As the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival winds down, filmmaker and Greek Documentary Association (GDA) president Marianna Economou points to great strides taken by the local industry in recent years, while adding that more support is needed to sustain its growth and development.
As the head of the GDA, Economou oversees an organization that was founded in 2013 with a goal “to support Greek creative documentary as a distinct cinematic genre in Greece and to work for its further recognition and promotion internationally,” she says.
The industry’s output is steadily growing, as witnessed this week in Thessaloniki, where the festival’s 23rd edition included 72 short and feature-length Greek documentary films.
But financing documentaries in Greece remains an uphill battle, with the Greek Film Center and public broadcaster ERT the de facto sources of all local funding. “It is extremely difficult to produce a film based on Greek funding alone, and even if there is a foreign co-producer involved, there isn’t the necessary support from Greek broadcasters,” says Economou. “Most filmmakers self-finance their films to a great extent, and if it wasn’t for their passion and determination, not many documentaries would be produced in Greece.”
Economou describes the establishment of the National Center of Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME) as an “important initiative” for the support of the broader film and TV industry, but the government body—which administers Greece’s cash rebate scheme, amongst other functions—“hasn’t benefited many docs so far.” The Greek Film Center, too, has been a major champion of the industry, but its efforts are often thwarted by changes in government and budgetary shortfalls.
“Our budgets are laughable in comparison to equivalent European productions,” Economou says. “It is really amazing how, not only do we continue to make documentaries, but how more and more Greek docs are bought by broadcasters like ARTE, are screened in important festivals around the world and are internationally acclaimed.” That includes films such as Apostolos Karakasis’ IDFA player “Next Stop: Utopia,” “The New Plastic Road,” from directing duo Myrto Papadopoulos and Angelos Tsaousis, which screened at Hot Docs, and Economou’s own “When Tomatoes Met Wagner,” which played at the Sarajevo Film Festival.
Greek filmmakers are fortunate, too, to have one of the world’s leading showcases for documentary filmmaking based in their scenic second city. “The Thessaloniki Documentary Festival has played a major role in ‘educating’ Greek filmmakers as to what is creative documentary, and also in changing the audience’s preconception that documentaries are largely boring and informative reportage type films for the television,” says Economou.
“Through the years, the festival has proven to be the most serious and important event in Greece which inspires, educates, promotes and supports documentaries. It introduced us to a wide range of topics and cinematic forms and language,” she continues, adding that as a filmmaker, she “owes everything” to the festival. “It was the best school I could get. It opened my eyes and ears and showed me a world of different dimensions, expressions and possibilities.”