From The Press
Tales from the coffeeshop
A WEEK ago, the Mail reported that the film Akamas by Cypriot director Panicos Chrysanthou had been selected to be shown at the Venice Film Festival. It was not selected as a contestant, but is to be shown in the festival’s ‘Horizons’ section under the category of ‘special events’.
This might not have been the real thing, but it was something that the Festival organisers still thought the film was worth showing, out of contest. Given that Venice is among the most prestigious film festivals in the world, the screening of Akamas was quite something for Cypriot film-making, which, let’s face it, enjoys as much world recognition as Cypriot vodka.
You would have expected the papers to make a big song and dance about it, given our craving for international recognition, but most did not bother to report it. Meanwhile, an official at the Education Ministry which had provided some of the film’s financing (about 100 grand), grudgingly told a Mail reporter that it was “a great honour” for the island, emphasising that she had nothing else to say.
How peculiar that a government which is constantly at pains to convince us that it is an international player would not seize such an opportunity to strengthen the myth about our rising status on the world scene. It was almost as if it was embarrassed by the ‘great honour’ bestowed on the movie.
Subsequent events have shown this was actually the case. Some days ago, Chrysanthou, who is in Hungary to make copies of the film to send to Venice, received a letter from the Education Ministry official in charge of film-making, instructing him to withdraw Akamas from the festival. The reason was that he was in violation of the contract he had signed in order to receive state financing.
And because he was in violation of the contract, he would not receive the remaining 30 grand he was owed by the ministry, which would have gone towards paying the studio in Hungary for the prints of the film. Now there is a danger that Chrysanthou, who spent all the money he had on producing the film, will not be able to pay the studio in Hungary in order to receive the finished article to send to Venice.
One feels sympathy for the director, but he was a bit naive to think that this government – with its dogmatic mentality – would give money for a political film, without having a ministry pen-pusher in the role of executive producer and a say on the final cut. And to be fair, the Ethnarch never promised to promote artistic freedom in his electoral programme.
THE LETTER asking for the withdrawal of the film from the festival, cited three instances in which the director was in violation of the contract he had signed, all related to his refusal to adopt changes recommended by the Education Ministry’s mandarins.
First, he had been asked to reduce the length of the film by five or 10 minutes but failed to do so. Second, he had declined to cut a scene which shows some EOKA fighters killing a suspected traitor in a church. The ministry had proposed that he re-shot the killing in a coffeeshop, but was not prepared to foot the bill for it. Third, the ministry’s executive producer wanted the film to make it clear that the man murdered was a traitor; the film portrays the victim as a guy who talked too much about EOKA in the coffeeshop, rather than someone who was working for the Brits.
With neither side prepared to compromise, we are all awaiting to see what will happen to the film, which is a love story between a Turkish Cypriot man and a Greek Cypriot woman, spanning the most turbulent period of our history, from 1955 to ’75. It is all shot in the Akamas. The Turkish Cypriot protagonist becomes an EOKA fighter in order to win the love of the patriotic Greek Cypriot woman, which he eventually does, but they do not live happily ever after, because she refuses to go with him to wife-swapping parties in Polis. (Well not exactly, that was just me being a rebel, exercising my right to artistic freedom without permission from the Education Ministry) In the film, the couple have a difficult life because they are ostracised by their respective communities.
EDUCATION Minister Pefkios Georgiades took some time off planning his reforms for state school uniforms to make sure that the film would never make the cinemas unless the ministry’s instructions were obeyed. There is a suspicion that the reasons cited above are just a pretext and that government does not want the film shown in any form, because it would incur the wrath of EOKA fighters’ associations.
The government had come under pressure from these associations, and Pefkios, who likes to pretend he is an arty type, had given assurances that the film would never be shown.
He might prevent its screening in , but I doubt he has the power to stop it being shown abroad. It could be publicised as the film the government censored.
Pefkios’ artistic freedom enforcer, is an Education Ministry official by the name of Elena Christodoulidou who was acting as the film’s executive producer. As president of the state’s Film Advisory Council, she has been in charge of dealing with Chrysanthou and trying to ensure that the content was, as Josef Stalin would say, ideologically healthy.
IF SHE DEALS with film-makers as rudely and autocratically as she speaks to journalists, I pity them. A journo had been trying to contact the self-regarding Christodoulidou on Friday to ask her if she had asked for the withdrawal of Akamas from the Venice festival but had no luck.
When he eventually managed to get her on the telephone, he was given a five-minute ear-bashing for disturbing this important official who was extremely busy and had no time to speak to a reporter. “You journalists have no respect,” was one of the phrases she kept repeating in her five-minute telephone monologue.
When the reporter was eventually allowed to talk he asked her the question, which she could have heard and answered in less than 60 seconds – instead of wasting five minutes telling him she had not time to talk – and gone back to her important pen-pushing and paper-shuffling responsibilities. Seriously, how busy can a ministry official dealing with state-sponsored films (there might be one a year) actually be?
On hearing the question, the jumped-up Christodoulidou said “goodbye” and put the phone down. When her boss is doing the evaluation of her job performance I hope he gives her an ‘excellent’ rating for rudeness.
STAYING on issues of artistic freedom, it has to be said that it is not only the Education Ministry which treats it with a healthy dose of suspicion. A few weeks ago, the Theatre Organisation (THOC) premiered Aristophanes’ comedy Eklisiazouses, which was given a contemporary treatment.
In the second scene, someone goes to have a poo against a wall, on which the patriotic slogan ‘Den Xechno’ (I do not forget) was written. ‘Den Xechno’ is the vacuous message all our governments, parties, campaign groups, schools have been trying unsuccessfully to instil in people since the Turkish invasion. It is now a national cliche, which most people laugh at when they see or hear anyone mentioning it. Some years ago, monthly paper Enosis did an inspired piss-take of it, replacing the legend, with ‘Den Xerno’, (I do not throw up), which just about says it all.
Many people took offence at the disrespect shown to our officially-sanctioned, national slogan by the play and called THOC to protest, demanding that the slogan be removed from the wall being used as a toilet. Even Commissar Christofias called to complain, while the theatre reviewer of Phileleftheros, which has become more Taliban than Simerini on national issues, expressed outrage.
The THOC board felt so under pressure that it held a meeting and issued a pathetically spineless announcement, saying that its members did not agree with the scene but would not ask the director of the play to remove the slogan from the wall. Den xerno indeed.
DESPITE the £4 million plus spent on refurbishing and re-designing the Nicosia Municipal Theatre, the acoustics remain as bad as they had always been. This is perfectly in line with our plantation’s widely-embraced philosophy that outside appearance is all that matters; the theatre does look a bit better on the outside.
There were countless problems on the inside apart from acoustics that suck. In the auditorium, chairs were lined up one behind the other, instead of the conventional way. The real problems were in the balcony, in which the rows were so narrow, that anyone taller than five foot had no room to move their legs. It was the way you would expect the cinema auditorium at Guantanamo Bay to be designed, ensuring the prisoners suffered a little torture while being entertained.
This was not the only problem on the balcony. There are seats from which you cannot see the whole stage, which is not necessarily a bad thing, given the quality of some of the performances.
THE CONDUCTOR of our State Orchestra, I hear, has declined to use the Nicosia Municipal Theatre for rehearsals because of the appalling acoustics, preferring to use the Strovolos Municipal Theatre. Not that you would ever hear Spyros Pisinos say such a thing publicly. He cares too much about his job to make the slightest criticism of the acoustics of the capital’s refurbished and revamped theatre.
Such views would not go down well with the man who will decide whether Pisinos’ contract will be renewed or not – Education Minister Pefkios. It was Pefkios’ daughter Karen, who is now running dad’s architectural office, who got the contract for the revamping and refurbishing the theatre. I would not be surprised if her dad gave her some help with the project, like on improving the acoustics of the auditorium.