By Preston Wilder
This week’s other new release (besides King Arthur) is a Cypriot film, Boy on the Bridge by director Petros Charalambous – though I don’t feel qualified to write about it because I watched it six months ago, at the Thessaloniki Film Festival. Here’s what I wrote at the time in this newspaper, which still sounds about right:
“This is quite a fine film, and will look even better outside the confines of a film festival. Viewed after edgy provocations like [other, more experimental films I saw in Thessaloniki], Boy looks a little old-fashioned, with its rather simple characters – admittedly, it’s aimed mostly at kids – and occasionally stilted dialogue. Doe-eyed Constantinos Farmakas makes an excellent 12-year-old hero, however, setting off firecrackers and causing mischief like a Cypriot Tom Sawyer, and the second half – when the plot gets progressively darker – is brought off superbly by Charalambous, in his feature debut after years in commercials. Making any film in Cyprus is a Herculean task these days (especially with a kid hero, hampered by too-strict regulations on the working hours of underage actors); making one as sweet and sensitive as this should be applauded.”
That last part, about the difficulties of making films in Cyprus, resonates just as strongly six months later – and in fact seems even more relevant now, as news arrives that film director Panicos Chrysanthou has finally ended his 13-day hunger strike after a meeting with the minister of education. Whatever the merits of Chrysanthou’s case, it’s a sad situation when our filmmakers (who aren’t exactly numerous to begin with) resort to going on hunger strike. Then again, this is also quite a strong moment for local cinema: Rosemarie by Adonis Florides won Best Film at Cyprus Film Days last week, one of two Cypriot films in competition (the rest of the slate was composed of international titles, and the jury were primarily non-Cypriots), while Chrysanthou’s own The Story of the Green Line ran for three weeks at the Cineplex just before Easter.
Chrysanthou’s protest – or at least its timing – was admittedly bizarre on the face of it, given that he recently received €457,790 from the ministry for The Story of the Green Line. Granted, his grievances had to do with his previous film Akamas (2006) – but you’d think he’d let bygones be bygones after getting half a million euros for his new movie (or, alternatively, that he’d refuse any new funding on principle). Money, after all, is very scarce. The total state subsidy for local film production (including shorts) is only €1 million – and therein lies the problem, because this sum is wildly inadequate. There are no private investors willing to sink money in a high-risk investment like film, and no tax incentives which might act as a sweetener. The state is the only game in town – yet even a low-budget feature is bound to cost in the six figures (unless everyone works for free) and the number of wannabe filmmakers has skyrocketed in the past few years, given the ubiquity of digital cameras and the rise of the visually-obsessed YouTube generation.
Two more factors add to the problem: the idleness of CyBC and the lukewarm response of local audiences. A state TV channel should ideally commission creative work from local filmmakers, at least for documentaries which are relatively cheap – but CyBC haven’t done that in decades, making only disposable sitcoms. Even when a film is finally made, with all the angst that entails, it’s likely to languish unseen. Stand on the street with a sign reading ‘Support Cyprus Cinema’, and you might get some money – but ask those same people to pay their money at the cinema (and watch a film into the bargain!) and they probably won’t bother. Admittedly, local filmmakers bear much of the blame, having made one too many bad movies – but things won’t improve till Cypriot films start being seen, if only by Cypriots, attracting potential investors and hopefully spurring the state to increase its subsidy.
Which of course brings us to Boy on the Bridge – a coming-of-age drama set in a mountain village (it was shot in Pedoulas) in the 80s, based on Land of the Golden Apple by Eve Makis which was actually quite a bit darker. Makis’ novel had its young hero being preyed-upon by a paedophile, a sub-plot that doesn’t exist in the movie – yet the film still segues into unexpected territory, with a murder investigation in the final act (then again, Tom Sawyer also witnessed a murder). This is a minor-key movie, with a niggling artificial quality in the dialogue and some of the performances – yet it’s well-staged and it generally works; I admit to a lump in my throat at the very last shot, which doesn’t happen often. It’s also Charalambous’ first film after years of trying (he’s now in his 40s), angling for a slice of that paltry €1 million with a number of different ideas and being rejected, meanwhile making shorts and hundreds of commercials – all of which isn’t necessarily a reason to watch the movie, merely a reminder that Cyprus isn’t Hollywood: there are gifted, determined individuals behind our films, and they’ve sacrificed a lot in order to make them. Even when they don’t go on hunger strike.
BOY ON THE BRIDGE **
DIRECTED BY Petros Charalambous
STARRING Constantinos Farmakas, Kika Georgiou, Andreas Tselepos
Cyprus 2016 85 mins