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Exciting indies at Thessaloniki Film Festival October 31, 2007

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Film festival section includes works by Japanese, Malaysian, Korean and American directors > Lee Chang-dong’s ‘Secret Sunshine’ won the best actress award at Cannes.

A Japanese filmmaker, a Malaysian advertising executive and director, a Korean filmmaker and politician, an American New Wave artist and yet another new trend to emerge from the United States form the basis of the Independence Day section of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, November 16-25.

Japan’s Mikio Naruse (1905-1969) is the star of Independence Day, a filmmaker about whom Akiro Kurosawa once said, “In the films of Naruse, a flow of shots that looks calm and ordinary at first glance reveals itself to be like a deep river with a quiet surface disguising a fast-raging current.” Naruse, sometimes dubbed the “unknown Japanese master,” made a total of 87 films, culminating with his swan song “Scattered Clouds”.

Yasmin Ahmad, born in 1958, is one of a generation of Malaysian filmmakers who are trying to show the modern face of the country through their work by turning their lens on the charming contradictions of a multiracial society. Ahmad will be in Thessaloniki as a member of the international competition jury. Ahmad’s films have been screened at the Berlin, San Francisco, Singapore and Paris international film festivals. Her films were featured in a special retrospective at the 19th Tokyo International Film Festival in October 2006.

The latest film by Korea’s Lee Chang-dong, “Secret Sunshine”, received the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival this year. The 53-year-old filmmaker is also a playwright and novelist, and also served as minister of culture and tourism in 2003-2004.

From the American front, New York City filmmaker Amos Poe is one of the most emblematic figures of the American New Wave and is considered one of the first punk filmmakers. Poe, like his contemporaries, Jim Jarmusch, Abel Ferrara and Richard Kern, drew his material from B-movies, the avant-garde and the French nouvelle vague to build the foundations of the American indie scene. In 1975, Poe produced, edited and directed, together with Ivan Kral, “Blank Generation”, a musical documentary hailed as the absolute American punk film and featuring such icons as Patti Smith, Blondie, the Ramones and Talking Heads in live performances at the legendary CBGB’s club, back when the scene was still in its infancy.

Last, but not least, Independence Day, which has been curated and organized by Lefteris Adamidis, will also be introducing its audience to mumblecore, a recent phenomenon of the American indie scene, expressed by the do-it-yourself generation of filmmakers on forums such as YouTube, MySpace and blogs, a generation that has embraced the freedom and immediacy of the Internet.

‘Ruins’ come to life October 27, 2007

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Greek-Canadian writer and director Nia Vardalos was in Greece working on a film that co-star Richard Dreyfuss says is about the ever-present possibility of love

Flanked by US actor Richard Dreyfuss on one side and Greek heartthrob Alexis Georgoulis on the other, writer and actress Nia Vardalos glowed as she addressed the press early this month. In town for the shooting of her new film My Life in Ruins, the star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding looked leaner and more glamorous than she did when she played the ugly duckling role for which she’s best known.

“I’m just a girl from Winnipeg,” said the Greek-Canadian actress, who still sounds a little shocked at her quick fame. “It’s a dream to be here,” she added, before confessing: “I get a little choked up to see the word ‘Coppertone’ in Greek.”

Vardalos co-wrote with Mike Reiss and stars in the romantic comedy My Life in Ruins. The film went into production in Spain earlier this summer before shooting throughout Greece from October 9 to 16. Some of the film was shot at the Acropolis on October 13. Though Greek films often depict the Acropolis, it is a rare thing for a foreign production to obtain permission to film there. Vardalos underlined this fact, and Dreyfuss joked about Francis Ford Coppola’s lack of such a permit for filming scenes from New York Stories there in 1989.

“The biggest challenge we have,” noted the film’s director, Donald Petrie [Mystic Pizza, How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days], “is that these sites, Olympia, Delphi and the Acropolis, are almost too big to capture on film.” He pointed out: “They are more than just places, they have an aura, a mystery. You walk into these places and it takes your breath away… I almost needed IMAX.”

The filmmaker revealed that he moved the Acropolis scene from the beginning of the film to the end as he felt “the journey ends at the Acropolis”. Petrie indicated that he wasn’t sure if the production will have to digitally recreate the green areas around charred Olympia. Petrie emphasised the fact that the film’s production didn’t interfere with the sites. “If it says ‘Do Not Touch’, obviously, we are not planting a light on top of it,” he explained. “If the script had paintball war in Ancient Olympia, they would have said, ‘No.'”

Upon reviewing the script for approval, the Greek government provided some help by pointing out historical inaccuracies. The film certainly promotes Greek tourism. Petrie explained that Vardalos plays a tour guide who has “lost her passion” for her job. But, while leading around a group, including a man named Herb, “she is almost taught to re-find her passion”. When the film comes out next year, Petrie hopes it will make viewers laugh, as well as cry.

Herb is played by Dreyfuss, who said he came out of retirement to play the part, he teaches civics. “I’ve always wanted to shoot in Greece,” Dreyfuss repeated more than once at the press conference. When asked the actor why Herb is the one who makes a difference in the tour group, he replied: “He woke up every day for 20 years smiling because he was in love with his wife and she with him.”

The actor enthused about Greece’s mythological, artistic and ethical contributions to the world. Dreyfuss said that “film is about magic and the mysterious”, but noted: “Film has created a cynicism and a shallowness in the world that is huge.” He said that he hopes My Life in Ruins will provide a message instead about “the ever-present possibility of love”.

My Life in Ruins is one of the first projects to be assisted by the new Hellenic Film Commission, which opened in 2007 with the purpose of facilitating productions shot in Greece. The office is affiliated with the Greek Film Centre, which funds and produces most local films. The film is the second one, after Mamma Mia!, to be shot in Greece this fall with Tom Hanks’ name in the production credits.

Tribute to Bela Tarr at Trianon Filmcenter October 25, 2007

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‘The Man from London,’ will open the mini-festival.

Distinguished Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr once claimed that he wouldn’t knock on a door to have it opened, preferring instead to kick it open. His career so far would appear to vindicate this approach.

Through his eight full-length films and four shorts, the film director continues to wander in a revealing, restless, fascinating yet also threatening universe. This week, Tarr is in Athens for a tribute to his work that will start tomorrow and run to the end of the month at the Trianon Filmcenter. The tribute will kick off with his latest film, “The Man from London,” which focuses on Maloin, the main character, a man who leads a simple life without any real prospects, at the end of an endless sea. “This story deals with issues that are both eternal and daily, divine and human. In my mind, it encompasses all of nature and man, including his pettiness,” says Tarr.

All of Tarr’s films will be screened at the Trianon, namely “Family Nest,” “Hotel Magnezit” (short), “The Outsider,” “The Prefab People,” “Macbeth,” “Almanac of Fall,” “Damnation,” “Utolso Hajo,” “Satantango,” “Journey on the Plain” (short), “Werckmeister Harmonies” and “Prologue,” from the “Visions of Europe.” Susan Sontag once said that Tarr does not present unconventional things, but exaggerates the norm.

Tarr has won awards from the American Cinema Foundation, the Berlin International Film Festival, the Cannes Film Festival and the Locarno International Film Festival.

Trianon Filmcenter, 21 Kodringtonos Street, Athens, tel 210 8215469 and 210 8222702. Nearest metro station [electric ISAP railway] “Victoria”.

Two new movies filmed in Greece October 24, 2007

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A new comedy starring Nia Vardalos and the film version of Mamma Mia are both being bankrolled by US actress and producer Rita Wilson.

Tom Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, is helping to finance two new film productions. “My Life in Ruins”, starring Nia Vardalos, which was shot at some of Greece’s most popular archaeological sites, including the Acropolis and Ancient Olympia. The second film, a movie version of the Broadway musical “Mamma Mia”, stars Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep. It was filmed on the Aegean island Skopelos in August.

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

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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.

An Athens premiere of “The 300 Spartans” in 1962 October 21, 2007

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At the Athens premiere of “The 300 Spartans” in 1962, attended by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, Greece’s Princess Irene and Greece’s Crown Prince Constantine.

The film starred Richard Egan, Sir Ralph Richardson and Greek actress Anna Synodinou.


Pallas Theater welcomed VIP’s for “El Greco” premiere October 21, 2007

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Recently renovated Pallas Theater welcomed Queen Sofia of Spain and other VIP’s for “El Greco” film premiere

queen_sophia_president_papoulias.jpg  H.M. Queen Sofia of Spain with Greek President Karolos Papoulias at the Pallas Theater.

It had been a while since Athens had seen such a glittering film premiere. The once-regular Monday premieres at the Pallas, Attikon, Rex, Orpheas or Maxim cinemas, with homegrown stars such as Aliki Vouyiouklaki and Elli Lambeti surrounded by Athenian high society of the time, scenes that once drew large crowds, are now only seen in photographs at the Cinema Museum in Thessaloniki.

Now only a win by our National Soccer Team can bring people out into the streets. But a Greek superstar of the past, Domenikos Theotocopoulos, better known as El Greco, managed to attract the Spanish Queen and her sister, Princess Irene, to the renovated Pallas Theater this week for the premiere of a film of the artist’s life by Yiannis Smaragdis.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his wife Natassa, government Ministers and other officials and politicians were also there, along with Greek composer Vangelis Papathanassiou, who wrote the score, and Cretan singer Loudovikos ton Anogeion, who appears in the film, set on Crete where the artist was born, and in Venice and Spain.

The artist is played by British actor Nick Ashdon, with Juan Diego Botto as Nino de Guevara, a likely contender for an Oscar in a supporting role. Laia Marull plays Jeronima and Dimitra Matsouka plays Francesca.

Related Links > http://www.elgrecothemovie.com