Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

My bisque phat Greek Acropolis

_42233958_athens_afp220b.jpgWhen 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.

Related posts

Greek government continues on wrong environmental path
Greek wildfires, 6 months later
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Photo from AFP, as published by bbc.co.uk

13 Comments »

  Athena wrote @ October 13th, 2007 at 22:05

In Greece we are known for our hysterical reactions. The British museum dinner was presented as if drunks were spilling beer all over the marbles. As for Theodorakis’ reaction, I have stopped taking him seriously.

The Acropolis film shoot has been allowed because it will eventually advertise Greece abroad. Which is legitimate and necessary since the tourism sector contributes 18% to the country’s GNP.

Is there a double standard? Yes. But that’s us.

  photene wrote @ October 14th, 2007 at 02:38

Athens is in dire need of retooling. The demolition of one treasure to store others, again that crazy Greek duality. In some ways it’s refreshing, the ability to move forward with a decision and damn the consequences. But the marbles have to be moved or they’ll be destroyed and what’s left in Athens? They were going to some work at Monastiraki, and that never happened, too bad they didn’t condemn one of those terrible buildings and put them them.

One of the most shocking things I noticed is all the litter – everything from paper to used condoms and maxi pads – it was appalling! Perhaps an ad campaign similar to the one from the 70’s in the States with the American Indian Chief riding over the plain and dead-ending at the highway with the single tear – could we change it and have Leonidas storming over the mountain with his army, collecting the trash in a big pile and then turning to the camera and in his BOOMING voice say to the audience- Molon Labe!

  Vassili wrote @ October 15th, 2007 at 09:32

I am Shocked! And Appalled!! Grrrrr…

  yiannos wrote @ October 15th, 2007 at 16:32

this movie will bomb IMO. nobody cares about this corny canadian-american greek anymore. remember that t.v series? went down like a lead balloon.

  A wrote @ October 15th, 2007 at 19:13

With all due respect, I believe you have confused apples with oranges. The marbles gala was disrespectful because there is a legitimate claim by Greece to the marbles. If the dinner was held in a room containing ancient British treasures, no one would care. Same if the Greek Embassy in London had a gala in the marbles room (although other objections would lie).

For years, movies were filmed all around Athens and no one cared; all fees were pocketed by “officials”. In this matter, at least the film company paid a substantial permit fee (at least that is what is said in the US), and has been employing greeks. Is this not enough? Every city in the world has a film commission that has multiple objectives: to provide access to positive depictions of the locale, and to provide for local employment. The only reason that this is shocking is because it is beginning to be done in an organized format with less personal gain and more public gain. In exchange for filming and employing greek film industry workers, they pay a fee and have to maintain the area daily and clean up at the end. And for this they gave script approval – a rare thing indeed!

Only in Greece could this be considered a crime. It is like rubbish: its perfectly fine for Greeks to ruin the city, the country and the beaches with garbage but if a xenos does it, everyone runs to call the police!

There are people who think Athens is like “for the love of benji” and santorini is like “Summer lovers”. Is this what Greeks want people to think Greece is like? Because they do a terrible job of promoting anything except high priced resorts. What is the alternative – should the movie have built a “mini” parthenon or done a digital work, as in Gladiator?” (this would be cheaper from the film studio’s perspective, by the way, and preferable to the complexities of location shooting in a foreign country). And you know this has cost a bundle, especially with the Euro at an all time high against the dollar.

But apply your premise more broadly. What of Herodus Atticou – or even, for that matter, Sound & Light – seems to me that since these are attended in large part by foreigners, they similarly should be shut down, because they are similarly exploiting Greece’s history. And I suppose the theater programs at the ancient ampitheaters should apply a Greeks only rule to ticket sales. Should museums close to foreigners as well, or does paying an admission fee justify the use of the public purse?

I recall having seen many greek movies and tv shows with ruins in the background – maybe years ago, but I don’t believe that permits are not issued or deals are not made.

I’m sorry if I appear so passionate, but there is nothing more Greek than complaining about something that does not harm to anyone and is actually logical, under the cloak of the sophistry that Greeks don’t do things that way. People will exploit things; so you must take control but let them think they are still in charge. Which is actually a very Greek way of doing things.

By the way, I must add: GNTO is a sponsor/partner in the production of the movie at issue. So Greece is participating in this pimping, it is not being pimped entirely by strangers (of whatever Greek roots – Rita Wilson is a producer).

  Kat wrote @ October 15th, 2007 at 19:38

Athena – Although Mr. Mikis is not my favorite guy, I’m certain that $3.5 million could have been used to say, I don’t know, create a forest registry, improve public services or institute some changes in education, job creation or infrastructure. NO! Let’s spend it on a one-night concert.

And as I said in the post, of course it’s about tourism and the bottom line. It’s OK if Greece pimps the Parthenon for profit. It’s just not OK when other nations do it.

Photene – Thanks for leaving a comment after “stalking” me for so long. ;) I appreciate your readership.

They did condemn or beautify some buildings before Athens 2004, which just goes to show it can be done on a deadline, but littering and other habits like procrastination are often passed between generations. No amount of advertising, public messages or penalties will change anything…it’s been proven. i.e. Traffic fines were doubled and tripled, and violations haven’t decreased a bit. Even the Thessaloniki prefect leaders are guilty. Panagioti Ptolemaidis was caught paying his fine a few days after new fines were applied, and he said nothing about changing his ways when reporters asked if he would.

Vassili – I hear you! Sometimes there are no words.

Yiannos – LOL! You kill me, file.

A – I won’t get into the Marbles issue — it’s old and not the point, though I know people like to dredge it up. But if the film crew, producer and employees are all of Greek descent, then everything is fine…yeah, OK. And if they paid a fee, then technically that’s prostitution not pimping. I stand corrected. Totally different – tomato, tomato, potato, potato.

  out-with-foreigners wrote @ October 16th, 2007 at 15:10

Your post is bullshit.

Greece of Christian Greeks.

Out with f*cking foreign lying bastrds.

Note to readers: This comment ironically comes from a foreigner living in the UK, not Greece, who is using the University of Warwick’s Internet connection. Come back to GR and make me leave. I’ll even throw in a free dictionary, so you can look up the word ‘hypocrite.’

  Peter wrote @ October 17th, 2007 at 09:33

The answer to your question is that one promotes and loves Greece and its ideals while the others disrespect and “remove” objects from ancient sites.

I guess the Hellenic Government should’ve allowed the British officials to dance the syrtaki and even let them raise their glasses and make a hypocritical toast in regards to the Elgin Marbles.

The ancient sites aren’t picnic areas for heavy drinkers who apparently can’t control themselves once their drunk.

  Kat wrote @ October 17th, 2007 at 09:51

The thing is, I recognize there is a legitimate issue with the Marbles — I can’t call them either Elgin or Parthenon because ultimately someone will be pissed off — but the British Museum had the sandwich lunch while discussing the issue and a semi-private gala that included many galleries (not only the Greek room) to celebrate the renovation and revitalization of the museum. They weren’t profiting, promoting or spilling wine, dancing or filming.

The Vangelis concert was blatant promotion, which many might say was a huge waste of taxpayer money for one night. The film? It’s hard to say if that will profit. But the message is that if it involves Greeks and Greece and tourism dollars, suddenly everyone salivates and thinks it’s OK.

The majority of residents in Greece will never benefit from any of this. Maybe people would be more accepting if the money was put toward infrastructure, public services and growing the private sector, instead of in the pocket of corrupt officials and other elite.

  A wrote @ October 17th, 2007 at 19:57

I don’t mean to lecture, but I still don’t get why the national or ethnic origin of the movie producers matters. The parthenon is an “asset” of Greece. In this case, it is used as a backdrop for a story about Greece, set in Greece (although, interestingly enough, much of the movie is being filmed in Spain). GNTO partners, a fee is paid, Greeks in the film industry are employed. Isn’t the fact that it is the Parthenon is a red herring here – the same issues would apply if they filmed on a street in Ekali? The film will translate into much money for the production company, some money for Greek film industry workers, and some trickle down effect for Greece. I agree that the public benefit may be small, amorphous and difficult to measure, but so is goodwill in any business. People still pay for it.

I just don’t see what is so sacred about the Parthenon that a movie should not film there. I think New York Stories, and many other films was filmed there, so this is not even a precedent of recent ilk. As I understand it, the ban on use of ancient sites for commercial use had as its origin the modification or alteration of the sites, which were in large part unprotected. I think that when the ban was implemented, which I understand occurred in the 1970s, it was not because there was an objection to “exploitation”. It was because there was no organization to ensure that archeological work would be derailed and artifacts taken. Not exactly the same spirit as prevailing today.

I am not suggesting that Greece should pimp out its sites or even that because it has in the past, it should permit filming everywhere. But I am suggesting that with appropriate protections, of the ilk reported, it seems to me a win-win situation – at worst, no damage, at best, some income. And again, the image control aspect is key to this – in most cases, you cannot get script changes.

So from a philosophical perspective, why is permitting Greece to be reflected in a film a bad idea?

  Peter wrote @ October 23rd, 2007 at 15:39

Why are you focusing on Vardalos only? Haven’t there been international artists who have performed at the Herodion which is part of the Acropolis?
In regards to your topic, let me redirect your question by asking you: Would you allow an offender to come back into your house?
I apologise to the English people but the British Museum is just that. An extention of past colonial England. When and if i visit Britain i want to see British sites and not the remains of the Acropolis.

  Kat wrote @ October 23rd, 2007 at 17:45

A – Philosophically speaking, I see nothing wrong with it. My point of criticism is if Greece is going to chide the British museum and lodge protests about a gala/sandwich lunch based on a moral high ground, it should first take a look at what it’s doing, which in my opinion is worse.

Again, I understand there is a legitimate claim to the Marbles, but until that’s settled, Greece shouldn’t act like a spoiled child, be mature and get their own house in order. Maybe the British Museum would have considered giving them back for Athens 2004 as a goodwill gesture if there was somewhere to store and protect them. But no, the museum is 3-4 years too late, so the opportunity has passed.

P – My criticism is of the Greek government’s two-face moral stance, not Vardalos or anyone else…or even the Elgin=Parthenon marbles issue. Judging from the other comments above, I believe people got that. So your quip in the URL (now deleted) that I’m missing the point is a bit unwarranted, since I believe you’re missing it.

I still like you, though.

  The Scorpion wrote @ October 24th, 2007 at 15:12

I heard the PR person from the British Museum being interviewed on the Athens English Radio (104.4) say that there are no plans to return the marbles at all. In fact, they cannot even be loaned to Greece because for that to happen, a country who borrows them must acknowledge legal ownership from the loaner. Greece will not do this so these Marbles will stay in the UK.

She made a good point in that although the Elgin Marbles would make a wonderful collection in Athens highlighting Greek history, they make a better show in the UK highlighting world history, culture etc. The Marbles are not just Greek civilization, but world civilization.

Does Greece actually have a legal right to get them back? If so, why not take it to the UN or International Court? Whining and complaining doesn’t do much, but legal action may actually put an end to this story.

Or more sinister? Could it be that the Greeks know they cannot win in a court of law and that’s why they are trying to win in the court of public opinion?

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