American Film Showcase, Nicosia: Adventures from Aphrodite’s Birthplace — Day 1
American Film Showcase: Nicosia, Cyprus
Monday, July 2nd, 2012
The American Film Showcase in Nicosia, Cyprus kicked off this morning at the Cyprus Community Media Center (CCMC) in the U.N. controlled “buffer zone” that separates the southern Greek-dominant Republic of Cyprus from the Turkish Cypriot Community.
AFS Nicosia comprises a one-week documentary production workshop for 15 local Cypriots from both sides of the buffer zone, in a program titled DOCYouth Camp, organized by Alana Kakoyiannis, Bérangère Blondeau and Amalia Macris. Kakoyiannis is a filmmaker and artist based in New York City and Nicosia, whose work ranges from interview-based documentary to abstract, image-dominated experimentalism. Macris is the Festival Coordinator for the annual International Children’s Film Festival of Cyprus (ICFFCY), a registered NGO based in Nicosia that aims to provide children with the opportunity to incorporate cinema and digital media as a tool for learning as well as expressing themselves. Blondeau, who created the ICFFCY and serves on its Board of Trustees, is a media education teacher, carrying out media literacy and studies projects in Cyprus, running pedagogical, educative and cultural projects based on film education and media studies within the Highgate Primary School and American Academy Nicosia. Blondeau also coordinates The Cyprus Artefact Treasure in action project (CAT), a media education project run by a team of teachers from the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.
After opening remarks from the DOCYouth team, the U.S. Embassy in Cyprus welcomed the students and staff. Embassy representatives included Public Affairs Officers Keith Peterson, Rita Shillipis and Spyros Charitou, as well as Juliette Dickstein, Bicommunal Coordinator in Nicosia.
Alex Ago, School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) Director of Programming and Special Projects, welcomed the students on behalf of USC and distributed AFS business cards, SCA ballpoint pens and International Documentary Association (IDA) magazines, along with information on how to receive free subscriptions to the IDA quarterly publication. SCA Vice Dean Michael Renov, AFS Principal Investigator, Professor of Critical Studies and author of The Subject of Documentary, editor of Theorizing Documentary and co-founder of Visible Evidence, then engaged the students in opening remarks about the role that documentary theory and analysis will play throughout the course of the program. AFS participating filmmaker and SCA Alumnus Alex Rotaru, director of Shakespeare High, introduced himself by holding up a postcard of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, telling each participant individually that the process of making films will push them to the extreme suffering represented by the painting.
A round of student introductions followed, revealing an enthusiastic and accomplished mix of Greek and Turkish Cypriots from both sides of the buffer zone, 8 men and 7 women, ages ranging from 17 to late 20s, some with UK and US heritage. The students included: Stephanos Africanos, Joshua Childs, Robyn de Jager, Mehmet Erdogan, Didem Gurdur, Constantina (Nina) Hadjidemetriou, Markos Karasamanis, Andrie Kyprianou, Marianna Larmou, Anastasia McCammon, Kirill Oleshku, Vasilis Panayiotou, Aynel Tekogul, Martinos Tofaridis and Andreas Zinonos.
The DOCYouth Camp also welcomed two visiting scholars to participate in the student projects and discussions, including Canan Koran, Academic Coordinator for the Institute of Communication & Languages (ICL) in Nicosia. Others present included Yetin Arslan, Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Eastern Mediterranean University, who will talk about Digital Filmmaking Production on Wednesday; David Hands, Director of Crewhouse Media Ltd, a production house based in Cyrpus for over 20 years, specializing in providing crews and equipment for news, sports, features and documentaries, who will run a Post-Production Bootcamp on Thursday and help students with editing; and Yianna Americanou, a local filmmaker and manager of MEDIA Desk Cyprus (a participating member of the European Union’s MEDIA Programme) who will discuss DIY distribution with the students on Saturday.
At the end of the introductions, Kakoyiannis welcomed film historian Costas Constandinides, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communications at the University of Nicosia, Cyprus and author of From Film Adaptation to Post-celluloid Adaptation: Rethinking the Transition of Popular Narratives and Characters across Old and New Media. Constandinides gave an hour-long lecture about the history of Cypriot filmmaking, tackling issues of cultural identity, the ‘Cyprus Problem’ and a ‘bubble of clichés’ associated with representing the historical narrative of modern Cyprus. Films discussed included Agapes tze Kami (Love and Sorrows, 1965, Yiorgos Filis), Akamas (2005, Panicos Chrysanthou) and the recent documentary Sharing an Island (2011, Danae Stylianou), a ‘social experimental’ that brought together a group of strangers comprised of young Cypriots from both sides of the buffer zone for a week-long road trip across the island. Sharing an Island exemplifies a new direction for Cypriot filmmaking that acknowledges and explores the bi-cultural identity of the island and reintegrates the Turkish Cypriot community into the national discourse.
After lunch, Michael Renov led a discussion about the underlying documentary impulse, with particular emphasis on the ‘city symphony’ cycle of the late 20s and early 30s, looking at A Bronx Morning by Jay Leyda (1931), which explores a neighborhood through poetic exposition. This was followed by discussion of documentary’s increasing attention to the interior life, through a screening of one of the Animated Minds animated documentary shorts of 2005 called Fish on a Hook.
Following Renov’s lecture, Alex Rotaru engaged the students in a roundtable discussion about their ideas for possible documentary subjects, including unusual ideas such as following the Nicosia (video)-‘gaming’ community. After paring the suggestions down to six concrete projects, the selected topics included: the music youth movement from both sides of the buffer zone, following recording artists and capturing live concerts in Nicosia; an exploration of marginalized and transient peoples in Cyprus, from homeless communities to Roma camps; an investigation of abandoned and unfinished housing projects; an investigation of tattoo parlors and tattoo culture in Nicosia; the stray and feral dog & cat populations of the city; and an anthology of local stories about Cypriot history from Nicosia residents old and young.
Rotaru went on to discuss strategies for making contact with potential documentary subjects and the crucial importance of casting well. One bit of advice included using an ‘enabler’ from the community who could help introduce the filmmakers to local residents and act as a liaison with the subjects. The students were then split into filmmaking teams of 2, 3 or 4, depending on the scale of the project, and tasked with preparing a more elaborate outline of their projects for the following morning.
After a break, students convened for a screening of the 2012 Academy Award-winning documentary feature Undefeated, directed by AFS participating filmmakers Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin. Although discussion would have to wait until the following afternoon, initial responses highlighted the emotional power of the film, its representation of American culture and values, and the successful results of excellent documentary casting. Following the screening, the students were dismissed for the day.
That evening for dinner, Kakoyiannis and her husband Michael invited Ago, Renov and Rotaru to an excellent taverna in Nicosia’s ‘old city’ called Aigaio, which offered an endless variety of traditional and unusual ‘meze’ dishes, many of which were vegetarian, much to the delight and relief of Michael Renov.
Written by AFS staff member, Alex Ago.