Greek cinema played an important social role in the lives of post-war migrants, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. As well as offering entertainment, cinema provided a forum in which Greek migrants could meet. However, the late 1970s heralded the demise of Greek cinema in Melbourne. The last venue to screen Greek films closed its doors in 1984. As a result, Greek cinema ceased to be promoted in a coherent manner, with a random selection of Greek films being screened at various evenings organised by tertiary Greek societies and other cultural events.
During the early and mid 1980’s, through the initiative of the Modern Greek Student Association, films directed by Theo Aggelopoulos, such as The Travelling Players and Days of 36 were screened on campus attracting dedicated followers of the masterful filmmaker. When SBS TV decided to screen quality as well as avant-garde productions, it resulted in an unprecedented community backlash.
Greek Cinema was marginalised, viewed by many as being esoteric and self indulgent; local film festivals ignored Greek film productions and a plethora of poor quality b grade movies flooded the video markets, recycled through the video stores, flooded the Melbourne market. Paradoxically at the same time a group of culturally inquisitive tertiary students were seeking any form of medium that would provide them with access to an emerging cinema movement with challenging qualities; out of their shared passion for visual arts the idea of a Greek Film Festival emerged.
By the early 1990s, a group of Greek-Australian university graduates and post-graduates met informally with the aim of discussing issues pertaining to the local Greek community. One of the outcomes of these discussions was the concept and feasibility of promoting Greek culture via cinema. Acknowledging the ability of film to transcend cultural borders, cinema was considered a social vehicle that could win mass appeal. Simultaneously, Greek cinema would be provided with an appropriate forum for its promotion and debate. Members of the group decided to become involved with the Antipodes Festival, with a view to extending its realm of activity to include a film festival. In order to coordinate their efforts, they also collaborated with their respective counterparts in Sydney.
In 1993, the State Film Centre hosted the inaugural Greek Film Festival. It drew an attendance of over two thousand people, thereby laying the foundations for future growth. After eight continuous years at the State Film Centre, the Festival organisers were approached by Palace Cinemas, who suggested moving to a more prominent venue. As a result, the 9th Greek Film Festival secured a new location, Palace Cinema Como, and subsequently a broader audience. The Festival now had the support of an established entity which enthusiastically promoted ethno specific film festivals. The partnership with Palace has proven an unqualified success, with annual increases in attendances of 20%. At the same time, Greek film has gained a profile not previously enjoyed.
In 2003, the Greek Film Festival became a national event, with four more Australian cities participating in the festival circuit. Last year, close to eight thousand people attended the Greek Film Festival in Melbourne alone, with a total national attendance of over twenty thousand. Recent initiatives, such as the Greek Student Festival, cultivate and nurture a younger generation of film-makers, providing them with an excellent medium of communication and subsequently conveying to the audience themes that impact today’s youth.
In the past five years a new genre of Greek cinema has emerged challenging the boundaries of conventional cinema and gaining international attention and acclaim within International Film Festival circuit. These productions are not solely defined within the realm of the economic crisis that Greece and its population are confronted with but can be characterised with the fact that the films deal with issues that have a universal reality, human relationships and the deconstruction of institutions, such as the modern family. Elements such as the ever so prevailing bleakness of the surrounding scenery and the physical and mental isolation of the protagonists set the framework for compelling narratives that define this promising genre of Greek film.
This is where the Greek Film Festival has succeeded and has shown boldness in that it has accepted the challenge of provoking audiences rather than solely focussing on being only commercially savvy and with elements of glamour. Indicative of this is the Festival’s selection committee committement in making a concerted effort to present and premiere such films as: Knifer, Strella, Dogtooth, Alps and Attenberg hence providing accessibility to an audience who otherwise would not have the opportunity to experience the flourishing creativity of a new genre within Greek cinematography.
The Board of Management of the Greek Community of Melbourne is dedicated to promoting Greek cinema and to continuously challenge the taste of its audience. We are committed to ensuring that the art of Greek filmmaking will receive broader recognition within the Australian Film Festival circuit.
In conclusion the culture of Greek cinema and the Greek Film Festival have defined a sophisticated and engaging audience over the past 20 years that attest the uniqueness of our culture and we ensure the Festival community that “the best has yet to come”.
– By COSTAS MARKOS (Koinotika Nea, Melbourne)