Member of the Month - Rea Apostolides, Anemon Productions
In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group.
Our EDN member of the month for March 2012 is Rea Apostolides, producer at Anemon Productions based in Athens, Greece. Anemon Productions was founded in 2003 and produces documentaries and television programmes for the Greek and international market. Recent work includes co-productions with ARTE, ZDF, YLE, HISTORY TV, AVRO, TV3, TSR, ERT, SKAI TV and the GREEK FILM CENTRE, and the focus is on society, history and current affairs. The company also develops and produces cross-media projects in partnership with museums and educational institutions.
Rea herself has worked as a film researcher and producer since 1995 and has among other documentaries produced The Game Must Go On (Angeliki Andrikopoulou & Argyris Tsepelikas, 2010), The Call of the Mountain (Stelios Apostolopoulos, 2010), Sugartown: The Bridegrooms (Kimon Tsakiris, 2006), The Secret of Snake Goddess (Christian Bauer & Nikos Dayandas, 2007) and A Place Without People (Andreas Apostolidis, 2009).
Since 2010 Rea has also been a member of the EDN Executive Committee.
EDN has among other things talked to Rea about the current situation in Greece and about her coming participation in Docs in Thessaloniki.
EDN: Greece is of course on everyone’s lips at the moment in talks concerning Europe and the EU and the overall financial crisis. Therefore the initial question has to be how the financial crisis and questions affect the Greek Documentary environment? To put it bluntly is it at all possible to produce documentaries in Greece at the moment?
RA: The crisis has dealt a devastating blow to the production of quality, high-end documentaries. The Greek Film Centre has not funded new documentaries or fiction films for at least two years and still owes production companies funds for completed films, while public broadcaster ERT has heavily cut down funding in an effort to reduce costs. Private media organisations are facing insurmountable financial problems, as the advertising market collapses. Foundations and private funding partners have stopped sponsoring films, in the face of rising financial distress. Even cinema ticket sales last year were down by 40%.
But documentary directors and producers are finding ways to produce films, mostly on their own resources. The problem is that the films are often produced without a producer or a broadcaster. Unfortunately, this affects the final result.
EDN: Where in Greece can you get funding for documentaries?
RA: ERT is the only body currently funding documentaries.
EDN: What types of documentaries are aired on Greek TV?
RA: ERT produces documentary series mostly about social issues. There is a really important co-production agreement between ERT and ARTE, which has resulted in the production of fantastic high quality documentaries (about 2-3 a year). SKAI, a private TV channel, broadcasts nature, history and survival type documentary series but these are mostly British, American or French documentaries (acquisitions).
EDN: Do you experience reluctance from producers and broadcasters from outside of Greece to go in to co-productions with Greece? Or is there or the other hand a renewed interest in stories from Greece?
RA: No, producers and broadcasters are definitely interested in Greek documentaries. I think the challenge lies in creating films that can appeal to an international audience.
EDN: Your company has a project participating in Docs in Thessaloniki this month. It is called Twice A Stranger and the directors are Andreas Apostolides and Yuri Averof. Can you tell what the project is about and it’s current status?
RA: Twice A Stranger is a documentary series and feature documentary about the largest population exchanges in the 20ths Century, when millions of people were uprooted from their homeland and forced to resettle in another country. This policy was actually first implemented in Greece in 1922, and served as a ‘blueprint’ for the exchange of millions of people in Germany, Poland, India, Pakistan and Israel after World War II. The series has been so far funded by ERT and we are searching for funding in order to make a feature length version and two extra episodes on the break up of Yugoslavia.
EDN: The project also has a cross–media aspect. Can you tell more about how you work with and incorporate this?
RA: We’re increasingly learning that even a series can go unnoticed on television. So we decided to search for separate funding to build a cross media platform, which consists of a travelling museum exhibition with video testimonies, educational programmes, live storytelling, documentary screenings and an internet platform twiceastranger.net.
This has so far been funded by the Culture programme of the EU, the Goethe-Institut Athens, the British Council and supported by a range of British, German, Greek, Turkish and Cypriot institutions.
The exhibition is currently showing in Istanbul, before travelling to Nicosia/Cyprus and Athens this year. The range of emotions it is drawing is really incredible and fascinating -especially young people, who know little about this aspect of our recent history, are stunned to discover the ‘other side’ of their history.
We already have interest from an army museum in Sweden and a German NGO and we are working on approaching venues in other countries.
EDN: How did you come across this story?
RA: We read a powerful book called Twice A Stranger written by UK journalist Bruce Clark. The book tells the story of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923 and explains why the trauma of the exchange is still very much alive today in both countries. Together with Bruce, we developed the concept of a series that would tell the story of population exchange in other countries, focusing on the human cost of refugee displacement. The stories of those who lived to tell the tale - whether from Greece, Turkey, Germany, Poland, India, Pakistan or Cyprus - reveal a common human experience of lost homelands and communities ripped apart: the experience of being “twice a stranger”.
EDN: How does your company find the projects you want to produce and is there a common theme to the films you go in to?
RA: We really like historical and social documentaries. We would love to produce more documentaries for children but funding is difficult at the moment in Greece. Many projects are pitched by independent directors, but most of our current projects are jointly developed by our team of producers and directors at Anemon.
EDN: Is it important for your company at this moment in time to produce stories that reflect on the crisis?
RA: It’s important for us to try to understand the deeper causes of the crisis in Greece. We are starting to film a documentary on our own resources initially aimed for a Greek audience. It puts the crisis into a historical context, starting from the end of the dictatorship in 1974 and it tries to explain how ideas, perceptions and practices in Greece changed over two decades, leading up to what we are going through now.
EDN: How does a project benefit from being part of a workshop and pitch like Docs in Thessaloniki?
RA: Over the last ten years, we’ve taken part in Docs in Thessaloniki several times. We’ve always learnt a lot, understood the weaknesses and strong points of our projects and met funding partners, but I think we have also benefited in a more general sense from listening to other producers pitch their projects. The problem with pitching forums remains that it is really difficult to secure financing. And sometimes, pitching can mean an end to a project.
With our last project, which we pitched at Thessaloniki, Place with People, we secured strong interest from two broadcasters (ARTE and Canal + in Spain) and distributor Jan Rofekamp (Films Transit). Both channels ultimately backed down but Jan took on the film, and so far has sold it to over 10 broadcasters, from South Africa to Korea and Canada. This connection would not have happened without the pitch.
EDN: How important is the networking with other participants at an event like this? Are you also looking for future partners in other production companies or for other documentary projects to venture in to?
RA: Making new friends and future partners is always important at events like this. Co-productions with other production companies are in general difficult to achieve, but always this is one of our aims.
EDN: In Athens you are also involved in a returning event where you arrange screenings of documentaries. Can you tell more about this initiative – how it is run and the types of documentaries you show?
RA: Together with Avra Georgiou and Dimitra Kouzi, we run CineDoc, a year long documentary festival at the French Institute. We began without any funding three years ago, and have just begun to make a small profit.
We select documentaries that can appeal to the general public – they are not usually art house films. Last year’s hits were King’s of Pastry and Marc Jacobs. This week we are having a screening of Danish award-winning documentaries - Armadillo and Into Eternity.
This year we have also made a deal with a central cinema in Athens, Danaos, which screens the CineDoc documentaries on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, at a reduced price.
Next year, we are expanding this network to cinemas in Thessaloniki, Crete and Cyprus.
EDN: Do the “regular” cinemas in Athens also screen documentaries?
RA: Rarely -there is no ’regular’ cinema where you can see documentaries. When our documentaries Sugartown the Bridegrooms and The Game Must Go On were able to achieve a wide release (over 5 cinemas each in Athens), many people thought that they were fiction films or were surprised because they had nothing to do with the standard environmental or historical documentary usually broadcast on TV.
EDN: Which other projects are you involved in at the moment and what lies ahead for you and Anemon?
RA: We have just completed the cross media project A Balkan Tale (balkantale.com) about the history of the Balkans during the Ottoman Era, with the Goethe-Institut South Eastern Europe, Sayome (ARTE/ERT) and The World’s First Computer (coproduction with First Image Films/ ARTE/ERT/NHK).
We are now developing a series of new projects like The Little Land a documentary about how people can live more with less on a remote Greek island, Kismet, the story of how Turkish soap operas are affecting the lives of millions of viewers across the Arab world (coproduction) and One Last Journey about the last community of sponge-divers in the Mediterranean.
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