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The island’s fledgling film industry March 20, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life Greek.

The island’s fledgling film industry is about as robust as it will ever be. Although the government sponsors local films they still have to be sent abroad for development.

I had always wondered what went on behind the scenes of a movie and it always seemed so glamorous. Although not known for its involvement in the film industry, Cyprus does have an industry of sorts, much to many people’s surprise, including mine.

A search revealed that quite a few films were either shot in Cyprus or made by Cypriot directors. In 2006, the Cyprus International Film Festival (CIFF) was introduced to encourage new and upcoming directors in multiple sectors of entertainment, namely feature films, short films, documentaries, commercials, music videos and video art, to showcase their talent in front of a jury of internationally acclaimed cinema experts, directors and actors and be awarded with the Golden Aphrodite. It was a huge step, which unfortunately, yet not so surprisingly, was not met with open arms from all quarters. The truth is that cinematography in Cyprus is non-existent as this is such a small country.

However, it is wrong to believe that there aren’t people who have achieved a lot in this industry because there are. Cacoyiannis, who was nominated for an Academy Award five times, Pantzis, Georgiou and Knoutsen are filmmakers who began in Cyprus and then went abroad. The CIIF is a means of transport for new talents because there are so many that deserve a chance, explained director, Petra Terzi.

Most of the films involving Cyprus have the Cyprus problem as the main theme but often it’s from a humanitarian point of view rather than a political one. The 2005 film Akamas touched a nerve and caused a storm of controversy when politicians and the media realised it was a love story involving a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot with an EOKA fighter somewhere in the middle. This alone was enough to have certain public figures breathing down director Panicos Chrysanthou’s neck. “Certain politicians were asking for the movie to be banned before it was even finished because apparently the character of the EOKA fighter was very similar to that of Evagoras Pallikarides, an 18-year old fighter who was hanged by the British. In fact, it was clearly about the relationship between the young man and woman,” he said. For this reason, buzz was going around that the government weren’t sponsoring the film as they usually do for every other local film.

Theo Panayides, film director of Malgaat explained: “The government gives out an annual fee of something between £300,000 and £500,000. Most short films get something between £10 and £15,000 as sponsorship.” Akamas was one of five productions shown in September at the Venice Film Festival and furthermore it was the first Cypriot film ever to be aired at the acclaimed festival. It is still to be seen whether or not the political hot-potato will be shown in Cyprus.

Perhaps the most well-known and acclaimed Cypriot filmmaker is Michael Cacoyiannis, well-known for his 1964 film Zorba the Greek. Much of his work is rooted in classical texts, especially those of the Greek tragedian, Euripides. Cacoyiannis is the only Greek Cypriot artist who has been nominated for an Academy Award a breath-taking five times. He received Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film nominations for Zorba the Greek and two nominations in the Foreign Language Film category for Electra and Iphigenia. Despite being sent by his family to England to become a lawyer, after producing Greek-language programmes for the BBC during WWII, his interest was fixed. He ended up at the Old Vic school and enjoyed a brief stage career there under the name Michael Yiannis before beginning work on films. Cacoyiannis has also worked with Greek actress Irene Papas and even Hollywood legend Katherine Hepburn for the film The Trojan Women.

Just when it seemed the Cyprus film industry could only be of sun, sea, beach, politics and ancient mythology, Johnny Kerkovian and his film Fractured made an appearance. So why did he chose to make his thriller here? “The film tells the story of Harry Henson, who wakes up one afternoon after being knocked unconscious in his garden shed. He has been beaten and left for dead. He soon discovers a video message on his computer that shows his wife, who has been kidnapped. With a short amount of time to find her and bring her back alive, he begins a journey of desperation while his mind starts playing games with him.”

When I arrived, Henson, played by Damien O’Hara, who made a short appearance in the first Pirates of the Caribbean, was getting ready to shoot a scene with Alexia Paraskeva; it was the point in the movie where he has discovered his wife is missing and begins his search. The performances by both actors were mind-blowing and extremely strong, nothing like a theatre performance because the moment the scene is finished, everything goes back to normal. A single three-minute scene may take up to one hour to finish due to the fact that lighting has to be perfect, the make-up needs to be re-applied every time and the position at which both actors are seated needs to be checked in detail. Even though it is a short film, 12-15 minutes, the amount of people involved behind the cameras is amazing and even more amazing was the fact that everyone had to be completely quiet; not even a whisper was heard.

The film was shot in the mountainous area of Platania, Paphos airport and La Mode cafe in Nicosia. It took Johnny and his team six days to shoot the film but the project lasted well over six weeks as it was considered quite ambitious. “I was born in Cyprus and have always loved the island but I didn’t want to shoot typical Cyprus. I wanted something a bit darker as this is a thriller,” Kerkovian said.

The short film will be a means for him to show his abilities at various film festivals and already the results are looking extremely good with the editing being handled by Warner Bros and Guy Ritchie’s editors. Johnny and Neil Murphy are the creative and management team behind Minds Eye films, a film production company based in London. This company has taken pains from the outset to make the film commercially viable and their worth has been proved in the past with the two shorts The Wake and Seizures. Both have been critically acclaimed on the festival circuit and picked up for distribution by Hypnotic, one of the biggest internet-based film distribution companies.

Cyprus has established itself as an inspirational backdrop for many films, whether or not the island itself is part of the storyline. However, it doesn’t look like the matter is one that will preoccupy the people and the government in the near future due to the limited amount of films that are produced here. “I think the future of films in Cyprus has never been better. We may not have the infrastructure including labs, which means rolls of film need to be transported to Greece or the UK for development, but I think it’s as good as it’s going to get. Nowadays, if a high definition camera and a computer is available, anyone can make a film with a bit of help from friends,” concluded Panayides.

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