Arriving in Athens in the afternoon from a surprisingly easy exit from Israel via Ben Gurion airport, we picked up our hire-car and drove into the seemingly quiet capital city. But central Athens holds hidden driving agendas and after some nightmarish acrobatic car-manoeuvring we finally settled into the guest rooms of the NIA (Dutch Institute in Athens) that are at the foot of the Acropolis, comfortable and well-equiped (although sadly not big enough to accomodate 25 people). The same evening, the NIA held a 2hr talk by a Dutch economist Dirk Bezemer of Groningen University on the Euro crisis that we attended, after which we were picked up by our lovely Greek co-pilot Stavros Raptis, director of the Athens Short Film Festival and casting director/short filmmaker. Over a Santorini-inspired dinner, he confirmed he is happy to provide support in terms of screenings and filmmakers. He then gave us a list of local production companies, by which point we started to realise the effect of the crisis in Greece: more then half of the companies have shut down in the last year, others are on the brink of collapse, and out of his list of about 40 companies, only 4 could be interested in Cinemanautica (new working title of the project) and more importantly, would still be around next year!
Embodying the still-positive spirit of the Greeks, Stavros called around to arrange meetings with possible collaborators for the coming days (Boo productions, Pan, Yorgos Tsourgiannis (producer of Dogtooth) and Panos Productions).
On Friday we had a morning meeting at the British Institute, who have a very nice location and set up in the Lykabettos area sharing extensive and lovely grounds with the American School . Their attic artist studio space is quite small plus the studious environment does not seem to be the perfect place for a group of no doubt boisterous filmmakers, but an outdoor screening in their yard could be an option. Stavros reported back that most production companies are busy making commercials to make ends meet, but we can meet filmmakers Denia Safari and Alex Aristopoulos the following day. We visit the Benaki Museum who were holding a photographic exhibition about the population exchange of Greeks and Turks in the 1920s following WW1 which is very moving and simply told. In the evening, we start drafting the first funding application to Allianz Kulturstiftung..a potential major source of funding.
On Saturday, we meet Tonia of Nostalghia Theatre Company at Six D.O.G.S artist space to talk about screening, casting and crew possibilities and she shows us around the different space which could be very good for production offices and locations. Around midday we meet up again with Stavros, Denia and Alex who besides making films, run a soup kitchen for Afghan/Pakistani immigrants from a squat. They are very enthusiastic about the project, would like to collaborate, but do really make clear the financial situation in Greece is very difficult at the moment and nobody even knows how they will feed themselves after some months..
It’s an odd mix in Greece : a combination of smiles and good humour coupled with the economic reality of their situation. People are dealing with it different ways and the younger generation in particular seem to be, paraphrasing Tonia and Denia, making it their own.