Working for "Paraskinio" (meaning “backstage” in greek) is not just another chapter in my career, but definitely much more.
I joined the team of “Paraskinio” in the autumn of 2000, on the a recommendation of Eva Stefani.
Since that time and until the spring of 2014, when I left, I directed 34 documentaries.
Throughout those 15 years, I became one of the core team members of “Paraskinio”. Cinetic, the production company of Lakis Papastathis and Takis Hatzopoulos, became a second home to me.
It actually felt like I had been a member of the team forever, as if I was born for that kind of job.
Making film style TV documentaries that focus on pivotal people, places and events that had shaped the artistic and intellectual history of the country, was an idea that had been close to my heart for a long time. And I considered myself to have had the necessary qualifications: special knowledge, commitment, respect, genuine interest, and passion which would allow me to carry out a task like that. What is more, in order to work in such a demanding profession in a manner that is both successful and meaningful, one needs to have tamed their ego. One should be able to cast light upon the person featured, with love, dedication and measured emotion. They are the protagonist.
I am certain I possessed that specific virtue, which is essential for working for “Paraskinio”.
In reality, what I did working as a director for “Paraskinio”, I had been doing on my own since the age of 10 or 12. In everything I read; books newspapers or magazines and in every film or documentary I watched, I always focused on the person, on people, on the characters. So, if, by pure magic, I could be given the opportunity to do that for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t ask for more. I could dedicate myself forever to such a process; but always making feature films in between. That is why, I maintain, it seems I was born to work for a documentary program like that.
I have a vivid recollection of when the “Paraskinio” first aired, in February 1976, even if I was only seven and a half. My father who had read or got wind of something about it, had planted himself comfortably in an armchair waiting for the program to begin. As the first notes of the now famous opening theme were heard, with his eyes fixed on the screen he told my brother and myself to “put a sock in it, because an important TV program is starting...”. From that very first episode, the opening theme of “Paraskinio” marked and defined me; initially with terror as my father, who came from Crete, turned very wild whenever we bothered him, but eventually with awe, and I watched the program on a regular basis even though I was very young.
During my first years working for “Paraskinio” I used a crew and worked like everyone else within the specified four-day shooting framework. But in 2006, I began shooting myself with a small camera, which allowed me to expand the shooting period and work on multiple subjects at the same time. I began shooting from the year before and I had plenty of time ahead of me. With a substantial amount of the shooting completed, after several months or even a year, I would inform Papastathis and Hatzopoulos. Takis, in particular, didn’t appreciate the fact that I had picked a subject and shot on my own initiative, so he wouldn’t ok it at first. But eventually he’d give me the green light to go on. That way I had plenty of time to finish several pieces, which were ready to air early in the season, when demand for episodes was highest since the official approval from the TV station always came too late and the time of production was cut short. In consequence, both sides were satisfied; Cinetic and myself. That lasted for a few years.
In “Paraskinio” I was able to let loose whatever creativity I had.
What I have discovered is that, subconsciously, I picked topics which mostly put the spotlight on outsiders; great figures of the past or exceptional people of our times, that were not in the public eye. Therefore, many of my works were eye-opening, which I believe was the main goal of “Paraskinio” since its beginnings, in 1976. I have no doubt that my years in “Paraskinio” were thoroughly formative for me and that my time in Cinetic was highly beneficial. I learned a whole lot, both through practice and through close association with Papastathis and Hatzopoulos.
I accumulated enormous experience and was given a great professional opportunity, as much creatively as financially.
The additional aspect of relationships and collaborations I developed, was another precious gain from the Cinetic years.
With most people that had trusted me and talked on my camera, we maintained long friendships; Amalia Moutoussi, Yannis Bakogiannopoulos, Marina Karagatsi, Leonidas Embiricos, Aleka Paizi, Leonidas Kyrkos, Yorgos Zevelakis, Hagen Fleischer, Thomas Moschopoulos, Lydia Photopoulou, Sotiris Dimitriou, Yorgos Loukos, Panos Germanis, Aristides Kamaras, Polyvios Marsan, Vangelis Karamanolakis, Nikos Grosdanis, Elias Bazinas, Achilleas Kyriakidis, Makis Panorios and Elias Kanellis, to name just a few. Furthermore, some of my closest associates in photography and editing are linked to the “Paraskinio”; some of them I met there, while others I introduced myself. Editors, Myrto Lekatsa and Dora Masklavanou and cinematographers, Dimitris Kordelas and Claudio Bolivar are valuable partners and dear friends from the Cinetic period. I should also mention the three girls who were assistants to the producers during my time there; Anna Votsi, Spyridoula (Pepi) Faraklioti and Margarita Skoumbourdi.
On my part, Ι handled my job there as a truly personal and creative occupation. I treated each episode like a film, giving it my all. Almost all of my pieces for “Paraskinio” involved the work, research and shooting of a documentary feature. And I was always punctual and within Cinetic’s deadlines, acting in reality as executive producer as well. I was very autonomous.
I always delivered work that was made with great care, shot over extended periods of time and using a wide range of footage; all attributes that added to the program’s production value. Many people of note agreed to participate because of our personal relationship and mutual respect. In order to make my documentaries richer and more complete, I managed to locate over the years some great, rare or unseen archival footage, which boosted the prestige as well as expanded the archive of Cinetic. And of course, many of my associates in editing, cinematography and sound, whom I had introduced to Cinetic and who had gained experience in documentaries we made together, expanded the company’s human resources and stayed there after I was gone. That is the reason, I should stress, my relationship with the founders of Cinetic was reciprocal and essentially conducive for both sides.
The topics were most of the time my ideas and not commissions and I was always worked with real commitment and with all my heart.
And that, I believe, accounts for the fact that most of my documentaries for “Paraskinio” have had positive comments from the public and favorable reviews from the press and are still shown on rerun on ERT. Both founders of “Paraskinio”, Lakis Papastathis and Takis Hatzopoulos had made it clear, out of the gate, that none of the directors would get special treatment and that their critique would be unforgiving, while for the most time they watched the final product only when it was broadcast on ERT and never interfered during production. That was great, not at all common and highly creative. As far as I was concerned, I had always wanted to be able to express a straightforward and honest opinion and I was always open to stern criticism. I am a firm believer in give-and-take, constructive, face-to-face debate. And that made our discussions in “Paraskinio” intense, productive and, I’d say, fascinating.
With Lakis Papastathis I had been close friends for years and with Takis I had meaningful communication and a good relationship.
I cannot tell whether it was the degree of self-reliance and equality I had gone for and achieved or an underlying rivalry that surfaced as the years passed or it might have simply been that longtime association takes a toll on human relationships, but in March 2014 a final and irreparable altercation took place between us. Despite my reasonable bitterness because my long and all-round contribution to “Paraskinio” was not properly valued, I still undoubtedly have a strong connection with the series creators as we had joined forces for 15 years in the most influential, I believe, documentary program ever broadcast on Greek television.
When Papastathis and Hatzopoulos invited me, back in 2000, to go and work with them for “Paraskinio” they opened a great door for me; perhaps the greatest, professionally speaking.
And that, I will never forget.