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LOS ANGELES GREEK FILM FESTIVAL

From The Press



Panicos Chrystantou under fire

Bringing down the taboos is not easy…


As he was growing up in Kythrea (Degirmenlik) and helping his father in his coffee shop, perhaps he never dreamt that one day he would be a film director…

Panicos Chrysantou loved the area over the Beshparmak (Pentadaktilo) mountains – he would go off alone, walking and climbing and collecting herbs and antiquities… In the springtime, the mountains would be green and full of flowers… At that time, the Kythrea area was full of remnants of antiquities, idols offered to long forgotten Gods, artifacts from a different age… Perhaps these were remnants from old temples, figures of gods and goddesses… He dreamt of building a house high up on the mountains and living there… Kythrea was a very old town and was central in the area… It had a river running through it and mills for the flour…

There was no cinema in Kythrea – you had to walk five miles to Nicosia to see one… And his parents wouldn’t allow him to go at night and walk all the five miles back in the middle of the night… His friends went sometimes and if they saw a movie like `Dracula`, they would be frightened on the way back, imagining Draculas all over the place!

It was a different kind of life – he remembers this:

`It wasn’t that it was ideal` he says… `But I have memories from my childhood and they are good memories… Cyprus had a character back in those days, a culture… It was a culture that contained both good and bad… For instance there was no tolerance towards difference… If there was a crazy person in the village, he wouldn’t be considered as part of society and would be cast out… But the good thing in those days was that people were close to each other… There were principles and ethics and also of course lack of tolerance. It’s not like today when money became the only ethical value…`

When he went to the gymnasium, he had a passion for literature – this was the beginning of the 60s… At school they would read the poems of Seferis, a progressive poet from Izmir (Smyrna). Seferis had also written poems about Cyprus – he had discovered Cyprus, falling in love with the island… When he went to study literature in Athens, he realized that poems of Seferis were banned there. Greek students were surprised to learn that Cypriot students were learning the poems of Seferis at school…

When he was doing his military service in Nicosia, he started going to the cinema… He loved `The Birdman of Alcatraz` by Frankenheimer and `Bonjour Trieste`... Later he would discover that `Bonjour Trieste` was in fact not a very good movie...

In Athens he realized that the level of the university was lower than the level of the gymnasium in Cyprus. So he started devoting most of his time to going to the cinema... At that time, he watched thousands and thousands of movies... When he saw the `Seventh Seal` by Ingmar Bergman he decided that this was what he wanted: movies were not only for entertainment, he could also express his ideas through the films he would make... He wanted very much to go to Sweden because of Bergman and in fact he did... After university he went to Sweden – it was right after 1974... He was a refugee from Kythrea so he could go to Sweden as a refugee. But this meant that he was not allowed to work or enroll in university there... Bergman had tax problems and had left Sweden anyway... He stayed a year in Sweden, learning Swedish and later came back to Cyprus...

In order to survive, he started working in TA NEA, the newspaper of EDEK at that time... But politics and art don’t go together so he quit after a year, becoming a teacher for 10 years... He quit teaching as well and made postcards and calendars to survive... The only thing he wanted was to make movies...

His first film was a documentary about Ayios Sozomenos (Arpalik) village. This was a place destroyed by a group of fanatic Greek Cypriots... When he saw the deserted village, he thought this was the summary of the relationship of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots... `If we want to build peace in Cyprus, we have to start from the pain... We have to acknowledge what we have done to each other...` he told me... Ayios Sozomenos was the summary of our history... He had convinced the Greek Cypriot PIO to make a film but the beurocrats didn’t know the details... He edited the documentary in Athens and sent it to Berlin to be shown at the Berlin Film Festival... This was 1984... Later, `A detail from Cyprus` would shock the beurocrats. Panicos was beginning to bring down the taboos concerning `history`... He was challenging what was taught at schools and what our children memorized as `history`...

Later he met Niyazi Kizilyurek, an active academician and writer from the village Bodamya... Together they made the first joint documentary about Cyprus called `Our Wall`... The documentary was shown around Europe and was well recieved by the world but not in Cyprus. The state television RIK in the south refused to screen it, a committee in BRT TV in the north banned it... Cypriots could only watch the documentary in `alternative screenings`. Niyazi and Panicos were trying to bring down the taboos and acknowledging each other’s pain and suffering... `Our Wall` was an attempt to show the unspoken truths of the Cypriots – whether they were Turkish Cypriot or Greek Cypriot... Panicos Chrysantou continued with his documentaries: `Footprints of Aphrodite`, `Silicou` and `Our Homeland`... He met the Turkish Cypriot film director, Dervish Zaim and together they made the documentary `Parallel Lines`... Panicos became the co-producer of Zaim’s feature film, `Chamur` (The Mud) which won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival...

Nowadays Panicos Chrystantou is trying to finish the editing of his first feature film called `Akamas` and is under fire from extremists in the south... The actors and actresses in his movie are both Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots and it is a love story among a Turkish Cypriot and a Greek Cypriot. The attacks came from MAHI and ANTENNA, blaming him of distorting facts about the life of an EOKA fighter. Even though the movie has nothing to do with the mentioned EOKA hero, the campaign against Panicos continues. Sotiris Sampson, an MP from DYSI and son of Nicos Sampson even went so far as to ask for the movie to be banned even before it’s finished! When they discovered that Dervish Zaim was a co-producer of this movie, they even got nastier, claiming that Panicos got `Turkish money` to make this film! Fanaticism has no nationality: whether you live in the north or the south, if you are trying to bring down taboos, you would always come under fire...

`I cannot say who is behind this attack but what I can say is that, I feel that I am a target, not because of the film itself but because of my ideas... Until now, I didn’t have a presence in the public life... I don’t write articles, I don’t appear on TV... But now, they feel something will appear because of the previous films, especially the film with Niyazi, they feel that I am somebody who is a danger especially for nationalistic ideas so they’re thinking `Let us try to hit him as he’s preparing something which is against our ideology`... My film is a humanistic film... But it’s a political film at the same time... It’s a film co-produced with Dervish Zaim, it’s more symbolic than with money... It’s a film where I tried to have Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot actors, professionals and not professionals. Even the Turkish Cypriot villagers came with a bus and took part in the film. I wanted to make a film about Cypriots, the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots all together. I feel that it’s a film about Cyprus. It belongs to Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, it belongs to peace and humanity...`




Panicos Chrysanthou, answered our questions:

"My film is international because it’s human"


Film director Panicos Chrysanthou answered our questions:



ULUDAG: What’s your film about?

CHRYSANTHOU: The movie is called `Akamas` - it’s this peninsula in Cyprus. And it is a love story which is a Turkish Cypriot loves a Greek Cypriot and this takes place in this area. I use the area Akamas because it is very beautiful. It’s so called `The World of Cyprus`… The way Diamanthis and Seferis said about that… They used to say it was a world of Homer, world of Cyprus – I don’t know what they were meaning but I gave a meaning myself. It means the world you find in Homer, these people with passion… They fight, they are hard but at the same time, they are so sensitive. You can remember Achilleas in Troja. He was so hard, a savage person and he was making the body of Hector around the town and he had no peace in his heart because he was hating so much and he had killed his best friend. And when his father comes and takes his legs and tells him `You have a father as well, give me the body of my son`, he begins to cry and he gives him the body and a lot of presents and send him back. They kill and they are so wild and at the same time they are very sensitive, very human. You find both… In Homer, the nature is very important and people are like the nature, it’s part of the nature. So I made a film about the people of Cyprus which are similar with this old world of Homer. People who love… And I have two main persons – they love each other, they are innocent. It’s a Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot. And they want to live together and they discover that in Cyprus in the 50s and 60s and 70s, this is impossible! What they try? They have nothing to do with politics. They try just to live together and they don’t find their peace. Everybody is enemy with them: The Greek Cypriots, they don’t like it, the Turkish Cypriots, they don’t like it, their friends, they don’t like it and they try to survive through these difficulties and at the end, when the partition comes and the Turkish Cypriots move from the south to the north, they live in a Turkish Cypriot village. They decide to stay there and they stay in a deserted village. It’s a kind of definition let me say, that people who love in this country, they are cursed to live in a no-man’s land. Where there is nobody… It’s a humanistic film. Mainly it’s a humanistic film. It’s a political film at the same time, I cannot deny that. It’s a film which I made a co-production with Dervish Zaim, it’s mostly symbolic than with money. And it’s a film where I tried to have Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot actors, professionals and non-professional. Even some Turkish villagers came with a bus and they played. We made it symbolic… I wanted to make a film about Cypriots, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, all together. I feel that it’s a film about Cyprus, it belongs to Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, it belongs to peace, it belongs to humanity.

During the shootings I had some organizing problems and problems with some people. Some of these problems, they were at the same time political as well. For example, there was a guy who was a worker there and he left. And after he left somebody told me `Look, he didn’t like to put in his car – he was a driver – Turkish Cypriots…` He was a racist. I don’t know if some of these people gave information, I don’t know who gave the information. If there is a mechanism to exploit the information, it’s a different thing. The fact is now this political tendency, they use this film for a daily propaganda and for a daily attack…


ULUDAG: Especially MAHI and ANTENNA…

CHRYSANTHOU: MAHI and ANTENNA… I was heard that EOKA Fighters Association made an announcement but I didn’t see it…


ULUDAG: As far as I read what was translated, they try to make it as though you were presenting the EOKA fighter Evagoras…

CHRYSANTHOU: Evagoras was a national hero, a young boy, 18 years old. He was a poet, he was writing poems about Greece and ENOSIS. He was an idealist, very positive person. And he was captured by the British in the area of Polis – it wasn’t Akamas, it was Lysos, the other side.. And he was captured and condemned to death and he was hung. But he was very idealistic person and he’s a hero of the EOKA period. He was 17 years old and the British were waiting for him to be 18, in order to hang him… They associated the character in my film with Evagoras because the character of my film is called Adonis and he used the nickname `Evagoras`. I suppose the real Evagoras, he had a nickname. They didn’t use their own names as EOKA fighters. And I think that this association was made on purpose just to attack the film because more than 100 persons read the script and nobody told me `Look, this reminds Evagoras`… In the film, the character plays the role of Adonis, it is a reference to the mythology. He’s a beautiful person, a kind of Jesus Christ, a kind of fighter like Che Guevara. He’s killed by the British but he was shot and then the dogs killed him at the end because Adonis was killed by the wild pigs. The god of war had sent wild pigs… The god of war in this movie is the British and they kill him with the dogs. So it’s a reference to Adonis. And the woman, when he’s dead, puts on his chest some flowers, they are the special flowers of Adonis. There are some red flowers and they are called `Adonis`. I made it on purpose. So there is nothing in the story which reminds Evagoras, the only thing common is the real name of the hero and the nickname of Adonis. But the problem is that, they didn’t see the film and they want to burn the film. For me this is the most dangerous thing.


ULUDAG: Sampson’s son, the MP, he called for the film to be banned…

CHRYSANTHOU: Yes… And he has as his main subject that I got Turkish money!


ULUDAG: Did you get any Turkish money?

CHRYSANTHOU: It is a co-production. A co-production means that there are three countries, they put money in order to make the film. According to this budget, my co-producer who is Dervish Zaim, he has to pay the Turkish Cypriot actors and the editing. That’s his participation in the film. I didn’t get the money, he has to pay… Until the time we speak, we didn’t get this money. I can say this is mostly symbolic. I wanted to show with Dervish that we support each other and we work together.


ULUDAG: You were co-producer of his movie Chamur (The Mud)…

CHRYSANTHOU: Yes, the same way, I didn’t have money or a lot of money to offer him. I tried to help him and I tried to show that I participate…


ULUDAG: Why is this media attacking you?

CHRYSANTHOU: They want to show that I am an agent, that’s the way they use it. And they use it like `He gets Turkish money and he gets money from UNOPS!` They made the name of UNOPS dirty – until now, anybody who takes money from UNOPS is a `traitor`! So they use these two names just to show that I am something not right…


ULUDAG: When does the film finish?

CHRYSANTHOU: I’m working on editing now. I need some months to finish it…


ULUDAG: And then you will show it in Cyprus or elsewhere? What are your plans?

CHRYSANTHOU: I want to show it everywhere. It is important to show it in Cyprus for Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots to see… And Greece and Turkey are important as well. And abroad. I think the film is international because it’s humanistic. That’s what they don’t understand, these people… That’s what I find absurd – they didn’t see the film and they decided that the film is this way…


ULUDAG: But always, the extreme nationalists, when they attack, they never look at the content, it’s always about context. Because if they look at the content, then there is nothing to attack…

CHRYSANTHOU: I am sure that some of these people, they hear it and if they have good will, they will think about this film… Because it’s human, it’s not directly political, it’s indirectly political film. I can tell you that I have spoken with Sampson. I called him after the first day and I told him `You didn’t have the right information, it has nothing about Evagoras`. And he told me `But the story that the Turkish man stays with a Greek woman until the very end…` And I said `Yes`. And he said `Why did you put a Turkish man to stay with a woman, is it right to make this?!` So you see that, he doesn’t like the concept!


ULUDAG: And this film is your fifth film…

CHRYSANTHOU: Yes, this is the fifth film… This is my first feature film…



Sevgul Uludag

30/05/2005


Article published in the ALITHIA newspaper on the 29th of May, 2005.

 
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