The heart of Greek animation beats in Syros.
The history of Greek animation starts in 1945 with “Il Duce Narrates”, an anti-fascist short animation film made by the artist Stamatis Polenakis. In the years that followed, Greek animators have improved their expressive means and artistic techniques and they can now stand worthily at the side of their pioneering American and Japanese fellows.
Vassilis C. Karamitsanis, a 39-year old Athenian lawyer and lover of audiovisual arts, founded in 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis, the Animasyros International Animation Festival + Agora in Syros Island to shed a light on Greek animation film productions and encourage synergies among the animation professionals.
Today Animasyros has become the largest festival and market of its kind in Greece and one of the 20 most important globally. Within the four days of its duration, the festival comprises screenings, tributes to international animation festivals, artists and studios, media literacy activities for children and adults, parties and other parallel events.
The festival activities, which are free to the public, take place mostly at the imposing Apollo Theatre of Hermoupolis, also known as La Piccola Scala, one of the oldest indoor theatres of modern times (constructed between1862-1864) and an architectural jewel of Syros.
TeamBlue spoke with Vassilis Karamitsanis about the operation of Animasyros Festival and the cultural significance of Syros Island. Mr. Karamitsanis also shared with us his story of involvement with arts, his thoughts on culture at times of austerity as well as his hopes regarding the feature of Greece.
About the Animasyros Festival:
The mascot of the festival “AnimaSpyros”; a Cycladic figure with references to director Woody Allen. “AnimaSpyros” was designed by Petros Christoulias and developed in three dimensions by Constantinos Petrou.
Which is the main idea behind the foundation of the Animasyros Festival? What are you trying to achieve through it?
Animasyros International Animation Festival + Agora is a true kid of the Greek crisis. It was established back in 2008 as a boutique animation event hosted in Hermoupolis, the dazzling neoclassical capital town of the Cyclades archipelago. Our aim was to bring international and Greek top-notch animated films in front of the vivid cultural audience of the island of Syros. Since a couple of years, Animasyros has expanded to an internationally significant and the leading Greek festival of its genre.
Why did you choose Syros Island as the meeting place of the festival?
Hermoupolis is hosting a number of grand cultural venues, such as the Apollon Theatre, called La piccola Scala and the imposing all-marble Miaouli square at the doorstep of the country's largest municipal hall. Besides, as you approach the island's port by boat, the town's spectacular geometrical setup view on two hills is identical to a world-class cartoon setting!
How would you describe Syros to a person that has never been there and what would you recommend him /her to do while visiting the island?
Profoundly Greek and selectively European at the same time, Syros island has it all; ranging from the strongest tangible sunlight in the Med spotted towards Díli area in the northeast and the unique, pristine beach of Ambéla towards the south, to the majestic Aegean views from Àno Syra up the Catholics hill and one of the rarest masterpieces of El Greco at the Dormition Orthodox Church down at portside.
Film screening during the Animasyros Festival in front of the neoclassical building of Ermoupolis City Hall, Syros.
Are you satisfied with the artists and audience’s reception of the Animasyros Festival?
What Animasyros has achieved over its eight years of existence was made possible thanks to the islanders' support and the local authorities modest, yet steady funding. The international networking of the festival and its year-round expansion to numerous animation-related activities not only in Syros but also nationwide is a fruit of the artists' confidence to its growing artistic appeal, as well as the audience's overwhelming reception.
Looking at the animations awarded in the 8th Animasyros one may notice that all of them deal with sharp social issues such as depression and family relationships. Why is that?
Adult animation nowadays deals with the most crucial global issues, such as environmental erosion, social cohesion issues, i.e. Europe's recent huge refugee influx, human isolation, consumerism, racism and the dialogue between cultures. More precisely, Greek animation is dealing extensively with all sharp matters currently prevailing in Greek and other European societies with predominant themes around the notorious Greek crisis case. Animasyros 8.0 laureates could make no exception to this international trend.
How did the collaboration with the Greek National Opera come up? Can you please tell us a few words about that project?
The Animels project was a pilot endeavour to bridge the art of opera with animation. Thanks to the creative collaboration of our national opera house, the famous Viennese operetta The Bat (Die Fledermaus) by Johann Strauss II was staged with great success during the festival's opening in September 2015; its next stagings are being planned in Athens and Salonica soon. Our next step is to present a new animated opera joint project during our next festival edition in September 2016.
The Animels Project. A creative collaboration between the Greek National Opera House and Animasyros.
Which is your biggest desire regarding the Animasyros?
To maintain the festival's human scale, while constantly expanding. It's the only way to assure its sustainability in our ever-changing environment.
Are there any forthcoming events or collaborations that you would like to announce?
While on mid-course of preparing Animasyros 9.0, few things are ready to be announced. Among features of the festival's imminent initiatives stand the expansion of the Agora animation market as a regional industry event in collaboration with leading industry partners, the induction of more socially vulnerable target groups in our media literacy programmes and the hosting of Animasyros #tour15_16 all-day events in various cities around Greece, such as Larissa, Athens, Mykonos and others.
Animasyros Festival includes among others many media literacy activities for children, youngsters and adults.
On being involved with arts, culture at times of austerity and Greece’s future.
Mr. Animasyros Vassilis C. Karamitsanis.
Since 2001 you are practicing Law in Athens. How did you find yourself involved with the magical world of cinema and animation? What does cinema and animation mean to you?
Already as a student at the Aristotle University of Salonica, I have been an eager arts lover, active in the Law School theatre club and aficionado for the city's international film festival. Following graduation and postgraduate studies completion, I entered the lawyer's profession back in Athens, while never forgot my true love for audiovisual arts. Since then, together with my best friend and partner in crime, we've established a couple of film festivals, PlatformaVideo in Athens from 2003 till 2009 and Animasyros in Hermoupolis from 2008 to date.
Which was your favorite animation character when you were a child and why?
As a growing kid back in then 80's, I kept on watching TV animations mainly from Japan, presenting a rather awkward, almost exotic view of the Western World, as seen from Asians in the era before globalization. However, Tin-Tin, this curious Belgian boy, almost acting as a grown-up has always been my favorite hero.
How has the ongoing financial crisis affected you on a personal level and as the president of Animasyros Festival?
As most Greeks, I was profoundly affected by the ongoing situation our society is going through. Besides the financial recession effect, many of us are still seriously emotionally distressed by a situation that seems never ending. As for Animasyros, the crisis is a life-long condition, since we started at 2008 and we are used to live in its current constraints; yet, capital control measures imposed in July 2015 have brought up great unforeseen discrepancies for a truly international festival.
The famous Viennese operetta The Bat (Die Fledermaus) by Johann Strauss II was staged with great success at the opening of Animasyros Festival in September 2015.
Many argue that culture in countries like Greece, which face financial hardship, is a luxury. Do you agree with that view?
I can't disagree more with this view. In a first world country under an ongoing socioeconomic crisis like Greece is, established freedom of speech and vast artistic expression and appreciation have been one of the main reasons that society is still holding tight, despite the widespread uncertainty in most fields.
Are you optimistic regarding the future of Greece? Where do you see hope?
Maybe I'm not the right person to ask, since I'm a true optimist and rave patriot by birth. I tend to see hope in every episode we go through, grasp the true virtues we carry in our genes and look forward to a brave, new future for a changing Greece in the very heart of Europe. #Tha_ta_kataferoume
Interview by Dimitra Moutzouri
Photo Credits, Alexandros Petrakis – Inbulb.