“Die Griechen kommen!” For any German citizen believing the myth of the ‘lazy Greeks who are trying to live off other Europeans’, the cry would be enough of a threat. And the people behind Hellas Filmbox Berlin wouldn’t want it any other way. Launched last year, the festival returns from 18-22 January, bringing the best of the Greek cinematic crop to the German capital. Hellas Filmbox Berlin was conceived by event manager Asteris Koutoulas as an affirmative artistic response to the wave of negative coverage of Greek news in Germany that was threatening to influence people’s perception of the country.
“The founding of Hellas Filmbox Berlin 2015 was a direct counter-reaction to the unilateral and strongly transfiguring negative image of Greece, which spread from 2010, and dominated the perception of large sections of the German public,” attests the festival’s director, Sandra von Ruffin.
“In the meantime, however, the ongoing crisis in Greece has almost no presence anymore. Last year only reported sporadically in Germany’s newspapers, usually only with reference to the European refugee crisis, and in a demand to ensure that the refugees do not travel further into Europe. Therefore in January 2017, we will show 60 films from Greece and about Greece. Films that have politically relevant themes and realities as well as new internationally-acclaimed, artistically outstanding Greek films,” she says, stressing the festival’s role as a bridge between Greece and Germany.
“The festival contributes directly to the exchange of art and culture between Greece and Germany, as well as to the discussion and understanding process with regard to European socio-political issues,” she continues.
Hellas Filmbox describes Greek films using three powerful words: ‘Radical. Real. Emotional.’ − a body of work that the international audience can look forward to.
Last year’s edition proved to be a success, presenting 71 films to more than 4,000 spectators in 3.5 days, rapidly becoming Berlin’s sixth biggest film festival (the city is host to 65 cinematic events of the kind). But the festival’s aim is not so much measured by numbers; it is to start a dialogue, presenting the creative side of Greece to the broader cinematic community − and hopefully becoming a platform for Greek filmmakers from the diaspora.
“It would be our honour to start collaboration with the Greek Film festivals in Australia, exchange ideas and thoughts and learn from each other,” says von Ruffin. “I would love to see films from Australian Greeks in our next year’s program.”
The 2017 edition of Hellas Filmbox Berlin comprises 56 films (fiction and documentaries, feature-length and shorts), not least among them Yannis Sakaridis’ Attika Square, Argyris Papadimitropoulos’ Suntan and Joyce A. Nashawati’s Blind Sun. The last two were both part of Melbourne’s Greek Film Festival, as was Manousos Manousakis’ Cloudy Sunday, which is part of Filmbox’s Special Screenings program, dedicated to Jewish history and culture in Greece. The festival will also present an honorary award to acclaimed director Costa Gavras, whose 2002 film Amen will be screened as part of the Festival. The closing film will be Christopher Papakaliatis’ Worlds Apart.
Among the documentaries screened will be two which have attracted much attention: The Last Resort, by Thanos Anastopoulos and Davide Del Dagan, and Golden Dawn: A Personal Affair by Angélique Kourounis.
Another parallel program of Hellas Filmbox is the Outview Film Festival, showcasing Greek LGBTQI cinema, but also a program dedicated to the work of contemporary female filmmakers. Apart from the screenings, Filmbox includes a photo exhibition, ‘Gesichter und Räume’ (‘Faces and Rooms’), featuring Nelly Tragousti’s photos, taken during the shooting of Theo Angelopoulos’ last film, The Dust of Time, featuring Willem Dafoe and Bruno Ganz, which was in large part shot in Berlin.
The festival’s director points to works which have taken on historical themes such as Mythopathy by Tassos Boulmetis, as well as disturbing films such as Interruption by Yorgos Zois, in which the viewer can no longer distinguish between reality and fiction, or a film like Impressions of a Drowned Man, about poet Kostas Karyotakis, a very special and important artist for Greece.
“The reality of the financial and refugee crisis and its elementary impact on Greek society continue to play an enormous role in the works of many filmmakers,” says von Ruffin. “The festival offers a unique way of ‘travelling to Greece’ − an excursion from which none of the visitors can return as an uninformed, ignorant tourist.”