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On the trail of Greek filmmakers who won an Oscar

13 February 2011 / 14:02:22  GRReporter
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For many years there has been a Greek lull in giving out Oscars, but this year's film Dogtooth by George Lantimos impressed the global audience and rightfully and put itself among the five films nominated in the category of foreign language film. The message: stay true to yourself! Lantimos’ film is difficult and did not become a crowd’s favorite, you did not go out of the movie theatre with a pleasant feeling, but it is a "proposal" for different point of view. For a long time filmmakers bet on folklore films or sentimental dramas, but Dogtooth earned its place among the best, although it was not loved. 

The first Greek cinema actress, who won an Oscar for her supporting role in the 1944 film For Whom the Bell Tolls, was the beautiful Katina Paxinou. During the war she lives outside of Greece but in 1950 she comes back to stay. During the award ceremony she dedicated her Oscar to all her colleagues in Greece, which back then was occupied by the Germans. 

Several years after Katina Paxinou was awarded by the American Academy of Film Arts, the film The Guns of Navarone was nominated in several categories but it did not win. The big fuss in Greece and emblem of Greek cinema became for the first time Never on Sunday featuring the legendary Melina Mercouri, directed by her husband Jules Dassin, and music by Manos Hadzidakis. The film was nominated for five awards - for best actress, director, screenplay, music and costumes, which were by Denny Vahlioti. When learning of the nominations, Melina Mercouri called Denny Vahlioti on the phone and told her: "They nominated us for an Oscar! Me, and you, and Julie, and Manos, everyone!" Later on, when Elizabeth Taylor won the award for best actress, Melina said: "Taylor won it because they made a hole in her throat."

Ultimately, the only Oscar went to Manos Hadzidakis for the unforgettable music of the song Children of Piraeus. Melina decided not to go to the Oscars as they were not the Cannes Film Festival, and managed to convince Jules Dassin and Denny Vahlioti not to go as well. Manos Hadzidakis decided not to go by himself, because back then no one ran to America with ease, and awards were not even televised. Then newspapers sent photographers to take a picture of him, but because his statue had not yet arrived, Katina Paxinou had to lend him hers so that Hatzigakis can be shot with it. 

In 1962, Michalis Kakoyanis’ film Electra made an impression on the Cannes Film Festival and Eleni Vlahou, from newspaper Kathimerini, did everything possible help send the movie to the Oscars as a best foreign film nominee. Electra among the five nominated films, but it lost against the French movie Sundays in the city of Aurelia by Serge Buginion. 

During the same year Melina Mercouri and Jules Dassin’s film Fedra was nominated for best costumes but Denny Vahioti did not get the Oscar. Twelve years later, her cousin Teoni Vlahioti-Aldridge brought the statuette in Greece, which she won for the costumes of the movie The Great Gatsby

Several years later the legendary film Red Lanterns by Vassilis Georgiadis enters the top five nominated and Federico Fellini comments on him by saying "the decent Greek, who moves masses of people on the stage." But how can the film compare when nominated for an Oscar back then was 8 1/2 by Fellini... 

And again in 1965 people got crazy about the classic film Zorba the Greek, which was nominated for seven Oscars and three of them were for the director Michalis Kakoyanis – for best director, screenplay and best film (as a producer). Anthony Quinn was nominated for best actor, Lila Kedrova for a supporting actress, Walter Lassalle for cameraman and the Greek Vassilis Fotopoulos for scenography. The film won three Oscars - Vassilis Fotopoulos, Walter Lhasa and Lila Kedrova. 

The following year Vasilis Georgiadis was nominated again in the foreign film category for Blood on the Land, and then for many years, Greek films were not nominated, the junta came to power, and in 1970 as a nomination from Algeria came the movie by Costas Gavras Z, which was adopted with great enthusiasm by critics and the public. Not only that it won an Oscar for best foreign film, but Gavras was also nominated for the categories of Best Director and Best Film. In Greece, which at that time was under dictatorship of the generals, the event was not publicized, but Greeks found out about the won awards from Deutsche Welle. 

In the following years after the fall of the junta Greece enters once again the movie scene and Michalis Kakoyanis’ film Ifigenia, was nominated for an Oscar. In 1982 for his music in the movie Chariots of Fire owner of the statuette became Vangelis Papathanassiou, and since then his melody is played during all Olympic Games. The next Oscar comes for Costas Gavras and his screenplay for The Missing with Jack Lemmon. After that comes the consolation that the living in Kithira Australian, George Miller won an Oscar for the animation Happy Feet, and Louis Psihoyos brought an Oscar in Greece for the documentary Ormos. But now, after years of silence, something interesting was born from the imagination of Lantimos. 

Based on articles in "DownTown" magazine.

Tags: Greek cinema Greece Oscars Dogtooth
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