Interview: Industry specialist says Greece still attractive to audiovisual industry despite pandemic

Greece is now offering new incentives to attract audiovisual productions, and the COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped the momentum of the industry in the country, Panos Kouanis, president and CEO of the Greek National Centre of Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME), told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Starting this month, Greece is offering 30-percent tax relief for investment in audiovisual productions to individuals or companies taxed in Greece.

Greece introduced its first incentive in April 2018, when a cash rebate initially offered 25 percent return on eligible expenses for international and domestic productions. The rebate has lately been updated to 40 percent.

Through financial incentives since the spring of 2018, the country has attracted more than 100 projects, including films, TV series, video games and documentaries, with a total investment of almost 100 million euros (119 million U.S. dollars) and some 33,000 job opportunities, Kouanis said.

After the initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic in springtime, which led to cancellations and postponements of some productions, filming has gradually resumed since mid-June and became busy again in September and October.

Despite the challenges, Greece is set to welcome many productions in 2021 and is eager to strengthen cooperation with Chinese partners, the industry specialist said.

“The sector has been affected by the coronavirus crisis, but for people who work in the industry, especially as crew, there is no unemployment. The demand overpasses the supply in Greece. That is why many productions have to bring their crew from abroad,” Kouanis noted.

Beyond the financial incentives, Greece is attractive for filmmakers in many other ways, including the unique light, according to Kouanis. The country has relatively long day light from very early in the morning until late at night, and the natural light is very important for shooting outside.

Greece also boasts a huge variety of landscapes, from idyllic beaches, lakes, rivers to mountains with snowfall in the winter, from modern cities to picturesque villages, and from ancient sites to medieval buildings, Kouanis explained.

Kouanis also named the strong infrastructure, experienced crew, cast, and safety as the preferable advantages in the international audiovisual market.

“Now with the coronavirus, the successful handling of the virus crisis I think added to that. So, I strongly believe that we are currently one of the strongest destinations for shooting,” Kouanis said.

In order to support producers in every step, EKOME is also setting up film offices around the country to facilitate productions in every region and is looking forward with optimism.

“We look forward to 2021 which we strongly believe is going to be a very good year. We have many many productions, especially big ones, that we are now closing and setting up for 2021 and hopefully if everything goes well, I think 2021 is going to be a great year for us,” Kouanis said.

He is also looking forward to collaborating more with Chinese filmmakers as well.

“From the very beginning we have strongly cooperated with Chinese producers…We have had several fam trips; we have had many producers who visited Greece either from state organizations or private producers. We were expecting a big production here last spring, a big Chinese production in Crete, but unfortunately, it was canceled due to the coronavirus lockdown, and hopefully, we will be able to accommodate them next year,” he said.

Kouanis originally planned to visit China this year, but had to cancel the trip due to the the COVID-19 lockdowns. He’s now planning to go on the trip in 2021.

“I know Chinese film making, I have been following it for many years. I have watched many many Chinese films, I was always planning to go and I think now is the time,” he said.

According to Kouanis, an agreement on film co-production was signed in 2017 between Greece and China.

“I think it would be great if we bring together Greek producers and Chinese producers and try to push the agreement forward,” he said.

EKOME was launched in 2017 aiming to support the audiovisual industry in Greece which had been severely damaged by the economic crisis which broke out in 2009.

But EKOME’s mission is now not limited to supporting filming and employment, but also media information literacy starting from schools all the way to academic education, professional training and preservation of audiovisual heritage via digitization.

“We are in contact here at EKOME with Chinese institutions which are involved in audiovisual education and also digitization of archives and we are planning to visit them when we go to China,” Kouanis said. (1 euro= 1.19 U.S. dollars)