Dafnis and Chloe

History of the Greek cinema

Athenians first experience the art of cinema in 1897. The projection of moving picture causes vibrant reactions and this new spectacle becomes a permanent subject of discussion and the source of many new publications. The Greek as well as the Balkan cinema sets off in 1906 with the help of the Giannaki brothers and Miltos Manakias who begin to film in the wider region of Macedonia, still under the occupation of the Ottoman Empire, which was beginning to collapse. The Manakia brothers create an exceptionally valuable series of more than 60 films. The same year a French filmmaker called Leons, shoots the first live footage during the Olympic Games of Athens. In 1907 the first movie theatre opens in Athens. The movie theatres begin to multiply. Provisional projections are organized in local theatres due to high demand. During the time period 1910 to 1911 director/actor Spyros Dimitrakopoulos directs some silent short comedies. He acts in most of his films, with the pseudonym “Spyridion”.

In 1914 the film production company “Asti Film” is formed and the production of feature films begins. The first Greek feature film made was based on “Golfo”, a well known dramatic/romantic theatrical play. Surprisingly, during World War I film productions were not completely suspended, however they were limited in producing war infomercials. Despite the predicaments of war many important Greek directors emerged (Georgios Prokopiou, Dimitris Gaziadis etc.) who produced films, with passion and primitive means, about the war front and the Destruction of Asia Minor (Mikrasia).

The first big commercial success occurs in 1920 with the film “Villar at the female baths of Phaliron”, in which the director, scriptwriter and protagonist was the comical actor Villar - pseudonym from his Cretan origin name Nikolaos Sfakianakis. The most famous film star in the years the 1920’s is Michael Michael of Michael. Also worth mentioning are the efforts of Achilleas Madras who directs “The Magician of Athens” and “Maria Pentagiotissa”. During the time period 1928 to 1931 the movie production house “Dag-Film” enjoys immense success. The company was established in 1918 and produced novel-adapted and historical films. The films “Dafni and Cloe” (1931 directed by O. Laskou) and “Love and waves” (1928 directed by D. Gaziadis) stand out. “Dafni and Chloe” showed for the first time in European Cinema, a naked body. A more serious effort of organizing the film production scene is put into action which will be violently interrupted by war. In 1932 the first ‘talkie’ film “Agapitikos of Boskopoylas”, made by “Olympia Films” and directed by D. Tsakiri is screened in movie theatres. “Apachides of Athens”, an adaptation of the successful operetta by Nikos Hatziapostolou, is praised as one of the most respectable efforts in cinema with dialogue and sound. The screenings were accompanied by the songs from the operetta and by sounds playing from a gramophone hidden behind the screen.

Filopimin Finos emerges on the Greek production scene by establishing, with some associates during 1939 in Kalamaki, the “Greek Cinematographic Studios” and shoots his first film as a producer and as a director, “The song of separation”, which is also the one and only film he will ever direct. During the difficult years of the German Occupation, Finos creates “Finos Films” (1942) which later will be the key factor for the formation of the Greek cinema history. Throughout the German Occupation two important films are produced, “The voice of heart” (1943, directed by D. [Ioannopoulou]) and “Claps” (1944, directed by G. Tzavela). In both films, Dimitris Horn, a theatre actor, makes his first cinematographic appearance drawing much attention to him. Basically these two films launch a new highly creative period for Greek Cinema. The “Claps” help talented director Tzavellas emerge and allowed some of the best films in Greek Cinema to be produced. In 1944 our big tragedian Katina Paxinou is awarded with an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the film “For whom the bell tolls” (directed by Sam Wood).

World War II comes to an end in 1945, but not for the Greek people. During the disturbed period that follows from the events of the so called “Dekemvriana” up to the end of the Civil War, few films were made. Many artists had rough times dealing with prosecutions, hunts and deportations. Normal film production begins to take off during the 1950’s. Greek Cinema begins a steady ascendant course and it attracts the public which is eager to fill the movie theatres. At the beginning of the 1950’s many exquisite films released helped new filmmakers to surface onto the Greek Cinema scene. “Bitter Bread” (1951 directed by G. Grigoriou), “Magic city” and “The Dragon” (1953, 1956 both directed by N. Koundouros), “Stella” and “A Girl in Black” (1955, 1956 both directed by M. Cacoyannis) as well as “The Counterfeit Coin” (1955 directed by G. Tzavellas). During the same period “Finos Films” generate the Greek Star System by producing a lot of new films. Films from all different genres are being released and some incredible box office successes occur. Throughout the period of the 1960’s, the Greek cinema enters an era of huge success and achievement. Many more production companies are established, raising the number of films released into epic quantities, equivalent with those of international film releases. In 1960 the Thessalonica Film Festival is founded, with the intention of becoming the official annual panorama for the Greek Cinema and rewarding its creators. The same year Melina Merkouri is awarded at the Cannes Festival for her perfomance in the film “Never on Sunday” by Jules Dassin and music composer Manos Hatzidakis is awarded the Academy Award for Best Song, “Children of Piraeus” for the same film. Greek cinema opens up its borders. Greek actors become international stars. Several Greek films are awarded or nominated with prizes and honors. All types of films are adapted for Greek audiences (for example the musicals by Yannis Dalianidis). Nikos Koundouros is awarded with the Silver Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival for directing “Small Venuses” (1963). “Alexis Zorbas” by Cacoyannis, receives three Academy Awards. From 1965 and on, an adequate amount of new directors appear with either short or feature length films to give promises for a brilliant course of the Greek Cinema. A Cinema, more politically mature but also with a more full-grown creative cinematographic language. However this promising course is unexpectedly congested by the Dictatorship. The censorship and the events that occurred during the Dictatorship in Greece caused an artistic stagnation. Many filmmakers fled the country to live abroad. The only big productions that occur are of the producer James Parish. They have historical, warfare and patriotic themes and have exclusive support from the colonels of the dictatorship. On the other hand, two films by Theo Angelopoulos, “ The Representation” (1970), that won most of the awards in Thessalonica Film Festival and “The days of 1936” (1972) as well as the “Proxenio of Anna” directed by Pantelis Voulgaris and “Evdokia” (1971) by Alexis Damianos, show the rest of the world that the Greek cinema has a lot of potential.

The change of regime allows all creative forces of cinema to reborn, but the big production of the 60’s will never take place again. New filmmakers present new ideas and engrave their own unique path. Greek Cinema enters into a different era. The change of regime is marked by the masterpiece of Theo Angelopoulos, “The Traveling Players” (1975). This new pattern of creative filmmakers emerging after the change of regime sadly does not last for long. Television replaces cinema and its increasing popularity numbs the minds of the public, who inevitably stop going to the movies. Many of the filmmakers are absorbed into the world of television in order to survive the crisis occurring in the Greek Cinema. The lack of money, forces the film productions to depend more and more on government owned subsidies and public funding. Thus three new categories of cinema are formed during this period: The first category of films, their quality is of no importance and are funded by the government, the second category are films made by the filmmakers, who with their artistic discipline and pride attempt to make films that would concern the public, trying to lure them back in the movie theatres and the third category, films that are personal, experimental, with low budget, trying to articulate a different and pioneering film language, without often succeeding. The outcome of these new categories is a confused audience and troubled filmmakers trying to make films within the boundaries of these three odd categories.

The 80’s are mostly owned by the dominion of VHS. The biggest production of bad quality films, released directly to VHS, takes place during this period. All the movie theatres unavoidably shut down and are turned into super-markets and shops. The Greek Cinema goes through a period of inactivity and hibernation. Nevertheless few filmmakers insist on making films and surprisingly accomplish to the resurrect Greek Cinema by winning international awards and slowly bringing the audiences back in the cinemas. The last decade is marked by the entry of new filmmakers in the field, who managed to blossom the absent artistic sensitivity and creativity. With the help of the already established top Greek filmmakers, who stand for the constant values of our cinema, they managed to make the public fall in love with cinema once again. Even if the Greek films still face major problems in the field of distribution and marketing, we can confidently declare that Greek cinema has entered a promising, new path and has a brilliant future ahead of it.


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