CINEMATIC TOURISM IN ATHENS

Article published on Aug. 7, 2013
Article published on Aug. 7, 2013

Omiros D. Tsapalos, Political Scientist and John Papadimitropoulos, MBA in Tourism

Athens could become “Europe’s Cultural Park”... This is not a new idea, nor it brings up an original notion to the public dialogue, although in the case of Greece, even the most obvious thing is hailed as something original, due to the chronic inability of the State to satisfy elementary political priorities and to set long-term objectives. Without a doubt, an excellent opportunity for the city of Athens, a city hit hard by the economic crisis, could be the luring of great numbers of tourists that are looking to combine their vacations with experiential cultural activities. This endeavor of luring potential high-quality alternative tourists can be based in things like Greek Gastronomy, archeological excavation sites, the Art of making coffee and summer, open-air cinemas!

Let’s focus on the last one. It is really a question why we, either the Government or the private sector, have yet to prospect on the globally-acclaimed aesthetics of the Greek open-air summer cinemas (even when the Athens “Thission” open-air cinema was named by CNN the Best Cinema in the World last year). What is the reason for not having already formulated a policy for luring international cinema-goers (especially lovers of old, classic cinema) that could pay a hefty sum of money for a vacation package centered around summer cinematic experience, visits to the world-renowned Athens museums and archeological sites?

This is an idea: The Ministry of Tourism can formulate a complete plan about “Cinematic Tourism” that could be executed by the Athens city center hotels and the tourist agencies around the world that offer Greece as a tourist destination. 10-day tourism packages will offer the opportunity to the really knowledgeable tourist to watch a different film every night, in a different open-air cinema in Athens, combining older, more artistic pictures with modern ones, thematic tributes or motion pictures defining certain eras and national schools of cinematography. Of course Greek motion pictures of various eras and acknowledged artistic value would be part of the programming. Before the movie, a specialized tour guide would engage in a small presentation of the Athens neighborhood in which the cinema is located and a quick tour of the surrounding area. She/He would present information on the history and importance of the summer cinemas in Athens, their special characteristics and their aesthetic contribution to the nightlife of the city. All these combined with the taste of the sour cherry drink, the traditional beverage of the open-air cinema, cheese pies and other Greek delicacies. Completing their vacations, tourists would have visited 10 Athens neighborhoods, chiefly among them Petralona, Kolonaki, Ampelokipi, Thission, Plaka, Pangrati and Gazi.

The screenings can be combined, during the morning hours, with visits to other cultural sites and installations, synonymous with the history of Athens in general and Greek cinema in particular. On the first day, the tourists could visit the Greek Cinematic Archive, on the second day the Michael Cacoyiannis Foundation (we can only wonder why it has yet to become a staple for the lovers of cinema), on the third day they would find themselves in places that were featured in some of the most famous Greek cinematic pictures, places like Piraeus, Neapolis, Anafiotika, the Acropolis etc. These will be followed by visits to various museums (Athens has many of the highest caliber) and lectures by Greek and international actors, directors and producers on modern cinema. The group of tourists that was formed would have the opportunity to make their vacations in Greece into a short film, to be presented in a special Annual Film Festival, organized for the sole purpose by the Ministry of Culture.

This is a simple and readily feasible idea. It needs the cooperation of the Ministry of Culture with the Ministry of Tourism to formulate the plan and also its adoption by the proper tourism authorities. Part of the tourist income coming from this particular tourism product could be headed to the creation of a dedicated and well-connected specialized agency for luring in Greece foreign cinematic production, with a view to make Athens and the whole of the country an international center of cinematic productions, both for films as well as American and British TV series, which in recent years closely mirror or even exceed films in production values and international popularity. Imagine the new James Bond film being shot in Parnitha (the casino and the surrounding area) or episodes of Game of Thrones shot in the Monemvasia fortress-city of Laconia and the Old City of Rhodes, instead of Dubrovnic, Croatia! It’s not hard. Turkey’s already done it using less worthy and diverse means. Greece is not shy of anything regarding to the wealth, variety and specialty of the landscapes, the settlements and the people. All we have to do is to exploit these gifts in a smart and creative way. Cinema, like every art form and cultural value, is one of the solutions to the Problem that Greece faces the last few years.

Originally published in Artmag, on July 30th, 2013