When the British Museum held a sandwich lunch during a 1999 conference to discuss the Elgin/Parthenon issue and an elegant gala dinner in the presence of royalty in 2000 amongst the Parthenon sculptures, Greek authorities called it insensitive and disrespectful. So today when actress/screenwriter/producer Nia Vardalos uses the Acropolis as a location for her film, why is that OK?
It’s not the first time an ancient site has been used as the backdrop of an expensive private project. Vangelis’ Mythodea concert in 2001 at the Temple of Olympian Zeus cost $7 million, with Sony picking up half the tab and the Greek government (aka, taxpayers of Greece) footing the other half. The composer refused to take a fee, but Mikis Theodorakis criticized the event as a “waste of public money” and questioned the safety of the ruins flooded with lights, scaffolding and a big screen. And many agreed.
Vardalos is the first person to be granted permission to shoot at the ancient Acropolis of Athens since it was erected in the 5th century BC, and there has been little public outcry. There’s no doubt she earned it, after allowing the government to infringe on her creative freedom and make script changes, in addition to several years of pressing the flesh. She’s quite a nice woman, as well.
The Canadian-American was given permission by former Minister of Culture George Voulgarakis, an economist who was demoted during the cabinet reshuffle. One of Voulgarakis’ last decisions as Minister of Culture was to approve the demolition of a historical art deco building designed by Vassilis Kouremenos and another owned by composer Vangelis to allow an unimpeded view of the Acropolis from the museum, which was supposed to open before Athens 2004. Papers were signed during the spate of wildfires and discovered 10 days later.
So saving historical buildings is pointless, but filming a movie at the Acropolis is OK?
The Greek culture ministry forbids ceremonies of every kind at all sites, with its archaeologist Nikoletta Valakou stating, “archaeological sites are nobody’s private theater.” But apparently using them for public theater is fine.
And back to the original question: Why is it disrespectful and insensitive when the British Museum holds a dinner amongst Parthenon marbles, but OK to stage expensive public events with taxpayers’ money and allow film shoots at ancient sites in Greece?
Is it because Vardalos is Greek? She’s actually not a Greek citizen as some suggest, but of Greek origin on her mother’s side. Isn’t that nationalistic bias? Perhaps.
Is it because Greece will profit in the end from free PR and tourism revenue? Isn’t that “do as I say, not as I do?” Most certainly.
As Athens commemorates the 63rd anniversary of its liberation from Nazi occupation during WWII on October 12th, we can remember the day after as the day Greece pimped the Parthenon.
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Photo from AFP, as published by bbc.co.uk