From The Press
"I will go to Venice"
Cypriot director defies government orders and heads to film festival
CYPRIOT film director Panicos Chrysanthou, whose film Akamas has been selected for screening at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, said he would not withdraw his film from the festival as the government requested of him.
While the government alleges he has breached his contract in several ways, Chrysanthou in turn claims that “political reasons” lie behind their request.
Akamas is one of five productions set to air in the Festival’s ‘Horizons’ section under the heading of special events in Lido, Venice between August 30 and September 9. No Cypriot film has ever before aired at the acclaimed festival.
The 125-minute feature film is a love story between a Turkish Cypriot man and a Greek Cypriot woman, spanning the two turbulent decades between 1955 and 1975.
The Film Advisory Committee, under the umbrella of the Education Ministry, has complained that Chrysanthou violated his contract by including a scene in which EOKA fighters kill a suspected traitor in a church, despite a contractual agreement that the scene would instead take place in a coffee shop.
EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) was the guerrilla Greek Cypriot nationalist movement that fought to overthrow the British and subsequently bring about the union of with Greece (ENOSIS).
But Chrysanthou claims that, though he originally removed the scene from the proposed script, he later used it after the government refused to even discuss its inclusion.
“They didn’t even give me the chance to show them the scene,” Chrysanthou told the Mail yesterday. “I am willing to make a compromise if this scene is bad for . But they have to explain why they want to exclude it.”
“Is it because they are concerned about the reactions of some [EOKA] fanatics?”
The government also felt that the film portrayed the victim of the EOKA killing as someone who merely talked too much as opposed to a traitor.
“In the film I didn’t want to make it 100 per cent clear that he’s a traitor, but I don’t say he’s not a traitor,” Chrysanthou said.
“And on the other hand, did EOKA only kill traitors? Do I not have the right to make a film that said EOKA killed innocent people as well as traitors?”
Chrysanthou said that the roughly £130,000 the government spent on his film constitutes one-fifth of the cost.
“Eighty per cent of the funding has come from others. But the Ministry [of Education] is behaving like it owns 100 per cent of this film. They don’t respect that others are involved.”
Funding has also come from a Turkish Cypriot investor and a Hungarian company, as well as the Greek television station ERT and Eurimages, a Council of Europe fund for the co-production, distribution and exhibition of European cinematographic works.
Chrysanthou, presently in Hungary, said he is particularly hard-pressed now because the government, aside from owing him £14,000 of the original £150,000 promised, owes him crucial funds for making copies of the film as well as for festival and promotional costs.
The director said there has been opposition to his film from the start. “I always maintained my courage and said that my reply would be the film itself.”
“If they weren’t able to stop it [the film] then, then they won’t be able to stop it now.”
Chrysanthou came under attack in May 2005 over the release of his yet unfinished version of Akamas, which some felt distorted Cypriot history. A number of right-wing media outlets took offence, alleging that the film portrayed EOKA fighter Evagoras Pallikarides as a murderer.
The Film Advisory Committee has not cracked down on Chrysanthou on this issue, stating that the only area of commonality between the character in the film and Pallikarides is the name “Evagoras”, a common Greek name.
But the government has claimed that Chrysanthou violated his contract by exceeding the agreed-upon film duration, as well as failing to meet his deadline for completing the film. Chrysanthou claims these are “mere excuses”, adding that the duration of most films diverge from those listed in their contracts.
Though conceding that the film was not finished on time, he said this was because the government did not give him the money on time.
“I could have taken them to court for that. They are now trying to find excuses to cover the fact that they censor. They don’t like the ideas of this film.”
The government in turn has complained that Chrysanthou is trying to excuse his numerous contractual violations by alleging political agendas are involved.
But President of the Film Advisory Committee Elena Christodoulidou would not comment on the committee’s decision.
Chrysanthou said he would find ways to raise the money he needs. “Someone who doesn’t want to be defeated cannot be defeated,” Chrysanthou said. “I will go to Venice.”
By Constantine Markides