Who knew Greece had a vibrant animation festival, a strong community of animation lovers, and is celebrating 70 years of Greek animation?
I certainly didn’t, until Cartoon Brew received an invitation from the Animasyros International Animation Festival to come and check out their scene. Four full days of film screenings, presentations, workshops, and networking events took place last week on the picturesque island, Syros, in the Aegean Sea. Resisting the urge to spend all of my time there swimming and eating delicious ice cream, I spoke to numerous Greek animators and the festival’s organizers to get a sense of what’s going on in the very friendly but economically and politically troubled nation.
“Industry? We don’t have an animation industry,” said Vasilis Evdokias, the first Greek animator I met upon my arrival, after I asked him about the state of Greece’s animation industry. “We only have some animation and game studios here and there.”
Vassilis interned at England’s animation studio A+C, hoping it would help him find a full-time job as an animator in Greece, but it has been tough. “There are no opportunities for animators like myself,” he added. “It’s frustrating to have ambitions when I can’t find a place to fulfill them.”
ASIFA Greece president Anastasia Dimitra also recalled that her father wasn’t too happy about her early ambitions to become an animator, asking her, “Do you want to be an animator? Do you want to be poor?”
With few prospects in Greece, animation isn’t considered a viable career option. Greece lacks a proper animation studies curriculum; graphic design students can hope for one or two semesters of animation at most. Permanently immigrating abroad to work is an option, and some do it, but many don’t want to give up their life with friends and family in Greece. The most practical solution that’s left for them is to become a graphic designer by day, and an animator by night.
According to Aristotelis Michailidis, co-owner of Athens-based studio Trout, Greek companies don’t generally commission animation. “Here it’s not common to use animation or motion design as part of a company’s branding,” explained Michailidis. “They only use graphic design and live-action footage. You really have to sell the idea of animation being a useful thing for them.”
In 2010, Michailidis managed to do that when his studio created a series of animation for the National Bank of Greece. “My hope is that over the coming years, more companies will realize [the art form’s] potential and commission animation.”
Greece’s Animasyros festival helps by improving animation’s image and visibility at home. Its workshops and film screenings are free to attend. Presentations by international creators inspire and inform Greek animators, while networking opportunities break down the walls between creators and organizations like television channels and even the nation’s bank.
Although Animasyros has been going strong for eight consecutive years, Greece’s political and economic crises still have a serious influence on programming. In fact, Animasyros’ Japanese focus is postponed until 2016 because capital controls prevented certain international payments from being made.
“In Greece, we have no money at the moment, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have anything. What we do have is knowledge and capability.” —Aristotelis Michailidis
However, ASIFA Greece’s Dimitra says her country’s crises also had a positive impact. “It made the animation industry go downhill so fast that it gave us momentum. It was a wake-up call. The crisis made us more creative in art and and business.”
“Before, we lacked the right mentality,” agreed Trout’s Michailidis. “The previous generation, of which I’m a part, was used to translating everything they do into money. But the new generation says, ‘Fuck it, we’ll just do it!’ — even when there is little money. We’re learning to be team players, to work together as a nation.”
Aristarchos Papadaniel’s creative studio Syllipsis is proof of the new generation’s ambition. His Game of Thrones tribute, The Rains of Castamere, garnered attention from online publications in the U.S. and U.K. With the Greek Ministry of Education, Papadaniel also co-created Greece’s first educational animated series, A Letter – A Story. With more than 120 minutes of animation created, the 24-episode series is, amazingly, still a one-man-show, and is now being developed into a full-fledged interactive learning environment.
Like Greece’s animation sector, the Animasyros festival is small but ambitious — perhaps sometimes a bit too ambitious. It crew and technical infrastructure haven’t yet caught up with its growth in the past few years, which has resulted in onscreen technical difficulties, late-starting programs, and an exhausting three-hour closing ceremony. Not that it really mattered in the end; the festival’s overall spirit, nightly parties, and original ideas — like having producers meet on a fairy-tale roof terrace — made up for these comparatively minor difficulties.
Festival director Vassilis Karamitsanis wants to see Animasyros and its Agora industry market grow in the coming years, but not too much. “From the start, it was our idea that Animasyros should be Annecy, but smaller. We are a boutique festival. I want to make sure we maintain our welcoming Greek atmosphere.”
Like the festival, Greek animators try to stay optimistic about the future.
“In Greece, we have no money at the moment, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have anything” said Michailidis. “What we do have is knowledge and capability. We should, and can, use those to find that one missing element: money.”