Immersed into the movies...

When I was writing about the Athens International Film Festival the other day I didn't expect to be so enthralled by the whole thing. Sure, I had watched the occasional screenings in past years, others more and others less interesting, and I had enjoyed the atmosphere, but I hadn't been so much drawn into this whole thing up until now.
Three days and four films later I almost feel like I'm living in a different universe with my daily life just filling in the time between screenings.
I even took a half-day off work today (not much to do anyway...), so I could watch a documentary about the making of the 1972 Rolling Stones double LP Exile on Main St and as I just checked out it was released on DVD this summer.

The documentary was titled Stones in Exile. Most of the film (61 minutes) consisted of still photos, with a camera panning and zooming in and out of them; interviews and narrations help describe the events of the time and how and where this piece of work was produced, while the album's glorious music is filling in all the rest. Did you know that the lyrics for "Tumbling Dice" (the Rolling Stones' best song in my view) were inspired by a black maid, in L.A. who taught the guys about rolling the dice and that kind of gambling?

Getting out of the movie theater -it's been hot and humid lately in Athens- I passed by Papasotiriou Bookstore, at 37 Panepistimiou St., and caught a glimpse of people, in the ground floor, spread out in couches and checking out the latest books. That reminded me I had some books to check out as well, so I headed to Politeia bookstore, which is nearby, at 1-3 Asklipiou St. If you ever need a photo-book / album (what is disturbingly referred to as a "coffee-table book") with pictures of Greece (and not only), Politeia is one of the best places to start looking. Plus, the people working there are very helpful and knowledgable about books.

On my way there, I had to pass through the siren smell of a traditional grill / souvlaki restaurant called "To Prodorpion", at the corner of Asklipiou St. & Akadimias Ave. This is an old time grill, not only in terms of age but also because -though clean- it isn't over-sanitized, in the sense of ultra-powerful ventilator hoods that suck in all the smells, sending them to food-smell heaven and leaving a "cleaned" -exhaust-fumes only- air for us to enjoy... In simple words, you can smell the grilled meat (gyros and souvlaki) every time you approach the place and I find nothing wrong with that!

Anyway, I managed to pull myself away (all tables seemed occupied anyway) and get into the bookshop, with the Stones' music still playing in my head. I was searching for some books on 1940s-'50s Athens that a reader of this blog inquired about. I didn't manage to find exactly what I had in mind but I will give it another shot.

I ended up walking back to my car, parked far away, trying to prolong this nice overdose on the senses and to keep my current work-life out of them...

This brought to my mind the film I had watched on Sunday afternoon - a 1960 "cinema-verité" documentary by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin called Chronicle of a summer. It's funny how people, even back then, different time and different place, still felt trapped in their jobs with their interest diminishing, when working for large organizations...
And allow me to make an... honorable mention to a wonderful music film I saw last night, titled Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, which was a biopic to the great, late English songwriter and performer Ian Dury. Andy Serkis (of The Lord of the Rings / Gollum fame) was starring in the lead role and he really shined in it. I've only wathced him play the Gollum and ...this, but he really seems to have established himself (in my mind) as a great actor!

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Athens International Film Festival: It's that time of the year again!

The Athens International Film Festival - "Opening Nights" (AIFF for short) opens its doors tomorrow (all four of them!) for the 16th year in a row, with movie screenings in four Athens movie theatres. The festival features a competition part (like every self-respecting festival does), Greek films, international films (independent and Hollywood), international premieres, special thematic sections (last year the theme word was "space"; this year it is "hole"), discussions with movie people, after-midnight screenings and -what makes AIFF really stand out in my view- a permanent special section / focus on "films and music", showcasing music documentaries and/or music-related films.

This year the festival runs from 15 to 26 September 2010.
The movie theatres where the screenings take place are: Danaos I and Danaos II (Panormou Metro Station) and Attikon Cinemax Class and Apollon Cinemax Class (Panepistimiou Metro Station). Tickets cost 6€ while morning screenings (at 11:00am and 1:00pm) are only 4€.
Full schedule can be downloaded from the festival's website (.pdf).
Feel free to contact me for any further info.

P.S. And something I only remembered to write about after I went to my first projection this year. The people! There's just something different about going to a festival screening than to an ordinary movie show. You can see all shorts of people, but they all seem to have one thing in common. A sparkle in their face and the eagerness / happiness to be part of something out of the ordinary! A small touch or spice and (movie-) magic when this city needs it the most. Enjoy the show everybody!

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Parko Eleftherias: the newest (half-)park in Athens!

When the Athens Concert Hall was created, 19 years ago, there was a certain controversy raised, as is the case with most big projects. The controversy had to do with an open lot next to the main one (the main one would be used for the Concert Hall itself anyway), which was, up until that time, used as a park but also (mis-)used as a parking lot. The "Friends of Music" organization, which operates the Athens Concert Hall, had pledged to create an underground garage under the lot in question and, afterwards, to re-create an urban park on top of the underground structures.

To make a long story short, the day for this new park came this summer. The park was inaugurated, without much fanfare in my view, and is now open to the public and operating. The funny - and awkward - thing is that one part of the park is now open 24/7 (the old, untouched and semi-abandoned part) while the newer part (the one built and operated by the Athens Concert Hall Organization-ACHO) has iron bars and shuts down at night. This probably has to do with the presence of the US Embassy across the road and the extra security precautions taken these days.

Parko Eleftherias (ACHO) w/ Lykavittos Hill in the background
Parko Eleftherias-ACHO, looking east, w/ Mt. Ymittos in the background
What sets it apart from almost all other parks in Athens is that, this is a park that clearly seems to be well landscaped, thought out and well kept, at least for the short time that it's been open. Most Greek town squares seem like copies of the same 2-3 designs being implemented in a hundred different locations, in total indifference for their surroundings or their intended public and their interaction with them. This is not just my impression. Some years ago a colleague gave me a call, asking if I had "some plan for a town square" available somewhere! He was part of a team that was going to place a tender for a town square in some other Greek town -far away from Athens- and they just needed a drawing / plan to use as part of their bid (or to be inspired from, although that didn't sound like the case...)! Thankfully, I had no such thing to offer and I never bothered to ask what happened next.

But Parko Eleftherias-ACHO has an original design, dictated by its location and its interaction with the underlying structure but also quite suitable for an urban area. The US Embassy in Athens stands on the opposite block, a hospital lies in the back of the park and the Athens Concert Hall in the front. On the side, there is "another" public space (the part of Parko Eleftherias which is still under the jurisdiction of the Municipality of Athens). The "two" parks are separated by tall, iron rails and you have to exit Parko Eleftherias-ACHO from the Vasilissis Sofias exit, at the front side, to go to the Parko Eleftherias-municipal, which also has a cafeteria, hidden behind the trees as well as some buildings supposedly housing cultural exhibitions.

Parko Eleftherias-ACHO: Exit towards Vassilissis Sofias Avenue.

View OMIG-Parko Eleftherias-ACHO in a larger map

If you zoom out of the map you will see that  Illissia wood (that I wrote about last month) is very close to Parko Eleftherias. Yet, the two are different in many respects. The former is an urban pine wood, very large and left (on its own) in a rather... natural state while the latter is a landscaped urban park, which closes at sunset, that you feel much safer in, even though the... (imaginary?) cameras from the US Embassy next door made me feel kind of uneasy :)
Anyway, you can see that Athens could have a huge, continuous, urban public space with a relatively small effort (cost) if it united all these parks (from Illissia to Lykavittos) with the missing pieces (blocks) in the puzzle.

Back in the day, from ancient times till the great reconstruction of Athens in the 1950's, a stream named Illissos was running through Athens, underneath the current Michalakopoulou St., and ended up into the Saronicos Gulf several kilometers down the road. It's not hard to imagine its presence today if you find yourself in Michalakopoulou St. /Vasilissis Sofias Ave. and you look at the slopes of Lykavittos on the one side and the slopes (much shorter) of Illissia wood on the other.

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