Back to 2016


Shakespeare Lives goes Greek

  • Screening at Numismatic Museum

A packed screening at the scenic courtyard of the Numismatic Museum

We look back on a series of successful pop-up Shakespeare film screenings in Athens from June to August, including some gorgeous photos of these special events.

One of the highlights of the Shakespeare Lives In Film programme this summer was Shakespeare in the City in Athens, Greece. British Council Greece partnered with the sixth Athens Open Air Film Festival to present a series of free pop-up screenings in extraordinary locations across the city from June to August 2016.  We caught up with British Council Greece Arts Manager Maria Papaioannou and Artistic Director of Athens Open Air Film Festival Loukas Katsikas to tell us more about the successful screening series.

What did you set out to achieve by including film in your Shakespeare Lives in Film activity?

Maria: Film is a powerful and vital medium; it is very democratic, fast, open and accurate. It mirrors society, challenges societal structures, expresses in an immediate way its strengths and weaknesses, poses questions, and it is absorbing in a way that the written word can’t, or needn’t be. With our Shakespeare in the City film festival and our collaboration with the Athens Open Air Film Festival we wanted to bring Shakespeare to everyone’s “doorstep,” to parks, squares, courtyards, museums, archaeological sites, to make Shakespeare a household name and show how his themes have a universal appeal and they are always contemporary.

No other medium can conjure up such a positive emotional experience, overcome social and economic barriers and draw such a diverse audience. On the organisational front we were very fortunate to have the Open Air Film Festival on our side given their professionalism and years of experience in the film sector.

Films are screened with subtitles -- rather than dubbed -- in Greek cinemas and film-going is a hugely popular pastime, so audiences are used to seeing a rich variety films in the original language from an early age. In what ways do you think film helps with cultural perceptions and connections?

Maria: Film is a very popular medium in Greece. Especially during the last few years, some would describe the Greek film industry as flourishing. Greek cinema - especially with the Greek New Wave - has gained numerous distinctions at festivals, and international media coverage and has brought people back to the cinemas. Using subtitles rather than dubbing was always the norm. We are very glad our tribute to Shakespeare found such a great response amongst a diverse and international audience in Athens; our Shakespeare in the City film festival managed to refresh people’s perceptions of the UK, created new connections and made us realise that the “old and classic” can always be contemporary and relevant.

Tell us about Athens Open Air Film Festival and how Shakespeare in the City came about?

Loukas: Taking place in Athens during the summer months and for its sixth consecutive year, the Open Air Film Festival is celebrating a plethora of venues, neighbourhoods and sites of the city, both known and unknown, through the collective experience of enjoying classic movies for free. What we are trying to achieve is to transform our metropolis into one big open cinema, helping the citizens and our foreign visitors to get in touch both with the hidden beauties of Athens and with the magic of film.

Shakespeare in the City was proposed to us by the British Council Greece and the idea was instantly appealing. Moreover, through the British Council’s constant help, encouragement and professionalism, the entire film retrospective became not only possible but a must-see event for the summer.

Of all the celebrated authors in world literature, Shakespeare is the one with the most (and the most successful) film adaptations ever attempted in cinema. Therefore it was a pleasure to introduce several of the great films inspired by the Bard’s timeless oeuvre, to enjoy them for the first time, to talk about them and to re-evaluate them. It was an even greater pleasure to see more than 300-400 spectators, from a variety of ages and cultural upbringings, participating with great zeal at our screenings.

You screened a variety of Shakespeare films since your season began in June, from classics to the more offbeat Theatre of Blood. How did you select which films to screen?

Loukas: By screening a variety of Shakespeare film adaptations our aim was basically to acknowledge the author's remarkable ability to inspire a wild diversity of directors, from different generations and contrasting film sensibilities, into offering their own renditions of his classical plays. For example, it was a joy to watch Lawrence Olivier next to Derek Jarman or alternate a serious tragedy such as Macbeth with a modern and unorthodox Shakespearian homage, such as the one attempted in Theatre of Blood.

What do Greek audiences make of Shakespeare on film? Is the work considered to be culturally relevant 400 years after his death?

Loukas: If the large and, quite frankly, surprising number of spectators that enjoyed the Shakespeare in the City program is any indication, then yes. We had over 400 people watching King Lear and Jarman’s Tempest in Piraeus, and it was standing room only at Henry V at The Acropolis - proof enough of the author’s relevance and appeal to modern audiences.