Greek Film Studies with international scope: Contemporary Greek Film Cultures 2013
An international conference for the study of Greek Cinema was established last summer. The organisation of Contemporary Greek Film Cultures 2013, which took place at the Hellenic Centre in London on the 5th and 6th July, was a collaboration between doctoral researchers from the Universities of Glasgow and Reading, bringing together scholars of contemporary Greek Cinema from Greece, the UK, other European countries and the USA. The aim was to reflect on the recent resurgence of interest in Greek Cinema and to promote the study and theorisation of Greek film internationally. Although there were a number of trends that appeared to dominate the conference, there was a great variety of cross-disciplinary approaches and themes, covering a wide range of the filmography of the contemporary scene.
One of the most prominent trends was the scholarly attention turned to the so called ‘weird wave’ of Greek cinema [i], and specifically to Lanthimos’s Dogtooth (2009) and Tsangari’s Attenberg (2010). Each paper, however, focused on different aspects of the films − a fact that explains the willingness of the organisers to welcome numerous but diverse papers on these two films in the conference. The issues that were addressed concerned identity, language, family, politics and crisis, but also great emphasis was given to the concepts of the national and the transnational. The choice of elaborating on these topics is not coincidental, since these are recurrent themes in Greek cinema overall, and contemporary Greek cinema more specifically; themes that seem to attract great attention by audiences and researchers alike both nationally and internationally.
Through various frameworks and methodologies that were underlined in the panel titles, it became apparent that each paper addressed an understanding of Greek cinema as national culture and a national concern. This national concern was articulated through diverse discussions that addressed Greek films per se (e.g. textual analysis) or issues of national policy, circulation and reception. In every talk, one could see a new conceptualization of Greek national cinema unfolding, but still in its infancy.
However, Greek national cinema, as an outlet of national culture, was expressed not in the traditional frameworks of national cinema discourse which refers to an exclusive culture bound within the principles and boundaries of the nation itself. The national cinema proposed at the conference was more inclusive and challenging. On the one hand, the old canons of national cinema were questioned and even negated in discussions on transnational and cosmopolitan cinema and authorship. This links Greek cinema to contemporary and controversial discussions on globalization and the opening of borders for the circulation of culture on a global level and not merely a national one. On the other hand, it became clear that, in times of globalization and transnational exchanges of culture, Greek cinema as a national and singular entity cannot be pinpointed and discussed with absolute coherence and cohesiveness, which is why the approach that sprung out of the panels was one akin to hybridizing discourses.
The discussions on the films of the so called ‘weird wave’ of Greek Cinema underlined the aforementioned notion since it became obvious that, in terms of form, reception and production films like Dogtooth throw the gauntlet at the established frameworks and methodologies of national cinema facilitating thus greater inclusiveness in theory and practice. The speakers who addressed the Greek films spanning from the late 1990s and early 2000s, like Matchbox (2002), to the most recent allegorical film by Lanthimos, Alps (2011), highlighted the controversial portrayals of various national establishments such as the nuclear family and national identity.
Questions of performativity and aesthetics emerged, linking in this way the aforementioned films with festival film aesthetics and encouraging comparisons with European cinema, thus taking Greek cinema outside Greece and allowing non-Greek speakers to engage with valuable research on this new kind of Greek Cinema. The international availability of recent Greek films on DVD and other digital forms, especially of Dogtooth and Attenberg, along with the fact that the films come with English subtitles, address the issues of availability and accessibility that Gary Needham had dealt with in his article ‘Greek Cinema Without Greece: Investigating Alternative Formations’[ii]. The fact that co-productions across country borders are now an established reality for filmmakers, has allowed Greek cinema to reach further, to generate interest and to become a subject of study by Greek and non-Greek film researchers across the globe.
The conference accommodated panels with papers on a variety of other topics, such as avant-garde cinema, Greek film genres, festivals and festival films, and media education. Until recently, the greatest research focus had been on Old Greek Cinema, a cinematic period with immense scholarly interest, and on Angelopoulos, the most acclaimed representative of New Greek Cinema and possibly the ambassador of Greek Cinema as a whole abroad. Thus, the shift of study from these two inexhaustible fields to something new constitutes a remarkable occurrence and signifies the importance of this ‘weird wave’.
Although greatly diverse topics were dealt with, others were largely neglected. Anarea, for example, that was under-represented was that of practice-based research, with only one submission within this framework. One of the stated aims of the conference was to work through and bridge the gap between academia and production, but soon the lack of interest in such methodologies made this attempt rather challenging. This is perhaps suggestive of the fact that scholarly research in Greek Film Studies has not yet managed to address this issue, as appropriate methodologies are not yet as prominent as they are in the United Kingdom and United States. Two filmmakers were invited to the Roundtable Discussion in an effort to address this gap.
Moreover, the Roundtable Discussion that was central to the timetable structure of the conference sought to engage the scholars and practitioners in a dialogue around Women’s Cinema in Greece, which involves films made by, featuring and addressed to women. These are generally films that are placed (consciously or unconsciously) outside the canon, in Greece and arguably elsewhere. And although the conference did not want to separate or even marginalise women filmmakers within their own category, it was proposed that this was perhaps a necessary political action in order to bring to the fore the neglect and general dismissal of Women’s Cinema. Hence, it was maintained that Women’s Cinema should be approached as a category that is ideologically functional in its intent to redress a balance between films and filmmakers who have enjoyed great attention within Greek scholarship, and those films that ought to have been studied with the same rigour; films by women filmmakers that can help reveal perhaps a different or alternative view on the themes that tend to ‘haunt’ Greek cinema throughout the ages (such as national identity, family etc., as mentioned earlier).
Angeliki Antoniou and Olga Malea, filmmakers who represent different kinds of cinema, headed the discussion and presented their own experiences within a male-centred industry. They commented on problems women filmmakers in particular face and challenged the conference to consider not only established conditions of production and film practice, but also scholarship and historiography which reinforce conventional biases. The discussion that followed Antoniou’s and Malea’s presentations could have been more active, but it did demonstrate the delegates’ discomfiture with the topic. In that sense, the conference did achieve its aim in foregrounding an area of research which had suffered neglect in the past. Having said that, there were also encouraging contributions which identified the need to take such scholarship further.
The success of Contemporary Greek Film Cultures 2013 ultimately lies in its resonance with the delegates who were present in person or through the help of the available technology (Skype). It was interesting also to compare and contrast educational and research models used in different countries, since the delegates came from Greek, UK, Austrian, French, Swedish, Dutch and American (USA) universities. More importantly, the invitation by the organisers to continue such meetings more regularly was met with enthusiasm; Tonia Kazakopoulou, Mikela Fotiou and Philip Phillis will from now on act as curators of the conference and will be collaborating with Greek Film Studies scholars internationally in securing its future continued existence. The next Contemporary Greek Film Cultures conference will be hosted, after an application and selection process, by Washington University, in 2015.
Rose, Steve. Attenberg, Dogtooth and the Weird Wave of Greek Cinema.
http://www.theguardian.com/film/2011/aug/27/attenberg-dogtooth-greece-cinema. 27 Aug 2011 .
[ii] Needham, G., 2011. ‘Greek cinema without Greece: investigating alternative formations’. In: L. Papadimitriou and Y. Tzioumakis(eds.), Greek cinema: texts, histories, identities. London: Intellect.
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