Masterclass by Pantelis Panteloglou

Masterclass by Pantelis Panteloglou

Pantelis Panteloglou, the artistic director of Olympia International Film Festival for Children and Young People and president of the European Children's Film Association delivered a masterclass on Friday, July 5th in Agia Anna, attempting to set off on a journey through cinema from the early 20th century to the present, with the aim of identifying the key and invariable points, as well as the relentless radical changes of this relationship, with a focus on the Greek reality.

Initially, Mr. Panteloglou welcomed students and audiences alike to the event and immediately asked what their first purely cinematic experience was. Most of them mentioned a children's animated film and Mr. Panteloglou said that it was to be expected, as there is a solid niche in the market, which is driven by children as viewers and it is linked to mainstream cinema and Hollywood.

Reflecting on the origins of cinema, he said that it is a relatively new art form, some 130 years old, pointing out that the current perception of it has not always prevailed. Cinema has recently acquired a language of its own, he stressed. Initially, it was a product, a dialogue between filmmakers experimenting in the technical and commercial aspect and the audiences who were experiencing the new formats for the first time. The Lumiere brothers' cinema involved either realistic depictions, or visual tricks and illusions. People at the time were enchanted by these practices; audiences maintained their childhood innocence, and were open to the experience of cinema. Mr. Panteloglou emphasized that we are skeptical due to our experience with audiovisual media, whereas children aren’t.

"The discussion about children and cinema includes another one about the magic of cinema. Cinema is a fabrication. It resonates, influencing the world’s perceptions, or even misleading it. It alters a static society into a more dynamic one," he commented.

Mr. Panteloglou indicated that from the beginning of cinema, many associated the new medium and especially its more "realistic" productions with education and learning in general. In Greece, figures such as Kostis Palamas or Gregorios Xenopoulos wrote about cinema and the prospect of its connection to the needs of childhood (mostly in education) as early as 1915-16. He mentioned that the first recorded Greek school to organize screenings for children in 1916 was the private "Protypon Konstantinidou School" on Alexandras Avenue in Athens, where a number of progressive teachers worked. These first organized efforts to provide children with meaningful content struggled to go up against "market trends", the mainstream practices of the time, and censorship.

On the subject of children and cinema, of particular importance during the interwar period was the women's movement, which still had not gained the right to vote, he noted. This mix of interested parties - the women's movement, demoticists, socialists and progressives in general, was in contact with the outside world, exchanging experiences.

He added that cinema triumphed, despite conservative reactions. During Pangalos’ dictatorship in 1926, the General Security Service organized film screenings for children. This was repeated at various points before and after World War II. The organized school attempted to find ways to access film projectors and educational films. During the post-war in Greece, there was a local film industry with significant Greek productions. Although cinema was a source of entertainment for everyone, it did not find a place in schools (even though it drew on themes from Greek school life).

At this point, he discussed the mutual suspicion between the state education system on the one hand and filmmakers on the other, which lasted until very recently, into the 1990s: "This suspicion led to the self-fulfilling prophecy of the disconnection between education and cinema in the era of the first metapolitefsi. The former was not interested in the latter, with the exception of only a few notable persons trying to break down the invisible barriers of education," he commented. He also mentioned that television and video were never incorporated into Greek schools and that the important initiatives of the 1990s (Melina project, Let’s Go to the Cinema program) failed to reach all students due to lack of resources.

Next, he spoke about the activities of the Olympia International Film Festival, whose people constructed their own activity upon this deficit of gigantic proportions and managed, at last, to build an organization with a perspective on the issue of connecting the art of cinema with children and education. Mr. Panteloglou referred to the necessity of the children watching creative cinema and gaining an aesthetic education. Following this, he made a brief presentation of the Festival’s activities, as well as the possibilities of cooperation with it.

Mr. Panteloglou then referred to today's audiovisual media and their rapid evolution: "Today, most things are determined by the very big players, both in production (mainly, big American studios) and in distribution (themselves and their Big Tech partners). Everyday uses of audiovisual media are controlled by algorithms and commercial experimentation has very direct consequences for large audiences. The audiovisual works we watch are, for the most part, created by us, distributed without us being paid and we even pay to watch them ourselves," he commented.

He came to the conclusion that the progressive petition of the Interwar period for cohesive offering and use of cinema during childhood remains even now and it is even more topical: “It would be a mistake to see the new state of things as unprecedented because the motives behind its emergence are not so different from the historical motives behind commercial film production. Additionally, the actors realizing the current circumstances do not differ radically in terms of their intentions," he said.

Finally, in response to a question posed by the audience about whether the level of production of children's films has worsened compared to the past and whether the language of communication with children has been simplified, Mr. Panteloglou affirmed that this is indeed the case: "European studios try to imitate American ones and end up with a similar result, with a much smaller budget. Instead of differentiating themselves, they are unfortunately homogenized," he concluded, highlighting the necessity of taking a child seriously.