For the Sake of Short: Cyprus Short Film Day 2016
One of the pressing questions that the filmmakers, who participated in the Q&A of Cyprus Short Film Day 2016, were repeatedly asked concerned the essence and merits of short film. “What is a short film?”, CSFD artistic director Dr Marios Psaras asked the audience in his opening speech. “Is it just a stepping stone for filmmakers before they make their way to the making of feature films? Or is it a kind of art in its own right?” The filmmakers admitted that while shorts are, indeed, a necessary pathway to follow in order to gain experience and expertise in the field before embarking on the making of features, it soon becomes evident that short film has a life of its own. It is not merely a matter of temporality, though precisely because of that it emerges as a completely different kind of storytelling, with its own rules or lack thereof, its own platforms of funding, production, distribution and exhibition. The latter was the topic that naturally dominated the discussion.
Held under the auspices of the Cyprus High Commissioner in the UK, Mr. Euripides Evriviades, organised by the Cultural Section of the Cyprus High Commission and the Cultural Services of the Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture, Cyprus Short Film Day 2016 was the first official event in London celebrating Cypriot short cinema. Not quite a film festival as the screened films did not compete for a prize, but more of a screening event, CSFD was inspired by the love for cinema, by the vision of a film event in London exclusively dedicated to Cypriot cinema and Cypriot filmmakers. CSFD did not however simply aim at making Cypriot filmmaking known to the Greek and Cypriot communities of London, but at more generally providing a platform for Cypriot filmmakers to showcase their work in the British capital, to create opportunities for them to expand their professional and artistic networks and activities.
Hosted at the Hellenic Centre in Central London on the 2nd of October, CSFD attracted a quite diverse audience, from different ethnic and national backgrounds, and of varied relationship with cinema (from industry people and creatives, through scholars, to the dedicated filmgoer). The event began at four in the afternoon with an opening speech by Cultural Counsellor Dr Achilleas Hadjijyriacou, on behalf of the Cyprus High Commission, who stressed the importance of making Cypriot cinema known to the numerous London cinephiles, as well as of creating opportunities for Cypriot filmmakers to showcase their work in one of the most cinematically vibrant cities of Europe and interact with the local audience and industry. CSFD artistic director then took the floor to present the day’s programme and outline the criteria upon which the selection of the films was based. Clearly, in selecting the films the organisers and curator came across the vexed issue of national cinema. How is it possible to define Cypriot cinema in the era of transnational funding and collaboration among people of different cultural backgrounds, in the era of alternative globalised ways of production, distribution and exhibition? What would be the criteria for such an enterprise? Is it the location or country of production? Is it the source of funding? Is it the nationality or origin of the filmmakers? “All these questions were taken into account while selecting CSFD’s film programme”, the organisers emphasised.
For the selection of the films, and, generally, the production of the event, the organisers collaborated with the International Short Film Festival of Cyprus (ISFFC), particularly with artistic directors Alexia Roider and Ioakim Mulonas, as well as with the Senior Cultural Officer of the Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture, Dr Elena Christodoulidou, who suggested the inclusion in the programme of the films that won awards at the National Competition of the ISFFC 2015.
The screenings started with a young woman appearing on the large screen of Hellenic Centre’s Great Hall holding a series of coloured cards with which she announced the beginning of the event and invited the audience to sit back, relax and… switch off their mobile phones! Then followed CSFD’s trailer that dominated the event’s Facebook page throughout September, which, in turn, gave lead to the first short film of the day, Downhill. The work of award-winning Greek directors Theo Angelopoulos’s and Dimitris Papaioannou’s artistic offspring Stelios Kammitsis, Downhill, tells the story of a mother’s efforts to come to terms with her son’s sexuality under the glaring sun of a Greek island, featuring vast landscapes framed with precision, witty dialogue and excellent camerawork that won Best Cinematography for the film. Alexandra Matheou’s homeless youngster then occupied the screen, sporting a yellow Anorak that provides the film’s title, and flirting with a boy, also homeless. Cutting beautiful close-ups of the young couple together with long shots of the Cypriot landscape, Matheou’s short film won Best Editing and Best Actress. Christos Nicolaou’s Boomerang then followed, with its noir undertones that sent screenwriter Yiannis Kokkinos home with a Special Mention for Screenplay. The first part of the screenings completed Renos Gavris’s Austerity, a fearless testimony of the devastating consequences of the Greek crisis, which won Second Prize for Best National Film and Best Actor for the excellent performance by veteran Cypriot actor Antonis Katsaris.
The second part of the screenings began with Christina Georgiou and David Hand’s winner of Best National Film Out of Sight, a heartfelt story narrated by the detailed soundscape that haunts a man’s last visit to his soon-to-be-demolished home. The sixth film from the ISFFC 2015 award-winning line-up was Spiros Charalambous’s youthful and sexy, yet, at the same time, thoughtful and emotional Forever Young, winner of Best Direction. CSFD’s film programme also included two special screenings: Louis Lagayette’s social drama For His Sake, produced by London-based Cypriot producer Marilena Parouti, and Daina Papadaki’s multi-award winning black comedy 5 Ways 2 Die.
The screenings were followed by a Q&A session with the filmmakers. In the panel participated many of the filmmakers, including Marilena Parouti, Christina Georgiou, Renos Gavris, Yiannis Kokkinos, and Spiros Charalambous, as well as Cyprus High Commission Cultural Counsellor Dr Hadjikyriacou and ISFFC artistic director Alexia Roider. The latter introduced the London audience to the successful institution of the International Short Film Festival of Cyprus, also highlighting the importance of creating opportunities for Cypriot filmmakers to promote their work abroad. As president of the Directors Guild of Cyprus, Roider additionally provided an illuminating account of the limited funding opportunities for Cypriot cinema and the struggles of Cypriot filmmakers to raise funds for the production and distribution of their work. Dr Hadjikyriacou wondered whether Cypriot filmmakers should investigate ways of making Cypriot cinema self-sustainable. However, some of the filmmakers emphasised the need for a more targeted campaign by the government to support Cypriot filmmakers and suggested the integration of film studies, and particularly Cypriot cinema, in the curriculum of Cyprus’s educational system, so that Cypriots can get acquainted with local cinema from a very young age and not limit themselves to Hollywood blockbusters. The issue of artistic migration was then raised by Dr Psaras, who wondered whether a great deal of creative force is lost for the island, as many filmmakers and other creatives move abroad in search of better opportunities. The filmmakers seemed to agree that within a globalised world transnational collaborations are becoming the norm nowadays, while independent filmmaking now relies on alternative technologies in terms of both production and distribution, including the use of digital technology, online exhibition platforms, crowdfunding mechanisms etc. The floor was then opened to the audience, who enthusiastically participated in the debate about cinema’s prospects of sustainability and funding, while also addressing specific questions to the filmmakers about their films. After the Q&A session, filmmakers and audience had the opportunity for more private conversations at the reception that followed.
Overall, Cyprus Short Film Day 2016 was a fruitful experience for both the filmmakers and the people who attended the event. It gave Cypriot filmmakers and Cypriot cinema the opportunity to reach a diverse audience and offered a platform to raise some serious issues around Cypriot filmmaking, contemporary modes of production and exhibition, state funding, and, last but not least, about short film itself and its distinctive place in the world.
The filmmakers that participated in the event could not hide their enthusiasm nor their wish for it to become an annual event. Here are some of their thoughts:
“Cyprus Short Film Day has been a very constructive experience. Not only did it give us the opportunity to showcase our award-winning works to Greek-speaking Londoners but it also initiated a very interesting dialogue with film-goers and fellow filmmakers that are based in the UK. Continuing CSFD may significantly facilitate collaborations between professionals and investors in both countries (Cyprus and UK), while, at the same time, and with a more targeted promotion, it could attract audiences of various nationalities, as it takes place in one of the most multicultural capitals of Europe.” (Christina Georgiou, filmmaker)
“I believe it is important to make CSFD an annual event, so that it gives the opportunity to Cypriot filmmakers showcase their work abroad, reaching out to new markets and investors and, at the same time, contributing to the tightening of the relations between Cypriot Londoners and Cypriot artists. CSFD 2016 has achieved its primary goals, through the constructive exchange of views that we had with the audience. It would be ideal if the event could gradually extend its programme, thus creating a platform which would attract a much wider audience, including potential investors and co-producers.” (Yiannis Kokkinos, actor and producer)
“The Cyprus Short Film Day has been one of the most well-executed and organized film screening events I have attended. With diverse and thought-provoking films, as well as a fruitful discussion among panelists and organizers, the CSFD should become an annual event not to be missed by filmmakers and film lovers alike. Bringing home away from home and Cypriot films to the heart of London, CSFD is particularly important as it raises awareness on contemporary Cypriot cinema, but also acts as a venue for filmmakers to connect and potentially collaborate on future projects across the UK and Cyprus.” (Renos Gavris, filmmaker)