Greek screenwriter and film director Renos Haralambidis chatted about the 2023 New York Greek Film Expo.
He opened up about introducing digital technology to Greek cinema.
You grew up in Athens. Where are your family’s roots? How does this inspire you as a creator?
My origins are in Thrace. My parents were born in northern Evros near the border with Turkey and Bulgaria. I was born in Athens.
I spent the summers of my childhood in the village between the rivers Ardas and Evros, right on the border that united three different cultures—Greek, Turkish and Bulgarian. This I feel gave something cosmopolitan in my eyes as a creator.
You worked in media previously. Can you tell us more about this?
By nature, I am a very communicative person but also a renaissance person. I need to deal with many (and many times) contradictory means of expression. Fatefully, I use mass media for the benefit of my cinema. I try for my public speech to be artistic to make everyday life more interesting.
Every day in my morning radio show on EN LEFKO 87.7, I try to promote Greek and also world cinema to a younger audience by urging them to see movies in their natural environment, which is the big screen.
For example, my film CHEAP SMOKES is being played for the tenth year in many summer cinemas in Athens and throughout Greece and my radio show has helped a lot.
What led you to a career in the cinema?
I have always loved telling stories. I think I hide a folk tale inside me. What the hostage once did with the rhapsodies, I aspire to do with my camera. In conclusion, an innate inclination towards storytelling has led me to the art of cinema.
Your biographer Andrew Horton said that you make “playful contemporary films which blur the boundaries between real life and fiction”, that are made on small budgets. Talk about this. What are you trying to say with your work?
Through my films I try to bring real life into contact with almost real life; my adult self with the child I keep hiding inside me. Behind the realism I try to have strong elements of surrealism.
Life and art teach us that in the end everything is a magical mash of fantasy and everyday life, and this is my cinema at least.
My films are low budget and I do it from that point of view. It is the best way to be free as a child who wants to play and communicate away from the adult world.
I read that you introduced digital technology to Greek cinema. Why, and how has that changed the Greek film industry?
I am the first Greek director who used digital technology in 1996 in my debut with the black and white film, NO BUDGET STORY, winning state awards and international reviews.
Variety said: “…it makes a virtue of necessity, using its own poverty to give the film atmosphere…For a Greek film, this is a surprisingly hip tongue-in-cheek comedy and a huge leap forward from most of the country’s lugubrious Angelopoulos imitations…”
I introduced digital technology to Greek cinema purely out of necessity—for financial reasons. My idea was to shoot digital beta and transfer it to 35 mm film. Production costs were reduced enormously, and I also suggested an experimental aesthetic to the image.
With the success of NO BUDGET STORY, Greek directors found both the courage and the way to create with freedom. And the independent Greek cinema had been born.
What are you working on now?
I am currently editing the sound of my new film, ATHENIAN MIDNIGHT RADIO. It will be in theaters in Greece in 2024. It is the film with my highest artistic goals.
It was filmed among the statues of the east pediment of the Parthenon, the Evzones of the presidential guard at the Syntagma, the old telephone booths of Athens, and the old classical national radio studio, which no longer exists.
You’re going to be honored with a retrospective at the New York Greek Film Expo 2023. Tell us about it.
The retrospective is a great honor for me and I feel deeply grateful. It comes at the most appropriate time in my artistic life after a break that lasted a decade. It started with the crisis of Greece and ended in the era of the pandemic.
It was a time of meditation for me. I am returning to the cinema with my new film ATHENIAN MIDNIGHT RADIO and with a retrospective that is like a personal recapitulation that must be tested on a demanding audience like that of New York.
What do your plans for the future include?
I am planning for the New York Retrospective to travel to Europe as well. I am in discussions with London. In addition to the films I shot until 2010, a behind the camera photo exhibition of FOUR BLACK SUITS will continue to be presented.
The photo exhibition includes excerpts of Cavafy’s poem, “Ithaca”, as the inspiration for the film. I also plan to follow the journey of the retrospective with the concert of the world-renowned musician and soloist, Christos Raphaelidis, on the vibraphone, with whom we collaborated on the National Lyric stage where CHEAP SMOKES was staged as a musical theater.
I will continue to present an enriched master class always inspired by Cavafy’s Ithaca, giving meaning to the journey of filmmaking.
To learn more about the New York Greek Film Expo, check out its official website.