“Success Story or Arpa Colla: Perakis’ Greece” colloquium by the Laboratory for the Study of Greek Cinema & Television (LSGCT) of AUTh’s Film School

In the framework of the 64th Thessaloniki Film Festival, a colloquium, titled “Success Story or Arpa Colla: Perakis’ Greece,” was hosted by the Laboratory for the Study of Greek Cinema & Television (LSGCT) of AUTh’s Film School, on Thursday, November 9th, at Pavlos Zannas theater. Nikos Perakis' idiosyncratic approach to the Greek socio-political context over the years through his filmography was the subject of the seminar. The two panels of speakers featured Eleftheria Thanouli (Professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Director of LSGCT and President of TIFF), Stathis Kalyvas (Professor at the University of Oxford), Panayis Panagiotopoulos (Associate Professor at the University of Athens), Betty Kaklamanidou (Associate Professor at AUTH), Anastasia Tintikaki (undergraduate student), Vrasidas Karalis (Professor at the University of Sydney), Vassilis Vamvakas (Associate Professor at AUTH). The seminar wrapped up after a discussion with Nikos Perakis, moderated by Eleftheria Thanouli and Stathis Kalyvas.

Eleftheria Thanouli, president of the Festival's Board of Directors, welcomed the audience to the event, while Orestis Andreadakis, artistic director of the Festival, kicked off his speech by making a special reference to the exceptional work of Nikos Perakis as a director, having watched him in action a few years back during the filming of Success Story, in which he portrayed a small role. "Perakis arrives on set with the film ready, he has painted the whole thing already so we know the background - he's a very good production designer who paints beautifully. So, he actually comes to the set with a huge book, which is a frame-by-frame storyboard of the whole film. I recall an evening shoot with Fiona Georgiadis and Tonia Sotiropoulou; during each take, Nikos Perakis would pull out the storyboard and instruct Claudio Bolivar, the director of photography, on how to frame it," stated Orestis Andreadakis. "Perakis directs comedy cinematically, and this has been a significant change he introduced since 1980 when he entered Greek cinema," he noted.

Then, Eleftheria Thanouli took the floor and discussed the establishment of the Laboratory for the Study of Greek Cinema and Television by her and Betty Kaklamanidou, Associate Professor of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in 2018. Their aim was advancing the research and production of knowledge surrounding Greek cinema and Greek television in a systematic way. "We are the only academic department doing something like this in Greece," Ms. Thanouli said. She mentioned the previous activities of the laboratory, such as the seminar on the Greek Revolution and its representation in cinema and Greek television in 2021, the documentary on Greek films with the theme of the Greek Revolution, the colloquium on the first Greek film director, Maria Plyta hosted by the 63rd TIFF, the recovery of the film Bouboulina by Kostas Andritsos, the history of Greek cinema course in the curriculum of all Erasmus students at AUTh, the management of the Achtsioglou archive donated to the department, as well as the archive of the Damaskinos-Michailidis company that recently came into the possession of the department following a donation by the company's public relations manager, Ms. Velissariou. The object of study of the laboratory for the coming years is the work of Dinos Dimopoulos and the mapping of the cinemas of Thessaloniki in the period from 1945 to 1990, with the participation of several postgraduate students.

Next, Eleftheria Thanouli explained that since she took over the presidency of the Festival's Board of Directors, she envisioned a tribute to Nikos Perakis, and she was delighted in making it a reality. "The work of Nikos Perakis has not been studied by Greek scholars and we wanted to take the first step, as we consider it to be very significant for all the reasons you are about to hear today from seven distinguished speakers. They will approach his work from various aspects and perspectives. Collectively, they will compose a starting approach to a body of work that is tremendously interesting from a cinematic point of view and from many others, as you will come to understand," she continued.

In the first session of the proceedings, moderated by LSGCT researcher Paris Mouratidis, titled "Society, Politics and Gender in Nikos Perakis' oeuvre", associate professor Panayis Panagiotopoulos of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, analyzed the sociological cinematography of the Greek filmmaker in post-dictatorship Greece and the theme of coexistence and symbiosis. According to Mr. Panagiotopoulos, contrary to the norms of the New Greek Cinema, as well as other national cinemas, which at the time employed vague and elliptical narrative tools, Nikos Perakis spoke about Greek society in contemporary terms, utilizing technically and cinematographically impeccable terms. "Perakis' cinematography, especially its first phase, converses, records, and largely organizes through filmic narration, the post-dictatorship era in its entirety," he commented. For him, Nikos Perakis engages in political cinema, not politicized, without a severe ideological agenda. A cinema that doesn't record documentarily, but artistically. His films are full of contemporary commentary, something no one else in Greece, during the last 50 years, has done. He demonstrates that democracy is not only a political issue, and that democratization of politics is also a democratization of ethics, of life, a proposition of desire, and in particular, of erotic desire. "Perakis examines the social contract of post-dictatorship," Mr. Panagiotopoulos added, pointing out that Nikos Perakis shattered all conventions of the culture of the era, by producing comedy, a genre not appreciated in Greece at the time.

In his presentation, titled "Nikos Perakis's Post-Dictatorship Era," Professor Stathis Kalyvas referred to the director's work as a coherent corpus of seven productions with real-time political commentary, through the unique combination of satire and comedy. "Nikos Perakis' body of work immediately raises the question of coherence, as these films engage in an intertextual dialogue with one another. Oftentimes these characters are both secondary characters and ones with celebrity roles. It's a constant, perpetual commentary on politics. There is a historical and political time that, in many instances, coincides with and comments on the politics in contemporary times," Mr. Kalyvas remarked. He divided Nikos Perakis's films into two main sections, the era of innocence and the era of disenchantment, spanning 40 years, according to their commentary and political time. Loafing and Camouflage is considered as the first in historical time, providing political discourse on the Junta period, commencing in '67 (Arpa Colla is the first Greek-language film made by Nikos Perakis in 1982). "Politics is cut off from its serious and austere dimension, but also from the heroic one which was dominant at the time, in a penetrative manner. The use of satire and sometimes even farce essentially serves as the tool for a very biting commentary, evolving over time into a sort of deconstruction of politics," Mr. Kalyvas observed. According to him: "In Perakis' post-dictatorship period, between 1967 and 1982, innocence and moral clarity predominate, while society has a structure, unlike in its second part, its second phase, where you find yourself lost in an impossible situation from which you cannot escape. It is utter futility."

In the presentation of the associate professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Betty Kaklamanidou, titled "Masculinities in the Works of Nikos Perakis," the male figures in his films were examined as an excellent opportunity to explore the depiction of masculinity in Greek cinema. Mrs. Kaklamanidou centered the discussion on the male characters in Nikos Perakis' films Loafing and Camouflage (1984) and Cool (2007), while also utilizing her personal experiences as a starting point. "Your films were interpreted differently at the time of their release, I interpret them differently, and so do my colleagues. They will be interpreted differently by the future students, whom I hope will study your work," Mrs. Kaklamanidou said, addressing Nikos Perakis. "What I noticed in Mr. Perakis' work is the mediation of masculinity, of masculinity as a social gender. The study of masculinity appears internationally in the 1990s. In Greece, there are few critical studies, articles and the book ‘Masculinity and Gender,’ written in English, by Achilleas Hadjikyriakos-Gikas, which is based on anthropological studies on the old Greek cinema, done in the Mediterranean," she stressed. Modernization and the changes in Greece during the '80s do not have a place in these studies, in the way that Nikos Perakis addresses them, according to Mrs. Kaklamanidou. Perakis's characters grow throughout his filmography or reappear in reboots. "This filmography allows us an excellent, detailed examination of masculinity in our country, which is wrongly seen as one-dimensional," concluded Mrs. Kaklamanidou.

Anastasia Tintikaki, an undergraduate student at the School of Film at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, discussed politics and comedy in Greece in her presentation titled "From the 'Bubble' of Political Economy to The Bubble of Nikos Perakis." She provided a fruitful retrospective on the tradition of these genres through the lens of Nikos Perakis's work, exploring the combination of cinema and history. Ms. Tintikaki unveiled the character of the filmmaker, Perakis, through references to articles and reviews of his work: Nikos Perakis both as a sociologist with a camera and as "the director who in the film, The Bubble, demystifies the socio-political elite, political and religious authority, in order to synthesize a foreshadowing satire with which popular cinema, using comic tropes, chronicled the 'Stock Market Scandal' to Greek society". Ms. Tintikaki examined Nikos Perakis' cinema through the prism of cinema and history and analyzed the main characteristics of his film, The Bubble (2002). According to the conclusion of her presentation, "Nikos Perakis carries on the best satirical traditions, but now without the illusion that he can change the world. He is the filmmaker who renewed Greek comedy by trying to make it a commercial success."

In the second part of the seminar, moderated by the researcher Evdokia Stefanopoulou, Vrasidas Karalis, professor at the University of Sydney, compared Nikos Perakis with Aristophanes, in his presentation, titled "Humor, Satire and Realism. Comedy and Humour in the Age of the Absurd in Power." Having as a starting point the use of color in the Greek filmmaker's films, from the earliest to the latest, Mr. Karalis emphasized the important role of the subject within the cinematic context, which lurks in the cinema of Nikos Perakis - "from the hypochromic films of the '80s to those reminiscent of Goya and Delacroix," he stated. "What has always interested me in Mr. Perakis' cinema is the way he has enabled us to reevaluate the cinematic imagination in our comedy. I use the concept of comedy in the sense of humor, because I consider Perakis' work a contemporary expression of Aristophanic humor. From the earliest political comedies to the latest moralistic commentaries on the evolution of society. From Lysistrata to Pluto. I think this transition is very interesting, from the political films of the early years to films that are comedies of morals," Mr. Karalis pointed out. "I would like to examine the complicity of the viewer in what they see in Perakis' films," he continued, noting that unlike other films of the New Greek Cinema, where the element of tragedy dominates, there is a vital euphoria in Perakis' films. Traversing the political and social contradictions of the era captured by the filmmaker and the associative hybrid space in comedy where the ridiculous and the tragic coexist, Vrasidas Karalis highlighted the evolution of Perakis' comedy to a level of other dimensions, where Freudianism emerges through them. "Perakis' cinematic image focuses on the solitary individual and the way he or she is overwhelmed or swallowed by the crowd," Mr. Karalis concluded.

Following this, Vassilis Vamvakas, associate professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, referred to the comic realism of Nikos Perakis in his presentation, titled "The Comic Neorealism of Nikos Perakis. An Anti-Example in Post-Cinema". "Perakis is one of the few directors who created popular films. This should be a case study for all of us, whether the interest is artistic or scholarly," Mr. Vamvakas observed. The director "had revenue, which we often overlook. At that time, cinema's aim was not generating sales," he said, adding that to a large extent, the Greek filmmaker excelled both commercially and financially in the comedy genre at a time when it was largely sidelined. Furthermore, Mr. Vamvakas referred to the satirizing of male camaraderie in Nikos Perakis' films, as well as to how as a creator, he disconnected himself from the kind of satire that usually criticized issues concerning political figures. He focused, among other things, on how a political condition is produced in post-dictatorship Greece, but also, and mainly, on how Greeks react to political power. "Perakian comedy is produced by a combination of dialogue and set design, rather than by the physical characteristics or other gags that farce usually follows," commented Vassilis Vamvakas, underlining that the happy ending is absent in the Greek filmmaker's films, since his protagonists fail to change the bigger picture. He also referred to Nikos Perakis' interest in female identity and friendship (Lisa and All the Others), in addition to the patterns he constructed, at least as far as the male gender and its position in Greek society are concerned.

Lastly, President of the Film Festival and Professor of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Eleftheria Thanouli, in her speech "Satire or/and Historical Realism? The Case of Loufa and Parallagi (1984)," focused the discussion towards history and historiography. Loufa and Parallagi (Loafing and Camouflage), filmed in 1984, is one of the best-known films of contemporary Greek cinema, as well as a landmark of Nikos Perakis' work. "Although the reception of the film will not be the focal point of my talk today, I would like to dwell on two observations that emerged from studying Mr. Perakis' archive, which he has made available to the Hellenic Literary and Historical Archive (ELIA), and for which I would like to publicly congratulate him. It is a great fortune for us researchers to have such documentation," stressed Ms. Thanouli. From the publications of the time where the surprise of the commentators on the awarding of Loafing and Camouflage is evident, as it was not a film considered to be of festival prestige, although it was well received by the audience, the professor of the Aristotle University noted that the weight and poignancy of the satire were evaluated. Critics at the time sometimes considered it accurate and sometimes classified it as farcical comedy. The significance of historical representation was of particular concern to Mrs. Thanouli in her speech, as "the less illuminated side of Loafing and Camouflage, intertwined with a pivotal event in the history of Greece." How can satire function as a form of historical realism? Can this film be considered a historical film? What does it mean to recount history through satirical storylines?

Mrs. Thanouli approached Loafing and Camouflage as a reflection of the voices in Greek society at that time, consistent with its historical, political and geographical context. She added that: "The satirical element found in this historical representation, and in many others, creates a particular tension between those aspects deemed realistic and those considered ideological, generic, i.e. those that belong to satire as a genre. The exaggeration inherent in satire and the amusement it provokes makes us doubt its historical accuracy, thereby indicating the problem of approaching history through satire." Concluding, Mrs. Thanouli emphasized the significance of Loafing and Camouflage as a story of the defeat of human action or, in other words, a rupture, the fragmentation of the classic heroes. "Perakis' attitude towards a military coup and the functioning of the Greek military through satire, situates him neither farther nor closer to the historical past than if he had opted for a romantic or a tragic conception of those events. Loafing and Camouflage is not Monty Python. The component that will ultimately cause us to consider the depiction of the era in Perakis' film as either exaggerated and paradoxical or realistic and faithful to the events is, at its heart, our own ideological dispositions." To quote her words, "Sometimes what is needed is the playful silliness of satire to convey the madness of the real world."

After the presentations of the speakers of the colloquium, a discussion between the audience and Nikos Perakis followed, which was moderated by Professors Eleftheria Thanouli and Stathis Kalyvas. During the discussion, the Greek filmmaker, who was honored by the 64th Thessaloniki Film Festival with a Golden Alexander for his overall professional career, and with an extensive tribute to his filmography, spoke on his initial steps in the fields of cinema and television, starting from the time he was a student and working in Germany up to his subsequent arrival in Greece. He also referred to his passion for production design.

As Nikos Perakis mentioned regarding his early career in production design and his first steps in the industry: "I never thought of becoming a director when I went to the Academy of Fine Arts to study costume and set design. I was eighteen and went to Munich - I couldn't go to the US. After four years, I returned to enlist. The deferment ended and I did what all Greek soldiers who don't want to be officers do; I joined an engineer battalion and they, in turn, sent me to the army engineering service. There, because I was carrying paper for maps and wrote 'set designer' on it, I was assigned to the cartography department, which also had the army's large printing press. I did this job until someone asked me what I did – I said, fine arts, set design – and they reported me to the office next door. It was a three-story building that did the programming for the Armed Forces Experimental Television. The days were coming when we would test a mirror for their transmitter in the turkey cocks, in an arbitrary closet among other arbitrary buildings. Thus, my career in the military. as a set designer, began. I set up a stage for them, there was nothing back then. That's how my career in television started and they continued working with me," he concluded.