about the landscape for documentary filmmakers in Greece, and what more needs to be done to elevate the industry.

What are the key sources of funding for Greek documentary filmmakers?

There’s the institutional financiers, the Greek Film Center and EKOME. Of course, an important player is ERT, the national broadcaster. There is also another window for documentaries, Cosmote TV, which is co-producing a bit and are very interested in documentaries. But they are limited to historical or cultural documentaries. It is impossible to make a documentary with them with social content.

What more needs to be done to help the local doc community?

We have this dream to have local financing, like they have in France or Italy, where the regions are big players in production financing. That’s the problem [in Greece], there are not many players. In France, if you don’t get the [National Center for Cinema], you can get a channel. If you don’t get this channel, there are dozens of channels where you can go. In Greece, you don’t have this opportunity. It’s a smaller country, but you have small countries like Denmark – which is half the population of Greece – which has an incredible system of financing.

I would love to have more players, so we can build our budgets. We are not anymore in the 1970s, with everything from the state. And I’m not nostalgic for that. But you need to be in an open economy, you need to have players. They are too limited in Greece. It would be interesting to have the regions and the municipalities [more active]. There are no cultural channels, just private TV. They follow the logic of the market. There is no PBS or ARTE. The national broadcaster should have a channel for that, but there is not yet.

One of the films that screened in the international competition this week at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival was “Femicidio,” by Nina Maria Paschalidou. It’s a Greek-Italian co-production with broadcasters Al Jazeera and Sky Italia on board that also received support from the Italian Film Fund and Veneto Fund. I think it illustrates how all these different mechanisms you talk about – producers, private broadcasters, regional institutions – can come together to finance a film. Do you think we’ll be seeing more of these types of collaborations in Greece in the future?

Greek producers are getting skills for that, because it takes skills to make a co-production. When I started in the business, there were no producers for documentary – that’s why I became a producer. The producers were more focused on feature films and TV series and advertising. The last 15 years, something is changing. A lot of small companies have been created, and some are dedicated to documentaries. There are a lot of programs helping to build skills, such as workshops and festivals like Thessaloniki. All those things help a new generation of producers to be born.

What sort of support do you think is necessary from local and regional institutions?

At the institutional level, it’s important. A good example for us is if we look at the Nordic countries, which are small countries in terms of inhabitants. I think only Sweden has a population like Greece, which is more than 10 million. The others are smaller than Greece, but they have programs for filmmaking and funding that are much more developed than here. They have film centers which often have a film school. They have a very close connection to the local broadcasters. And then, if you get money, for example, from Finland, you will get almost automatically from Sweden and Denmark and Norway. So they can build their budgets like that. We don’t have mechanisms like that here in the southeast of Europe – like in Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, which are countries that have a common history.

Given these trends and challenges, how optimistic are you for the future of the Greek documentary film industry?

I think I’m quite optimistic. I’m coming [to Thessaloniki] almost every year. It would be impossible to imagine – even five years ago – that I would see a Greek-Chinese co-production (Sean Wang’s “A Marble Travelogue”). The level of Greek documentary is rising. It’s a long process, but in those kinds of labs or in festivals, we build the base of co-productions. For example, in the doc lab of the Mediterranean Film Institute in 2021 [where Gastine is a tutor], we had a beautiful Greek project. I found the producer here, and he picked up a German project. We build connections like that. We are like the old women who are [matchmaking] in the village. And the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival is very important for us. It built an audience, but it also built a profession.