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Buffer zone village greets Hollywood

Nicolas Cage, director Demetri Logothetis and co-star Alain Moussi (right)
A resident of Mammari suddenly finds herself living on a film set

The view from the hills that rise above the village of Mammari on the outskirts of Nicosia stretches for miles. The dry wheat fields of the Mesaoria plain give way to the mountains of Kyrenia and signs of life at the western edge of Nicosia.

But this is not the view that is currently attracting attention. In the buffer zone, Mammari is the somewhat surprising launch pad for Cyprus’ foreign film industry and has seen its usual quiet pace of life interrupted as what seems like half of Hollywood makes itself at home in the village square to begin shooting Jiu Jitsu starring Nicolas Cage.

Huge trailers have overtaken the village square

Large trailers that have been brought in from overseas jostle for position, blocking entry to the nursery forcing children and their parents to use a back door. Security is tight, those waiting for the bus have been kicked out of the shelter by guards and a party planned for teenagers about to start army service had to be relocated – fireworks in the vicinity of so much expensive equipment were not welcome.

With the trailers come hundreds of people. Cage himself has proved to be somewhat elusive to residents although photos of him have shown up on social media at his hotel and various restaurants in Nicosia.

Maria, the owner of the village shop, said that crew of all nationalities have come in and she has been at a loss what language to speak.

“They even bought washing powder,” she said.

A catering truck feeds cast and crew twice a day although the waiter at the coffee shop, where it is served, says he has not yet seen Cage either.

As the working people of the village returned home for the evening this week, activity levels rose in the makeshift crew area, which was suddenly buzzing as the sun began to set. Filming started as the sun went down and ‘lunch’ was served at 11pm. No wonder we haven’t spotted Cage.

Mammari is perhaps best known for its bat community, and it’s the caves adjacent to where they live that form part of the backdrop to the €27 million movie. As the bat population has declined, the relevant government departments have approved the use of the caves and the film set moved in last weekend. Security guards working round the clock and police tape keep the area under wraps though. Teenagers who tried to sneak in for a look were soon shooed away – no chance of anyone appearing in the back of a shot as an unscripted extra!

The entrance to the cave. CGI will make it appear like a temple

But when I receive my press invitation, those security men soon step aside and the film set, the light from which at the top of the hill is visible from my veranda, opens up before me. I am assured the caves I am familiar with will not be recognisable in Jiu Jitsu, they will form the entrance to a temple in Myanmar, the rest of which will be added by CGI. They are already considerably different, adorned with furniture, lights, cameras and swarming with hundreds of people – an incredible amount of people seem to be involved in making a film.

There is also a lot of milling around as everyone has to wait until just the right time to do their jobs. But once the director’s assistant makes the call they all swing into action: wardrobe making sure the right bracelet is on the right wrist, make-up ensuring the heat has not caused powder to run, the sound guy shouting out the levels so everyone knows what’s going on, the cameraman’s assistant making sure the camera is properly fitted to a cradle…

On the evening we are invited in, the first order of the day is waiting for the sun to set. Once darkness falls Nicolas Cage himself appears to shoot a fight scene outside the entrance to the ‘temple’. The crew are employed to work 12-hour shifts, each one of which will see the production of four minutes of the final film screened. We stand watching for an hour as first the scene is explained to the actors, they walk it through and then try a run through with the cameras running to make sure they get the right angle. Cameras and sound then start rolling, a practice that is repeated until the director – from the comfort of his tent where he watches the shots live on a monitor – decides the right shot has been caught. While everyone waits for his decision two men walk out with electric fans (plugged into the hillside somewhere) to cool down Cage and his antagonist. An hour later and action that lasts less than one minute appears to have been shot.

Once filming in Mammari has wrapped the whole cast and crew – 60 per cent of which is Cypriot – will move on to an abandoned village in Paphos, Cape Greco, Liopetri and Limassol. Although this is the first time such an undertaking has been made in Cyprus, director Demetri Logothetis is impressed with the Cyprus crew and says what they lack in experience shooting a Hollywood film, they make up for in willingness to work and a can-do attitude. Large camera equipment, the dressing trailers seen in the square and the trappings of the industry that is new to the island have been brought in from overseas, but the taxis ploughing up and down the hill and the forklifts stationed outside the caves to hold lights and lifting equipment give locals the chance to work in a different environment.

Although the film SOS starring Billy Baldwin was shot in and around Limassol last month, Jiu Jitsu is the first major, big-budget international production to get underway as a result of recent efforts to promote the creation of a foreign film industry on the island. It will not, however, be the last. Director Logothetis has already committed to making a second film here with an even larger budget. In addition to that, there are a further four films that are set to be filmed on the island.

“The idea is to give incentives to film producers to come to Cyprus, to invest in the island and to promote our country’s tourism product,” said Michalis Michael, chairman of Cyprus Invest which came up with the Film in Cyprus scheme.

“With the advantage of the natural beauty of Cyprus, the idea was to develop a new sector of our economy to add to the big three – tourism, real estate and shipping.”

It’s a move Logothetis approves of. “I try to hire as many locals as I can,” he said. “The money we bring pays for everyone here to eat, it’s completely different from selling a condominium to a Russian or a Chinese.”

Jiu Jitsu is being filmed entirely on the island and is a science fiction and martial arts film based on a comic book of the same name written by Logothetis, who is also one of three producers. In addition to Cage, it stars established Hollywood actors Frank Grillo, Alain Moussi, Rick Yune, Marie Avgeropoulos and JuJu Chan. The film sees Cage team up with a martial artist to fight an alien that comes to earth every six years looking for a fight. It is due to hit theatres in spring next year.

Closer to home, the community of Mammari has welcomed them. “It is good for Mammari,” said community leader Nicos Kodjiapashis. “Wow, Hollywood in the village.”

Another sentiment backed by Logothetis: “Mammari works perfectly for me”.

 

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