jump to navigation

‘I’m not ashamed of any of my films’ December 30, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life Greek.
comments closed

The internationally renowned Greek film director Costa-Gavras talks about his life, his films, the search for truth and universal values

‘Fog is photogenic,’ laughed Costa-Gavras as he took a stroll in Thessaloniki’s Aristotelous Square during last month’s film festival.

In Greece last month for screening of his latest film “Mon Colonel” at the 47th Thessaloniki Film Festival, Costa-Gavras gave this interview about his early life, his departure for France and his subsequent work.

Let’s begin with your life history.

My life actually consists of two phases. The first was during the (Second World War) occupation of Greece when I lived in my village, where I learned about life. Village people work in the spring so as to have everything they need for winter. There were no dreams. The only dream was for the Germans to leave, and for children that was very vague.

What about when you moved to Athens?

We were Peloponnesians with heavy accents but we were good at school because my uncle had been the village teacher. But Athens was where our problems began. My father, although not a communist, was against the monarchy. He had fought in Asia Minor and lost all his friends. He was angry with the royal family and so he joined the National Liberation Front (EAM) instead of the other side. He had another reason for doing so: His brother spoke out openly against the communists and was almost killed on two occasions. Joining up was a way of saving his brother. After the German occupation, when the king returned, my father was sent to prison. He was in and out of prison, exiled to the islands.

Why did you leave Greece?

We could have gone to America, because my mother had a brother and uncles there, but it wasn’t possible because of my father’s record. That also put university off limits to me, even though I was a top student. The only way out for someone like me was to go to France. I knew that in France one could easily find a weekend job and study as well. We boys worked in restaurants; each week in a different place. But that was interesting, as we met different people, learned about life, as well as the feeling of freedom. I will never forget my amazement when for the first time I saw all the newspapers together in one room, from the monarchist to the communist… It was the same at the university, with the large student demonstrations; it was the period of the war in Algeria and Indochina. Of course, at the time I was an onlooker. As a foreigner I couldn’t get involved, but nor was I interested. I thought that was their business.

Yet now you have made a film about the war in Algeria.

Yes, My French was getting better and what is important is that when I finished the film academy I found work immediately. It was with Yves Allegret, Simone Signoret’s first husband. They all accepted me as if I were French, and only sometimes referred to me as “le Grec.” Then I was asked by Allegret’s first assistant to work on his next film. The film was made by Rene Clair. That’s how I started… Clair was a teacher to me… When I became a director and showed him my films, he reprimanded me for doing closeups of eyes. He was stuck in the traditional way of doing closeups that included the chest, as they do on television today. He thought it was inhuman to show details that weren’t necessary.

You yourself believe in keeping a distance from emotions.

You have to allow the audience to decide for themselves and the actors to express emotions without showing them openly. Feelings have to come from within.

How far does your influence extend over the actors?

I think it begins from the moment you choose the actors. The second factor is the scenario, which puts the actors and the dialogue into the proper psychological state. Then there is a discussion about the characters, how the director sees them, because everyone sees the film differently, particularly the actors. Many of them think they are the main part of the film. I explain to them that the main thing is the story and that every one of the actors has to serve it and its characters, not the other way round. When all those things have been put into place, the actual filming is details. The difficulty is in staying as close as possible to that ideal of the film you dreamed of.

It appears that it was with Rene Clair that your own dreams began to come to fruition.

At that time it wasn’t easy to be a foreigner in France. The only accessible area was production; there weren’t any foreigners in the other stages. Filmmaking was then the realm of the French upper class; you had to have money to make a film, to have studied and be accepted. Today I can say that I was a very good assistant director, but it seemed impossible that having come from Greece, I could become a serious director.

When did you start to believe it?

When I began my first film and, a few days later, the people the producer had sent to keep an eye on me disappeared. Much later I found out that Yves Montand had told the producer to leave me alone to do what I wanted.

You said you retain another feeling from that time.

Yes, that as a foreigner I had to behave better than the French. I was amazed that they regarded us as thieves, as Levantines, as they used to say. That made me want to set an example. In doing so, I discovered that French society was not so perfect; I saw its racism. When I heard what they said about Jews, I could only imagine what they would say about Greeks. All that played a huge part in me becoming who I am, whether good or bad I don’t know. However, I have tried to be consistent.

So freedom was the price of not returning to Greece?

Absolutely. For me, Greece at that time was a hostile place because of the problems it had caused for my family. I didn’t want to come back and it took years to get over that feeling. However, my first thought when the coup happened was that as a Greek I had to fight, to show that I had not become a foreigner. One’s homeland is always one’s homeland.

What do you think forms our moral values?

Our experiences. Postwar Greece was just dogma, the state, the Church. Young people were attracted by what was forbidden, that is, communism. It took time for me to realize that it wasn’t working, and that what the other side was offering was also false. I became aware that freedom is the ability to choose to do what interests me… to be an actor in life and not an observer.

Of course, you had the support of prominent members of the French intelligentsia.

Yes, people like Montand, Signoret, Foucault and Debray were the most morally sincere as none of them were dogmatic. They had experienced the postwar dogmatism that said the Soviet Union was the future of the world. I met them later, in 1958-59, when all that was over and they had realized that tanks could not change the world.

What did they teach you?

How to take a stand on things in each specific situation and why one is for or against an issue. Choices cannot be made with the emotions, nor automatically, they require thought. That is why we go back to the ancients, to dialectics.

We cannot remove instinctive reactions from our lives, they are the most human emotions, like falling in love. That is how I felt when I read Vassilis Vassilikos’s “Z” and wanted to do something for Greece, I didn’t need to think about it. Everyone wondered who would be interested in a Greek member of Parliament who got killed, or complained that there was no woman in the story. It was the typical anti-film of its time. We looked for actors and for money for over a year. The only positive responses were from the actors, such as Montand and Jean-Louis Trintignant, who both declared their support.

In the end, the critics called it the first important French political film.

That astonished everyone… When I make a film, I don’t talk about “the truth”… When things happen over a period of months or years and you tell the story in two hours, then you can’t really talk about truth. I believe that the moral of stories or characters is what one can respect in films that concern real people and situations.

What was the film in which the truth scared you most?

In “The Confession” and later, on a personal level, in “Missing.” A lot of actors whom I wanted for “The Confession” came to tell me I was making a serious mistake and left without so much as a goodbye. Naturally at that time Communism was like a religion. I remember that Montand doubted whether I understood the seriousness of what I had written, whether people would accept it. Not even Simone Signoret was sure; she didn’t like the role of the woman who turns against her husband of 20 years and calls him a traitor… With “Missing,” we were against Nixon and Kissinger and every word, every character had to be confirmed by all those involved in the case, otherwise we would have been taken to court.

Has defending the weak justified the role you have wanted to play?

It has justified certain of my ambitions, my desire to do something to fight narcissism. But the most important thing is that when I look at what I have done, the films that have done well and those that haven’t, I am not ashamed of any of them. That makes me go on.


Goulandris gifts from the garden of art and botany December 30, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Museums, Movies Life Greek, Nature.
comments closed

Paeonia mascula, is painted by Niki Goulandris, the Director of the Goulandris Museum of Natural History in Kifissia.

Crowds descended on the Goulandris Museum of Natural History on Levidou Street in Kifissia, Athens, to buy gifts that combine knowledge, art and taste. Recent additions to the collection are watercolors painted by the Museum’s Director, Niki Goulandris, a well-known botanical artist both here and abroad.

Some of her latest works depict a hybrid peony that grew in the museum garden from two peonies that were planted close to each other, a deep red Paeonia mascula and a white Paeonia hellenica, found only on Icaria island. A bee or a butterfly must have cross-pollinated the plants to produce the beautiful pink flowers. Art and science combine in another composition portraying a tulip that grows only on Crete, the Tulipa saxatillis. Signed, numbered prints that reflect the feeling of a garden and Mediterranean light, the paintings make perfect gifts.

Early next year, on January 21, the Museum is holding an exclusive presentation of “An Inconvenient Truth,” the book and film by Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States during the Clinton administration. The 90-minute documentary has been well received wherever it has been screened. More news next year!

Honors up ahead in the new year December 30, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Cyprus, Arts Events Greece, Books Life Greek, Music Life Greek.
comments closed

Lots of tributes in the works > Late author Nikos Kazantzakis will be remembered.

The year 2007 appears to be a commemorative one in many ways for the Ministry of Culture as well as for other institutions. Already it has been declared the year of Nikos Kazantzakis, Dionysios Solomos and Nikos Engonopoulos.

These commemorative years, which have become all the more frequent over the past few years, are questionable when seen from the point of view of their appeal to the wider public. These years nonetheless can be very valuable for researchers and others who are interested if they are organized appropriately.

The Ministry of Culture has declared 2007 the Year of Kazantzakis because it is the 50th anniversary of the writer’s death and the Year of Solomos because it is 150 years since the poet’s death, that is in addition to the Year of Maria Callas. The Year of Nikos Engonopoulos, 150 years since his birth, is being organized by the National Book Center, in collaboration with the Benaki Museum, with a large conference scheduled for the end of the year and a retrospective exhibition on the artist’s work.

Details have yet to be announced by the institutions involved and the Ministry of Culture is also expected to make its plans for celebrations of Kazantzakis and Solomos known to the public within a few days. It should be noted that 1998 had also officially been a Year of Dionysios Solomos, on the occasion of 200 years since his birth.

The ministry has not revealed its intentions regarding the Kazantzakis Year, which is being organized for the first time. It has asked for suggestions from a three-member committee consisting of Dimitris Kalokyris, Alexis Kalokairinos and Miltos Pechlivanis, which have been submitted and are currently at the ministry’s disposal. The suggestions concern institutions that are under the ministry auspices, including the National Theater and the National Book Center, among others.

Meanwhile, the International Society of Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis, which had been asking the ministry to officially declare a Kazantzakis Year, has organized a series of conferences and events that will take place in Greece, Cyprus and other countries. Highlights of the events include an international conference on “Nikos Kazantzakis and Young People,” which is to be held in Nicosia with Greek speakers, while foreign experts are also expected to participate. The International Society of Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis was founded in Geneva in 1988, with the participation of Eleni Kazantzaki and Giorgos Anemoyiannis, the founder of the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum on Crete. The Museum recently acquired from Giorgos Stassinakis a desk, a portrait and two volumes of Kazantzakis’s “Odyssey.”

Baby Jesus doll stolen from Nativity scene December 30, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Police & Crime.
comments closed

The doll symbolizing the Baby Jesus has been stolen by suspected anarchists from the manger in Thessaloniki’s main square, police said yesterday.

A previously unknown group calling itself “The Mothers of Aristotelous Square” claimed it was behind the stunt and demanded the release of two activists arrested earlier this year when the European Social Forum was held in Athens.

This is the third time since 1993 that the Baby Jesus has been stolen from the Nativity scene, which is set up next to the Christmas tree in Aristotelous Square.

“No matter how many times they take the doll… nothing can remove Christ and the Christmas spirit from our hearts,” said Thessaloniki’s Deputy Mayor Vassilis Gakis.

Police said that the doll was stolen while the security guard was on a break.

Festive fun for euro-children December 30, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Culture.
comments closed

Once again the City of Athens turned on entertainment for young and old alike in Syntagma Square this Christmas.

As the weather is fine, the City of Athens has set up a free snow slide in the National Gardens to make up for the snow that didn’t fall and the snowmen that weren’t built this year. In Syntagma Square, the antique carousel with its horses whirling round and the music playing pleases both young and old. And there are the little stores of Sugar Town with all sorts of sweets, except that those have to be paid for, as do photographs with the decorated tree taken by Santas wielding cameras. The balloons, the sweets and a spin on the carousel cost euros, but a look in the decorated windows is still free.

Festive celebrations take toll December 30, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Culture, Lifestyle.
comments closed

With the Christmas break over, travelers and revelers are starting to measure the cost on their pockets and waistlines.

Figures made public yesterday show that some 250,000 Greeks spent Christmas abroad this year, with cities such as Prague, Berlin and Vienna ranking among the top destinations.

A number of holidaymakers pointed out that despite the traveling expenses, trips abroad cost them roughly the same as staying home, given the rising cost of living in Athens. A holidaymaker, who visited Prague over Christmas, said that food and drink in the Czech Republic was cheaper than in Athens. “Our trip cost 1,800 euros, including air fares and accommodation at a very good hotel. Had we stayed in Athens, we would have frittered away the money elsewhere,” she said.

Cheaper options included trips to Bulgaria where a four-night stopover at a five-star hotel in central Sofia would have cost about 400 euros. Other travelers said that they managed to pay for the trip with the help of their Christmas bonus and avoided resorting to consumer loans.

However, bank data showed that the number of applications for consumer loans during the festive period came to over 2,000 applications per day.

About 820,000 people visited the Varvakeio food market in central Athens during December in order to furnish the holiday dinner table. Experts warned those who overindulged not to resort to crash diets.

Dietitian Giorgos Panotopoulos said that diets need to be realistic and must be adhered to over a long period of time in order to be effective. “There should be no stress or guilt involved. Only programming and an essential change in dietary habits over the long term. And above all, an increase in exercise,” he said.

Overconsumption of alcohol is also common during the festive season. Experts recommend that men stick to 21 glasses of alcohol per week, while women limit themselves to 15 glasses on a weekly basis.

These guidelines, however, depend on a number of factors, such as individuals’ tolerance for alcoholic beverages.

Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC) December 30, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology, Greece News, Politics.
comments closed

Alexander III of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great, single-handedly changed the nature of the ancient world in little more than a decade.

Alexander was born in the northern Greek kingdom of Macedonia in July 356 BC. His parents were Philip II, King of Macedon, and his wife Olympias. Alexander was educated by the philosopher Aristotle. Philip was assassinated in 336 BC and Alexander inherited a powerful yet volatile kingdom. He quickly dealt with his enemies at home and reasserted Macedonian power within Greece. He then set out to conquer the massive Persian Empire.

Against overwhelming odds, he led his army to victories across the Persian territories of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt without suffering a single defeat. His greatest victory was at the Battle of Gaugamela, in what is now northern Iraq, in 331 BC. The young king of Macedonia, leader of the Greeks, overlord of Asia Minor and pharaoh of Egypt became Great King of Persia at the age of 25.

Over the next eight years in his capacity as king, commander, politician, scholar and explorer, Alexander led his army a further 11,000 miles, founding over 70 cities and creating an empire that stretched across three continents and covered around two million square miles. The entire area from Greece in the west, north to the Danube, south into Egypt and as far to the east as the Indian Punjab, was linked together in a vast international network of trade and commerce. This was united by a common Greek language and culture, whilst the king himself adopted foreign customs in order to rule his millions of ethnically diverse subjects.

Alexander was acknowledged as a military genius who always led by example, although his belief in his own indestructibility meant he was often reckless with his own life and those of his soldiers. The fact that his army only refused to follow him once in 13 years of a reign during which there was constant fighting, indicates the loyalty he inspired.

He died of a fever in Babylon in June 323 BC.

Related Links > http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/alexander_the_great.shtml




http://egnatia.ee.auth.gr/~sthat/kids/alexander.html (in Greek)