‘Greek Hollywood’ Looks to Cash in on Cachet as Production on the Mediterranean Surges

There were sunny skies over the Thessaloniki Film Festival this week, with unseasonably high temperatures leading many visitors to reach for the sunscreen while dashing between movie premieres and industry events at Greece’s longest-running film fest.

The local industry, too, is enjoying a moment in the sun, as the Mediterranean nation has seen production surge post-pandemic, buoyed by foreign titles like Rian Johnson’s Netflix blockbuster “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” action thriller “Tin Soldier,” starring Jamie Foxx and Robert De Niro, and the Jason Statham and Sylvester Stallone starring “Expend4bles,” the latest installment of the action franchise, which filmed in Thessaloniki.

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Last year, production in Greece reached record heights, with 132 projects supported by the country’s cashback scheme, which covers up to 40% of qualifying expenditures and can be combined with a separate 30% tax relief scheme. This year, Pablo Larrain’s Maria Callas biopic “Maria,” starring Angelina Jolie, and Amazon Studios’ “Killer Heat,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley and Richard Madden, are among the productions bringing some star power to the country.

Speaking in Thessaloniki this week, Leonidas Christopoulos, the newly installed president of EKOME — the government body tasked with administering the cash rebate — boasted that nearly €100 million ($107 million) has been doled out by the incentive scheme since it was launched in 2018, with most of that disbursed in the past two years.

GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY (2022) Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc and Janelle Monáe as Andi.  Cr: John Wilson/NETFLIX

But Greek producers sounded the alarm over what they see as the industry’s growing dependence on foreign productions, which have reaped nearly two-thirds of that government payout, while the Greek Film Center, which is critical for the support of domestic film and television development and production, remains direly underfunded.

“Anything that happens has to happen for the local industry,” said Konstantinos Kontovrakis, co-founder of Athens-based production and sales outfit Heretic (“Triangle of Sadness,” “Inside”). “There’s no point in designing an incentive, there’s no point in spending hundreds of millions of euros, unless this returns to the local talent and [allows] the local talent to flourish further.”

Though Greece is currently enjoying its moment in the limelight as foreign producers circle, wooed by the country’s sun-splashed locations and competitive rebate scheme, Kontovrakis warned that the uptick could be a “bubble” that’s “bound to pop.”

“We know very well that the studios will move to another country tomorrow. It’s happened [elsewhere],” he said. “We’re not reinventing the wheel. We’re not rewriting history.”

Greek filmmakers nevertheless continue to make waves internationally, such as Sofia Exarchou, whose sophomore feature “Animal” premiered at the Locarno Film Festival, where lead actor Dimitra Vlagopoulou won the prize for best acting performance. Riding the breakout success of his Venice-premiering debut “Apples,” meanwhile, director Christos Nikou made the trans-Atlantic leap with his first English-language feature, “Fingernails,” a sci-fi romance from Apple TV+ featuring an ensemble cast led by Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed and Jeremy Allen White.

Jessie Buckley (left) and Riz Ahmed star in Christos Nikou’s Apple TV+ romance “Fingernails.”

Greek drama series are also beginning to tap into the global market, with Beta Film recently acquiring international sales rights to the Greek drama series “The Beach,” a primetime sensation for public broadcaster ERT. Last week in Thessaloniki, Fifth Season grabbed global distribution rights to the Greek teen drama “Milky Way,” written and directed by the short film Palme d’Or winner Vasilis Kekatos. The show was the first Greek series ever to compete at Series Mania, where the edgy drama invited comparisons to HBO’s “Euphoria.”

For producers at this week’s Thessaloniki festival, those positive trends are all the more reason for government and industry to ensure they’re aligned in continuing to grow what Neda Film’s Amanda Livanou dubbed the “Greek Hollywood.”

“I think we can all agree that the Greek industry is thriving,” said Livanou, who wrapped production last year on the horror-mystery “Buzzheart,” from veteran director Dennis Iliadis (“The Last House on the Left”). “This is an idyllic picture of what’s happening. Of course, as producers, we’re super happy, but we also need to highlight how to get better, how not to repeat the mistakes that other rebates have done.”

The Thessaloniki Film Festival runs Nov. 2 – 12.

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