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AKAMAS the movie > Harsh reality November 12, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life Greek.
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Two months after being shown at the Venice Film Festival, Panicos Chrysanthou’s controversial film Akamas is yet to be aired in Cyprus

Considering the applause and support Cypriot art usually receives from local institutions and media, one would expect the first ever Cypriot film shown at the Venice Film Festival last September, to become an immediate hit.

However, this is not the case with Panicos Chrysanthou’s Akamas. Two months after its premiere in Venice, the film still hasn’t been shown in Cypriot cinemas and hasn’t had any in-depth reviews in the local press. It did receive some media coverage over the summer but that was only because of the conflict between the director and the Ministry of Education and Culture. The Ministry which had put up some cash, demanded a scene be changed, the execution of a man who talked too much by EOKA fighters in a village church. The authorities insisted Chrysanthou change the location of the scene to a coffee shop, as agreed in his contract. The director argued the demand was against the principle of artistic freedom. We are in November now and the situation hasn’t changed.

I saw the film over a month ago in Chrysanthou’s house, in the small ex-Turkish Cypriot village of Pelathousa in the Paphos district, while interviewing its director. Slow-paced, Akamas is a movie made by a man deeply in love with his country. It is artistically shot and rich in cultural and environmental details that anybody who knows the island and its difficult history would appreciate. It is a film one would imagine Cypriot children should watch to learn more about the beauty and harsh reality of their island.

“It is a film about my Cyprus,” Kythrea-born Chrysanthou said. “It is about the real past of my island, my childhood, Cypriot tradition and culture. Everything is in this film: sun, nature, the philosophy of life. And yes, also politics.” Kythrea town is currently under turkish occupation and military control since July 1974, when Turkey invaded The Republic of Cyprus.

The film spans over 20 years of Cyprus history, from the 1950s to the 1970s, and depicts a love affair between Turkish Cypriot Omer and Greek Cypriot Rhodou. They grow up together in Akamas and although at first Rhodou falls in love with young EOKA fighter Evagoras, once he gets killed by the British she turns to Omer and in spite of protests from her parents decides to marry him. But this is Cyprus and a marriage between a Muslim man and a Christian woman is not something that local people are prepared to accept easily. “We can’t let them sleep with our women,” one man says.

The story includes many episodes from the lives of individuals who Chrysanthou has met or heard of. The controversial church scene really took place in the 1950s in Kythrea and the director heard of it as a small boy in his father’s coffee shop. “There are many situations in this film that have really happened,” said Chrysanthou. “But there is also a lot of fiction.”

Accusations against the film include the general feeling that it was anti-Greek and that the portrayal of Evagoras, based on national hero Evagoras Pallikaridis who was killed by the British, was far from positive.

But Chrysanthou denied there are any similarities between his Evagoras and Pallikaridis, apart from the name, and maintains that the disagreement over the church-scene is just a pretext for the government to stop the film from being released.

“People who are against this film are the most conservative people in this country,” he says. “They say it damages ‘our cause’. They just don’t want it to be shown. They are afraid of discussion. They don’t want any opinion on Cyprus that is different from theirs. My film is human. I have put in it human stories from both sides and they don’t like it.”

However Chrysanthou agreed that his film is politically challenging.

“Yes, I think some people have a right to be angry but it is not only because of this one scene. The whole film is critical. It criticises many realities that are still alive and have influence in this country. It shows people who think in certain ways and these people are still present in Cyprus. It criticises today’s political situation. But don’t we all have the right to be critical? I just want the right to express my opinion and I think people who don’t like my opinion have the right to express theirs.”

Akamas is not the only film by Chrysanthou that has been ignored by Cypriot officials and never shown publicly. His first black and white documentary, Cyprus In A Detail, sponsored by the Public Information Office (PIO) and awarded at Berlin Film Festival in 1987, has never made it to Cypriot TV or cinemas either. It focused on the story of mixed village Ayios Sozomenos, burnt down by the Greek Cypriot paramilitary in 1963.

“Ayios Sozomenos wasn’t the best topic for the PIO but because they didn’t have too many other proposals they accepted it,” says Chrysanthou. “I was impressed with Ayios Sozomenos. When I saw it for the first time it was at the end of the 1970s, three or four years after the war. A friend took me there. This village functions for me as a symbol. It used to be a very beautiful mixed village but all its inhabitants, both Turkish and Greek Cypriots, left and now it is there, totally ruined. I think of it as of one of the aspects of the reality of Cyprus because this is actually what Cyprus is, ruins.”

The second film that Chrysanthou directed, Our Wall, shot in 1993 for German TV, consisted again of accounts of personal tragedies of both Turkish and Greek Cypriots caused by the division of the island and again, though shown at film festivals abroad, in Cyprus ended up on a shelf.

The third, documentary The Footprints of Aphrodite (1996) was less dangerous since it was a profile of Cypriot poet Charalambos Demosthenous but the fourth and fifth, documentary Parallel Trips (2003, co-directed with Turkish Cypriot Dervis Zaim), and feature Mud (2003, directed by Zaim and co-produced by Chrysanthou) caused problems again (on both sides) and can be seen only sporadically, during special events.

But Chrysanthou, who when not busy with shooting films produces postcards to make a living, doesn’t lose hope that one day the situation will improve.

“I believe in my films,” he said sitting on the porch of his small house, with one of the most stunning views on the island. “I think I have managed to produce them because I believed in them. If I hadn’t I would have given up a long time ago. But you can’t stop somebody from doing something that they really believe in. Now, for me, the most important thing is to get Akamas in front of a wider audience and I will find a way to achieve it.”

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