Maria Komninou bears a heavy inheritance upon her shoulders that she was unable to escape. At the Film Archive of Greece, where she assumed the position of President just one year ago, she continues to promote and highlight the importance of preserving not only our cinematic heritage but also our contact with cinematic directors from all over the world.
Komninou’s mother, Aglaia Mitropoulou, a fanatical collector of films, in 1950 founded the first Cinematography Club in Greece, which in 1963 was transformed into The Film Archive of Greece, saving invaluable information and artifacts for future scholars, which would otherwise surely have been lost.
It causes us no great feeling of surprise to know that Maria Komninou grew up hearing from her mother, not fairytales, but rather the stories of Kafka, Herman Melville, and Gertrude Stein, living in the magical world of film that would impact her for her entire life. Her personality was forged through the dreams of a Luchino Visconti, a Luis Bunuel, and an Alain Resnais – they influenced her to such a degree, and prepared her for the demanding work of heading the Film Archive of Greece.
Komninou, as a professor in the department of communications and mass media at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, has contributed to the creation of the audiovisual workshop of the department.
She studied psychology, sociology, and philosophy of economics (P.S.E. Brunell University) and earned her PhD in Sociology at the London School of Economics.
Her research interests pertain to Political Communication and cultural and cinematographic studies. Her bibliography includes, Community, Society and Ideology, and From the Market to the Spectacle: The Formation of the Public Sphere and Cinema of Modern Greek Society 1950-1996. Additionally, she has written many articles for English readers and magazines.
In her first year as president, Komninou realized, with funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the restoration of the most important film of 1950, Apaches of Athens, directed by Dimitris Gaziadis and Yannis Prine. It is an adaptation of Nikos Hatziapostolou’s operetta of the same title, which takes us to Athens circa 1920, where the romantic-comedic adventures of an apache were presented as the first Greek Talkie – with the sounds of the film recorded on gramophone discs.
Along with preserving and restoring the precious contents of the Film Archive and the distribution of films in a new era, Komninou has also taken important steps towards digitizing part of the collection of the Film Archive, which connected two digital databases: Filmarchives Online (www.filmarchives-online.eu), which makes accessible to scholars its non-fiction collection, and the European EFG Cinema Portal (www.europeanfilmgateway.eu), which is linked to the European Digital Library “Europeana”.
The Film Archive is located at the junction of the Iera Odos with Alexander the Great Avenue, in Kerameikos. With funds from the Third Community Support Initiative of the EU, the old Lais cinema was transformed in 2002 into a worthy place for a modern institution dedicated to the preservation of Greece’s cinematic heritage. There are two halls for screenings, a summer cinema, and a library, cinema museum, reading room, audio-visual archive, and offices. The Film Archive is also held at a privately-owned site in Agia Paraskevi, and in addition to its own collection of about 10,000 titles, the space also houses the archives of the Greek Cinema Center.
Despite the huge problem faced by the audio-visual sector in Greece with unemployment rates in the range of 85-90%, Maria Komninou remains optimistic and, as she tells us, “Given the bleak situation in our country, we see movement, a resistance to these catastrophic conditions. With the collapse of production on television, private and public alike, most people found themselves without work, but on the other hand, it does not cease to pleasantly surprise that feature films and short subjects managed to survive after the crisis. A big boost for the Film Archive is the recognition and support we have received from similar foundations abroad and from important people who stand as crucial allies at the side of the Greek cinematographic world, which knows that the Film Archive of Greece is Greek cinema’s home.”