At the foyer of the Greek Film Museum headquarters in Athens, the so-called «Tainiothiki tis Ellados», visitors are greeted by a bronze bust of Aglaϊa Mitropoulou (1929-1991), a pioneer in the founding of what has been recently recognised as the sole official film heritage institution of Greece. In her footsteps follows her daughter, Maria Komninos, Secretary General of the board of the Greek Film Archive, and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Media & Communication at the University of Athens.
The Greek Film Archive – Film Museum is an ark in which invaluable cultural and historical memories of Greece are being preserved.
«I would say that the Greek Film Archive – Film Museum is an ark», says Komninos. «This word was used to define it by the late Costas Stamatiou, a critic and translator of Sartre. An ark in which invaluable cultural and historical memories of Greece are being preserved. It is a legacy both tangible and intangible, for it includes the memories of all those people who were introduced to the world of cinema in its premises, and then tried to apply what they learned either on screen or in various other aspects of education and life». The story begins in the 1950s, with the establishment of the Athens Cinematography Association, which in 1963 became a Foundation by the name «Film Archives of Greece – Greek Film Archive» under Royal Decree. After the foundation of the Greek Republic, a law by Melina Mercouri, Minister of Culture, granted the foundation an annual subvention which allowed the expansion of its collection and activities. Since 1983, the Greek Film Archive has been a regular member of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) and a founding member of the Association of European Cinémathèques (ACE).
A landmark in the foundation’s recent history was moving in its current headquarters in 2009, on the intersection of Iera Odos and Megalou Alexandrou Street, at the area of Kerameikos. With funding from the 3rd Community Support Framework of the EU, the building of the old «Laϊs» movie theatre was refurbished to meet the demands of a modern film heritage institution. It now comprises two screening rooms, an open-air cinema, Museum of Cinematography, library, audiovisual reading-room, audiovisual archives and office spaces. The Greek Film Archive also owns storage and restoration premises at the area of Agia Paraskevi, where its own collection of 10,000 titles as well as that of the Greek Film Center are being kept.
Apart from collecting, identifying, preserving, screening and promoting film and film heritage, the Greek Film Archive has digitised a small part of its collection and has joined two online data bases: Filmarchives Online (www.filmarchives-online.eu), where its non-fiction films are available to scholars, and the European Film Gateway (www.europeanfilmgateway.eu), which is linked to Europeana, the digital showcase of Europe’s cultural and scientific heritage.
I consider the Greek Film Archive to be a constitutive cultural institution, and expect it will be treated as such in the future.
Those familiar with the foundation’s history know that securing the necessary funds has never been easy. «I consider the Greek Film Archive to be a constitutive cultural institution, and expect it will be treated as such in the future», says Komninos. «Ideally, there should be a given annual budget, as is the case with the General State Archives, the National Library or the National Gallery». The Greek Film Archive – Film Museum has received important financial support from European Union’s National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF), and has welcomed a few donations from institutions such as the National Bank of Greece, or individuals such as Spiros Polemis and his wife.
«We hope that the establishment of the new Friends of the Greek Film Archive society in North America will encourage many expatriates to support such an important task, as the conservation of the Greek film heritage», says Komninos, who has another important point to make: «The recognition and support from similar foreign organisations has always been a great source of strength for us. Important people have been our precious allies, along of course with the Greek world of cinema who knows that Tainiothiki is their home».