When people think of Greece they think of white-washed islands sunbathing in 300 days of sunny weather, dotted along the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean: the perfect holiday escape for the millions of tourists seeking out a slice of paradise.

But Greece has fast become a paradise for filmmakers, not just tourists, with Hollywood and many foreign production companies scouting its rich and diverse landscape for cast, crew and sets, whilst also taking advantage of the generous tax incentives and support services on offer.

Additionally, with an architectural landscape that covers all periods of human history, Greece makes for the perfect film set, a production designer’s dream, offering unrivalled production values and possibilities.

Apart from fast becoming the omphalos of the film world, Greek cinema has also seen a surge in recent years, birthing notable directors and films especially post the financial crisis, in a genre often referred to as the Greek ‘weird wave’.

The production of Greek films is rich, with several winning international awards, the main one being Theodoros Angelopoulos’s film An Eternity and a Day (1998, Golden Palm – 51st Cannes International Film Festival) and more recently, the Academy Award nominated Dogtooth (2009) by Yorgos Lanthimos, which won the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes Film Festival.

Up until 2017, the few foreign films shot in Greece highlighted the familiar ‘tourist’ aesthetic of the country, on locations such as Hydra, Rhodes, Mykonos, Kefalonia, Crete, and Athens: Boy on a Dolphin (1957), Zorba the Greek (1964), For Your Eyes Only (1984), The Big Blue (1988). Among the most recent productions, it is worth mentioning Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001).

Since 2015, film production has been changing in Greece with the establishment of the National Centre of Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME), which operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Digital Governance.

Thessaloniki’s Ladadika area was filled with drones, cameras and actors in March as the popular spot was transformed into a film set for the Hollywood movie ‘Bricklayer’. Photo: Eurokinissi/Konstantinidis Yiorgos.

EKOME manages, among other things, the incentives of the “horizontal” cash rebate (reimbursement of costs): initially 25% (with Law 4448/2017) of eligible film production expenses, then 35% (Law 4563/ 2018) and finally 40% (law 4704/2020), which is still valid today.

The cash rebate incentives saw a total of 176 projects financed in the last four years, 94 domestic and 82 cross-border (usually co-productions) or foreign, with a total budget of 252 million euros. EKOME estimates that these were shot in 140 locations throughout Greece.

In 2021 alone, ten very large films or series with a budget ranging between 8 to 20 million euros were filmed in Greece. For the first time, we saw many productions financed by major American studios (Disney, Paramount), with many shown on popular streaming platforms Netflix, Apple TV, and Amazon.

So, why should anyone film in Greece?

Greece is for many reasons an ideal destination for audio-visual works:

  •  Generous investment incentives: for film facilities, studio infrastructure and production, through to investment law, cash rebate, and the tax relief scheme;
  •  Modernised licensing process: 15 Film Offices located in 13 regions of Greece;
  •  Experienced professionals, industry experts and modern venues: Highly skilled filmmakers and industry experts (EKK & EKOME) provide ongoing guidance and support;
  •  Production value at a competitive cost: Excellent crews, high quality equipment and rental services, competitive wages;
  •  Incomparable natural and architectural beauty: Unique locations and natural light all year round;
  •  Safe and welcoming environment for international productions: Greece is one of the safest destinations in Europe for tourism, work, and production of audio-visual works.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003), starring Angelina Jolie had some of its scenes filmed in Santorini. Photo: Pexels/Aleksandar Pasaric

Recent Foreign Productions shot in Greece

Greece has now become the country of choice for international film investments. The creation of investment laws and the continuous improvement of the legislative framework for the cash rebate, combined with the technical-material infrastructure, security and natural beauty of the country, are strong incentives for international film productions.

Films shot and currently filming in Greece: The Lost Daughter (2021) by Maggie Gyllenhaal, Triangle of Sadness (2022) by Ruben Östlund, On sourit pour la photo (2020) by François Uzan, Born to be Murdered (2021) by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, Glass Onion : A Knives Out Mystery (2022) by Rian Johnson, Tin Soldiers (2022) by Odette Schwegler, The Bricklayer (2022) by Renny Harlin, Rise (2022) by Akin Omotoso, Crimes of the Future (2022) by David Cronenberg, The Enforcer by Richard Hughes (2022), My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 by Nia Vardalos (2022), Les Cyclades by Caroline Bonmarchand (2022), The Grandson by Nely Reguera (2022), Mediterraneo: The Law of the Sea by Marcel Barrena (2022), The Expendables 4 by Scott Waugh (2022) and the Australian movie Voices in Deep by Jason Raftopoulos, which is in post-production.

Greece’s architectural landscape covering all periods of human history, makes for a production designer’s dream, argues Constantinos Yiannakodimos. Photo: pexels/jimmy teoh

Speaking to the Hellenic Film Commission, David Cronenberg noted his reasoning for filming in Greece: “When I first wrote the screenplay for Crimes of The Future two decades ago, its location was ambiguous. But as the film came to fruition, we began exploring the opportunity to shoot in Greece. Looking at the unique buildings and exteriors in and around Athens, the incredible textures of an ancient city, the hypnotic presence of an ancient sea, my vision for the film suddenly coalesced. I fully embraced the gifts that Athens was presenting to me, and now it seems the film could not have come together anywhere else. And among those Athenian gifts were the passionate and diligent Greek cast and crew, who were a pleasure to work with. They went over and above to make us feel welcomed, and their hard work contributed to every frame of the final picture.”

The Greek Production Company Argonauts S.A., which had cooperated with Robert Lantos, the Producer of the film, again in the past participated in the project as a minority co-producer and Production Service company. Robert Lantos said about the experience of filming in Greece: “Of course, as it turns out, Greek technicians and crew are of very high standard. We had a wonderful mix of Canadians and Greeks in the team! It was a great experience for all of our crew, and I believe the Greek crew enjoyed the experience as well!”

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, The Lost Daughter director Maggie Gyllenhaal discussed how she found herself filming in Greece: “One day, out of nowhere, I said, ‘What about Greece?’ In Greece, I can be an outsider looking in and the way [Leda] is an outsider looking in. And even if I don’t understand what the groceries look like in the supermarket there, she doesn’t either, and so it’s OK,” says Gyllenhaal. “And as soon as I said Greece, we couldn’t be stopped. We were in Greece three weeks later.”

Australian director Jason Raftopoulos perfectly summed up his decision to shoot Voices in Deep in the Greek capital: “For centuries, Athens has been a place where the lives of millions have intersected. It is a city that has been both conqueror and conquered, a place of great enlightenment and great oppression, a meeting pot of religions, ideas and sexual ambiguity. It is for those reasons that I chose Athens as the setting to explore ideas of time, desperation, identity, and freedom.”

* Constantinos Yiannakodimos is the Press Counsellor, Public Diplomacy Office, Consulate General of Greece in Sydney. This article first appeared in Filmink.