Text: Panagiotis Christopoullos
“I had the opportunity to explore the island and I discovered some unique filming locations”. It’s director Dimitri Logothetis explaining that he will soon return to Cyprus to film a new movie. He’s just finished filming his most recent movie, “Jiu Jitsu”, starring Nicolas Cage. During the film’s press conference, Mr Cage made a special reference to the island, stating “I am always interested in the ‘genius loci’ (the spirit) of a location. Cyprus inspired a very good one”. He described an experience walking on a path leading up to a mountain village where, at a small taverna, he enjoyed “kleftiko” (slow-cooked lamb dish). In a word, he said it was “Epic”!
Apart from the epic experiences of Oscar winning actors, Cyprus has managed to significantly “shrink” the 11,700km distance between itself and Hollywood, offering a very tangible, 35% cash return on total costs incurred during filming. This type of incentive (cash rebate) is a tactic used by many countries to attract film productions. Malta, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece have followed suit, though on smaller terms in most cases.
A vision of the future
Cash rebate isn’t just a stunt, but at the same time it’s not a magic wand that will suddenly put Cyprus on Hollywood’s map. It’s the first, incredibly important step of a much greater plan devised by the Cypriot government back in 2006 that has only now become a reality in the last two years. In practice, the semi-governmental agency Invest Cyprus would be responsible for assisting any producer, foreign or domestic, interested in filming a movie in Cyprus. The island’s unique financial status, lack of bureaucracy, advanced banking system and low taxation comprise a very attractive package that has already impressed industry giant Paramount who, along with 65 other producers from around the world, attended the Filming Summit back in October 2018 when Invest Cyprus first presented their plan.
Chris Economides, a Hollywood producer of Cypriot descent and pioneer of audiovisual development in Cyprus, points out that the implementation of this plan is still in its early stages, saying “The first step has been taken, but Cyprus still has a lot of work ahead. Infrastructure needs further development”. He’s mainly referring to studios and professional staff. At the same time, Chris highlights that Cyprus has already made a difference, with determination and desire, in advancing audiovisual development. “‘Jiu Jitsu’ was shot here entirely, even the in-studio filming. We leased the Nicosia National Exhibition Centre for three months and turned it into a film studio. We even built an impressive replica of a temple from scratch inside that building!”.
A plethora of landscapes
It’s undeniable that Cyprus is blessed geographically and culturally: the remains of ancient Greece and Rome, crusader castles, monasteries, rugged mountains and the sea. Most of all, there are 4 distinguishable seasons a year during a time when global warming has significantly altered seasons in many parts of the world. “Moreover, the island is relatively small in size and has amazing terrain, which means that you can film a scene on a mountain and, within the space of an hour, film another by the sea”, adds Mr Economides.
The variety of landscapes, as well as the traces left behind by pluralistic cultures having passed through these lands (Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Turks and the British, to name a few), means that Cyprus can easily form the backdrop for stories that occurred even in the most remote regions on earth. “Jiu Jitsu”, a science fiction martial arts film, as described by Dimitri Logothetis, takes place in Myanmar, though entirely filmed in Cyprus. In actuality, this is the best advertisement the island can offer film producers of the possibilities that exist. The cliché that blue seas and summer sun are all that Cyprus has to offer to the film industry must be abandoned.
Cinematic Cyprus to date
It wasn’t due to sea and sun alone that Michael Cacoyannis, Cyprus’ most prominent cinematographer, decided to return to his homeland in 1974 to film a documentary. The title, “Attila 74: The Rape of Cyprus”, says it all. 1960’s Oscar winning film “Exodus”, filmed on location in Cyprus and starring Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint, is also emotionally charged as it deals with the birth of the Israeli state. Apart from this, filming took place during a period when the island was under British rule, and Cypriots had begun attempts to regain their independence. As a result, local authorities did not take well to a film production about a people’s uprising to reclaim their own land, and did everything in their power to sabotage the film’s production.
As one might expect, Michael Cacoyannis brought most of his film productions to Cyprus. Some of the most beautiful scenes in “The Wastrel” (1961) and “The Cherry Orchard” (1999), starring leading ladies Ellie Lambeti and Charlotte Rampling, respectively, were shot on the island. From then on, most films shot in Cyprus were comprised of b-movies calling for Cyprus’ sea and sun as the background for the main characters’ infidelities. “The Beloved” (1971), starring Raquel Welch, and “The Daughter of Emmanuelle” (1975), starring Greta Vayan as the legendary Emmanuelle, are two such examples.
Several other films have used the island in passing, yet their productions can’t compare to “Jiu Jitsu” or “Man of War”, Dimitri Logothetis’ next project to be filmed in Cyprus, promising an even more impressive cast. The director is optimistic that the blooming film industry, which he helped pioneer, will soon attract more talent. But first, the age old cinematic stereotypes connected to Cyprus’ past must be eliminated if the government's new endeavor is to succeed. As he characteristically states, “when the infrastructure for film production in Cyprus is better prepared, there will soon exist a miniature version of Hollywood on the island or –even better– an Olivewood!”.