ATHENS – Long ignored on the world stage until recent years, with the emergence of bold new directors and edgy films, Greek movies – and those set in Greece – are coming to the fore, drawing attention at the Cannes Film Festival.
That was highlighted by Swedish director Ruben Östlund winning the top honor for the movie Triangle of Sadness that was shot on the Greek island of Evia, noted for wildfires that swept across it in 2021.
There were five Greek and Greek-set movies in this year’s competition, that resumed after lockdowns kept the event closed down for two years, and they shone among a top field, said The Hollywood Reporter.
That was also attributed to the government luring more filmmakers and offering financial incentives after years of either ignorning them or driving them away with indifference or callousness toward the sector.
Besides Östlund’s film there was also Panos Koutras’ Cannes Premiere title Dodo, Emin Alper’s Turkish-Greek co-production Burning Days (in Un Certain Regard) and Evi Kalogiropoulou’s short film On Xerxes’ Throne.
“The Greek showing at Cannes this year is stronger than it’s been in decades. Despite the ravages of COVID-19 and the financial crisis of the late 2000s, the Greek film industry has emerged as a force to be reckoned with on the world stage,” said the bible of Hollywood coverage, in a piece by Ryan Coleman.
A former Greek government notoriously didn’t want the BBC shooting scenes near Cape Sounion and permission to film at archeaological and other sites around the country were routinely denied for years, letting other countries attract films – and hordes of tourists who followed.
Even Mamma Mia II was lost to Greece despite the runaway success of the first which had been filmed on islands and the mainland, the sequel shot instead in Croatia, which preteneded to be Greece.
That has been changing with the success of Greek directors and those from around the world who want to shoot in Greece for its abundant beauty and sunshine that don’t affect filming schedules.
The Hollywood Reporter said the turnaround is the result of more government aid attracting producers who are interested in saving money, the idea of Greece being a setting for films especially to help spur a recovery from a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis.
MADE IN GREECE
A Netflix original, Beckett, was shot in Greece and more producers and directors are interested in filming in the country, as are noted actors, Greece a hot spot for celebrities on vacation too who come to know it.
Famed Canadian director David Cronenberg’s film Crimes of the Future, that was shot all in Greece, was one of those on the Cannes agenda and starred noted actor Viggo Mortensen, scenes at the Bay of Eleusis and in Athens.
The turning point, the piece said, came in 2017 when the then-ruling Radical Left SYRIZA that ironically was known for being unfriendly to business and foreign investors passed a stronger tax rebate law which led to the National Centre of Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME) being founded.
The agency is a partnership between the Ministry of Digital Governance and the private sector, which provides shooting incentives for audiovisual projects like films, TV shows and even video games, the most lucrative market of all.
It started with a 25 percent rebate that in 2018 became 40 percent in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and Greece, like other countries, was desperate for revenues and looked toward filmmakers.
The cash rebate, a 30 percent tax relief and special programs like the ability to invoice a percentage of above-the-line salaries “made Greece immune to the pandemic,” Vasiliki Diagouma, EKOME’s communications chief told the site.
Since April 2018, EKOME has supported 221 projects, which created an estimated 51,400 jobs, and brought in an estimated 349 million euros ($366.36 million) in investment, including the Cronenberg and Östlund films.
Not everyone is keen on the agency’s role though, with Yorgos Tsourgiannis, head of Horsefly Films and a producer on Burning Days saying if the rebate scheme ends that it could “dry up Greek crews and drive up prices.”
Christos Karamanis, the Director of Photography for Burning Days said that, “It has harder to service Greek films with Greek crews,” and Diagouma acknowledged that EKOME is “more aware than ever of the need to provide technical training and expand university programs.”
But Karamanis said the showing of Greek and Greek-set films at Cannes was “a long time coming,” even if viewed through a long lens of a film production set on site.