Thessaloniki (Greece) (AFP)
A burly man in a buzzing cut crosses a busy street, almost colliding with a passing taxi. Nearby, two Miami police officers keep watch over a bustling crowd next to their patrol car.
The man is the Spanish actor Antonio Banderas and, replacing Magic City, Thessaloniki, the metropolis of northern Greece, where Millennium Media, producers of the series “The Expendables”, is filming its latest action film.
Banderas’ new release, “The Enforcer,” is one of many high-profile shoots taking shape amid an unusual flurry for the Greek film industry, which reopened after a pandemic lockdown just in May.
The busy summer schedule includes Bond star Daniel Craig in the 2019 surprise mystery hit sequel “Knives Out” directed by Rian Johnson, and David Cronenberg’s sci-fi thriller “Crimes of the Future,” with Viggo Mortensen.
Disney + had previously shot scenes in Athens for ‘Greek Freak,’ a biopic about Giannis Antetokounmpo’s early years as the son of poor Nigerian immigrants before catapulting himself to NBA basketball stardom, while Netflix has wrapped up in “Beckett,” an action thriller starring Denzel Washington’s son, John David.
– ‘Crash test’ –
Veteran Greek producer Panos Papahadzis has said this season’s film surge is a “crash test” for the local industry after years of sluggishness.
“For 20 years, we have been calling on the State (…) to make Greece a cinema-friendly country,” Papahadzis, whose company Argonauts is co-producing “Crimes du futur”, told AFP.
“There have never been (so many productions shot simultaneously) in the history of Greek cinema,” adds Vasiliki Diagouma, communication and public relations manager at the Greek National Audiovisual and Communication Center (EKOME ).
Greece has a long history of lack of foreign films – even Greek themed ones – for reasons such as “bureaucracy and lack of knowledge of decision makers,” Diagouma said.
“Five years ago, it would be inconceivable to close entire areas for film shoots,” added Papahadzis.
In 2004, when Athens hosted the Olympic Games, the Homeric epic of Troy was filmed in Malta and Mexico, while Morocco won Oliver Stone’s Alexander.
# photo1 Later, sword and sandal films were shot in Hungary and Bulgaria.
“Forty percent of tourists choose destinations they’ve seen in movies,” Papahadzis noted.
The final insult came in 2016 when an Athens riot scene set in Matt Damon’s spy thriller Jason Bourne was filmed in Spain.
A year later, the Greek government introduced a law to attract foreign productions with cash incentives.
Foreign films, television series, documentaries, animation and digital games made on Greek territory are now entitled to a 40% discount on eligible expenses, including travel, fuel and distribution costs.
The scheme took a long time to fall into place. But in the past two years, nearly 150 projects including more than 70 international productions have signed for a combined investment of more than 180 million euros ($ 210 million), according to EKOME.
“We may be lagging behind in the game, but we’ve embraced industry best practices,” Diagouma said.
“We are one of the few countries to offer (such a large discount). ”
– ‘Low paid workers’ –
The navigation was not smooth.
In an open letter last month, the union of Greek film and television technicians complained that Banderas’ film, produced by Millennium-owned studios Nu Boyana in Bulgaria, was leaving “minimal” profits in Greece.
“Not a single professional cinema technician taxed in Greece works on the film,” the union said in a letter to state officials.
# photo2Nu Boyana Studios “gets Greek tax relief while leaving minimal (earnings) tax in Greece,” he added.
The liberal daily Kathimerini wrote that “almost all of the skilled jobs” in the film were taken by “low-paid Balkan workers”.
Asked about the matter, Diagouma insisted that the projects approved by EKOME “leave behind not only money, but also expertise, good cooperation and professional relations”.
“When one person is employed, it creates jobs for 15 other people. People earn their living, it is very important for our country especially after 10 years of crisis ”, she declared.
Nu Boyana also pledged to set up a film studio in Thessaloniki, but the project was delayed by the pandemic.
The arthouse actor Alexandros Logothetis has just returned from filming a television series in Ireland. He says the differences with Greek industry couldn’t be greater.
“Almost the entire film crew was Irish. Whereas with the film Banderas in Thessaloniki, the teams had come from abroad… it is a mistake. There should be specific guarantees and quotas for Greek labor, ”said Logothetis.
Diagouma argues that even though Greece’s second city is not specifically mentioned in “The Enforcer”, “there is no better promotion for tourism in Thessaloniki … all it takes is one tweet from Banderas”.
Banderas obliged on July 7.
“Shooting in #Thessaloniki. Calm on the set! The 60-year-old tweeted alongside a photo of himself wrapping director Richard Hughes in a bear hug.
© 2021 AFP