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A strong helping hand toward getting Greece back on the Hollywood radar October 22, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life, Movies Life Greek.
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Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson bankroll Greek-themed ‘My Life in Ruins’ and ‘Mamma Mia’

nia_acropolis1.jpg  The crew of the romantic comedy ‘My Life in Ruins’ at the Acropolis.

nia_acropolis2.jpg  In the film Nia Vardalos, plays a tour guide. Here is Nia Vardalos with Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis and Donald Petrie.

Decades after serving as the setting for hit films like “The Guns of Navarone” and “The Big Blue”, Greece has elicited help from Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks to get back on Hollywood’s radar. The Hollywood star, whose wife Rita Wilson is of Greek descent, is helping bankroll two movies which officials here hope will translate into extra tourist arrivals at the country’s archaeological sites and island holiday spots.

nia_acropolis3.jpg  One production stars Nia Vardalos, the Greek-Canadian writer and star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, the 2002 romantic comedy that became one of the most successful independent US box office productions of all time. Titled “My Life in Ruins” the new comedy centers on a tour guide played by Vardalos and was given rare permission to shoot in key Greek archaeological sites, including the Acropolis in Athens, Delphi and Ancient Olympia.

The second production is a film version of the hit Broadway musical “Mamma Mia” starring Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep, and was shot on the Aegean islands of Skiathos and Skopelos in August.

The back-to-back Hanks projects are a welcome boon to a Greek state eager for a fresh start after decades of scaring away big-name productions with a combination of nightmarish bureaucracy, poor organization and sheer ineptitude.

“In the 1980s, the word in Hollywood was that Greece was an unwelcoming place to shoot a film,” acknowledged Markos Holevas, director of the Hellenic Film Commission set up in May to facilitate foreign productions in the country. “Now there is a desire to change things… the Greek state has realized the benefits and wants to promote Greece through film… and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson were the first to respond to this policy. The message is: Forget the past, let’s make a new start,” Holevas said.

Greece’s picturesque islands, many of them major tourist destinations, have provided the backdrop for scenes in recent films, but have not served as major movie locations. The Ionian island of Cephalonia was in 2001 the site of “Captain’s Corelli’s Mandolin” starring Nicholas Cage, while the Aegean island of Santorini had a scene in “Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life” with Angelina Jolie two years later. Greece also apparently had a chance to host Oliver Stone’s 2004 blockbuster “Alexander” but the government failed to pursue the offer, Holevas said.

The country boasts impressive archaeological sites that have long been in demand for both television commercials and films, but projects have routinely run afoul of strict regulations laid out by Greek archaeologists. And amid price hikes following its adoption of the euro, Greece has had a hard time competing with neighboring Balkan and Eastern European countries which can combine lower production costs with similar landscapes for location shots.

“Foreign productions have a tendency to get ripped off here,” noted producer Christina Aspropotamiti, who worked on an American documentary shot in Athens last year. She said she was stunned when she sought permission to film long-range shots of the Parthenon, the classical temple atop the city’s famed Acropolis citadel. “The local archaeological office asked us for 1,500 euros ($2,120) per square meter (per 10 square feet) of the entire Acropolis site… at those rates it would have made better sense to just buy the place,” she said.

Political sensitivities have also complicated film plans, as in the case of the 1984 production of “Eleni”, an American film starring John Malkovich on the thorny topic of the 1944-1949 Greek Civil War. “The film showed the communists brutalizing the areas they occupied during the Civil War,” said the film’s co-producer Nick Gage, a Greek-American journalist whose biography on his mother’s execution by the Communists was the basis of “Eleni.”

“We had trouble with the film unions, which were communist-dominated at the time,” Gage said. “There was sabotage overnight as we began the shooting in Athens… equipment was broken, you’d find your lights busted.” When the production company decided to relocate to southern Spain, Gage’s home region of Epirus lost millions of dollars, he said. “It was very unfortunate, we spent the equivalent of $450 million in today’s figures that could have been spent in Epirus, one of the poorest areas in Greece. It would have benefited the area considerably,” he added.

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