Valerie Kontakos is a documentary filmmaker and producer who runs Exile Films Production Company in the Monastiraki district of Athens. Her film “Who’s on First?” won best documentary at the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival in 2007. She graduated from NYU film school and moved to Greece from New York in 2003.
Kontakos graciously agreed to speak to GreekTV about her work and the current state of documentary filmmaking in Greece.
There aren’t foundations in Greece which support documentary production like there are in other countries.
Q How would you describe the state of documentary filmmaking in Greece right now?
A Good and bad. Bad, because the financial crunch has frozen public television production, good because documentary filmmakers are doing their own thing, not determined by television programming. Beyond the financial support public television provides to production, it is also an outlet for our films. There aren’t foundations in Greece which support documentary production like there are in other countries. So, financial resources are limited. There is the Media Fund, but that isn’t enough, especially since you need co-producers from other European countries, and without Greek public TV or another local broadcaster, it’s difficult to get co-productions.
Q How has it been difficult to maintain a production company during these economic times?
A Historically, it’s never been easy to make documentaries. I’ve been doing it for over 20 years. The difficulty arises when you don’t have a “day job.” Documentary filmmakers usually manage by doing institutional videos, promos, etc., to cover expenses for sustenance. That work has dropped considerably. Luckily one of our productions has raised money from a Kickstarter campaign, and the other documentary has private support.
Q What inspires and motivates you to keep running Exile films?
A As they say, hope dies last. Basically, it’s what I do. I love this form of storytelling. I love meeting people, learning about them and their lives, and sharing it with others.
Q What role is the Greek government currently playing in the support of the arts, specifically for film? Do they still owe many productions money that has been promised but never granted?
A As with most things in Greece, the government has no plan, at least not long term. And, every time someone starts putting things in order, the government, for various narrow reasons, thinks it can get it done better.
I am specifically referring to the head of the Greek Film Center which is a government fund for film. The director of the GFC, Gregoris Karantinakis really put some order to the organization. Now he has been relieved of his duties since his contract ended. The problem is that there is no continuity in support from the government. In film, in general, there seems to be a divide between the community as a whole. You might say the old guard is trying to hold on to whatever they can at the expense of younger and vital filmmakers.
Q In your view, is the new Greek public TV station Nerit an adequate showcase and support system for contemporary documentary filmmaking?
A Can’t say because they haven’t really done anything yet. In the past, before the lock down, public TV was a major supporter of independent and younger filmmakers.
Q Please describe 1 or 2 recent projects that you have recently produced, and explain why they were meaningful or important to you.
A I am just completing, producing and directing, a doc about an orphanage outside Athens which is run by a few nuns who started it over 50 years ago and who receive no funding from the Greek government or the Orthodox Church. I like to think of them as Greek feminists with a twist.
Another film we are producing is about Manolis Glezos by a young Greek-English director who heard about him during his studies in the States and became fascinated by his history and the fact that he was recently elected to be a European MP at 93.
Both of these projects focus on people who had dreams and ideals and have stayed true to them over the course of their lives.
The premise for Exile Room was to create a community, and to also present documentaries in an environment that is respectful to the work
Q You host screenings of current work from both Greek and international directors at Exile films. Do you do this not only to promote work, but for your space to support a sense of community among filmmakers here in Athens?
A Exile Room is a non-profit which does all the free screenings and workshops (mostly free). The premise for Exile Room was to create a community, and to also present documentaries in an environment that is respectful to the work. If people don’t read, what difference does it make if great books are being written? I wanted to present work that would otherwise not be seen. I wanted to present documentaries with the best possible conditions, within my means. It was also a way of expanding the language of the genre locally.
Q How has the current political and economic situation impacted the focus of documentary films in the past 5 years?
A The easy answer is to say that filmmakers are looking at issues relating to the crisis, which are many. But, more importantly it has functioned as a reality check for many. The stories are much more involved and filmmakers know it isn’t going to be easy, so they have to really be committed to a project.
Q What are your predictions for the future of documentary filmmaking in Greece?
A I think documentary filmmaking will only get better. More Greek filmmakers see themselves as part of an international community of filmmakers. And the truth is, when your traditional source of funding disappears, you become more resourceful.
For more information on Valerie Kontakos and Exile films visit: http://www.exilefilms.gr/en/