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1st ATHENS ANIMATION AGORA 22 – 24 September 2018, Athens, Greece

GREEK ANIMATION ROCKS - The Athens Animation Agora symposium brought together an international network of creative professionals in the animation industry.



     Animasyros is a major Greek animation festival held on the island of Syros at the end of September.  This year festival President Vassilis Karamitsanis and Director Maria Anestopoulou also decided to launch the Athens Animation Agora symposium.  Held in Athens three days prior to the festival, the symposium brought together an international network of creative professionals in the animation industry.

     Coordinated by Marineta Mak Kritikou, the three days were packed full of presentations and pitching sessions.  Numerous topics were covered including sales and distribution, content for children’s films to video games in roundtable discussions with experts who really knew their stuff.

Nancy and Marineta Mak Kritikou with Lefteris Krutsos, Deputy Minister of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media

     Seven works in progress were pre-selected to be pitched at Athens Animation Agora.  Prior to the directors presenting their pitches they attended two sessions of Scripting Your Perfect Pitch with Tunde Vollenbroek.  Tunde is a producer at Studio Pupil in Amsterdam so she has had a great deal of experience pitching projects. 

Tunde Vollenbroek at Studio Pupil

     I found several of the projects extremely interesting.  The Classmate by Anastasia Dimitra will be a six-minute 2D pixilation film.  The story revolves around a teenage girl who is dealing with life via her diary entries.  She observes and analyzes a classmate’s bad behavior because it symbolizes everything that she does not want to be.  As the girl grows up the memories of her classmate become the version of herself that she doesn’t want to face.

Pitching Markos

     Thomas Kunstler pitched his feature film Markos which is in early development.  It is a biographical stop motion project following the extraordinary life of Markos Vamvakaris from his youth in Syros, Greece to fame in Athens and his eventual decline.  Markos was the most renowned rebetiko musician in Greece.  Rebetiko is an integral part of Greek culture, often called the “Blues of Greece”.  Director Kunstler plans for his 105-minute film to have an international release.

     Polyphemus, pitched by twin brothers Yiannis and Konstantinos Andrias, was the project that I found most intriguing.  The giant Polyphemus was the son of Poseidon and Thoosa in Greek mythology and one of the Cyclopes described in Homer’s Odyssey.

Yiannis and Konstantinos Andrias pitching Polyphemus

     The brothers want to bring Greek legends to life with a new twist, telling Polyphemus’ story from his point of view.  The 26-minute animation begins 33 days after Polyphemus, was blinded by Odysseus.  If you’re not up on your Greek history and don’t remember why Odysseus blinded Polyphemus you need to read Homer’s Odyssey, it’s much too long and complicated for me to explain here.  After the blinding, the legendary supervillain Polyphemus has to face new challenges and prove that he is worthy of his name which means abounding in songs and legends.  The film will be a combination of 3D animation with motion capture.  After seeing a small clip from the film I look forward to watching the completed film in the future.

     Three of the pitched projects were selected by Tunde and Agora organizer Mak Kritikou to be presented at the official Pitching Forum at Animasyros 11.  The three projects selected were Find Me, With Love directed by Effie Pappa, Markos by Thomas Kunstler, and XinXin Liu’s Toto’s House.

     Find Me, With Love is planned as a ten-minute stop-motion animation about Alzheimer’s and lost memories.  At the other end of the spectrum, Toto’s House is designed to be twelve episodes of five minutes each. XinXin explained the series as characters from famous paintings that visit Toto and his dog Huge at their home. It looked extremely colorful and absurd.

     Along with the pitching sessions, the three-day event was packed full of presentations and roundtable discussions.  I had an opportunity to spend time with Sophia Madouvalou and Aristarchos  Papadaniel and to learn about their project A Letter – A Story before they presented it as part of the Kids Content Roundtable.

     Sofia is a noted Greek children’s book author.  A Letter – A Story is an interactive web-based animated multimedia learning series based on her artwork and directed by Aristarchos.  Its aim is to support the teaching of the Greek alphabet to kindergartner and first graders.  Children are familiarized with the letters and sounds of the alphabet through games based on 24 five minute episodes which correspond to the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet.

Kids' Content round-table - L-R: Irene Andriopoulis, Depi Vrettou, Erik Tijmen, Samira Haddi, Sophia Madouvalou and Aristarchos Papadaniel

     A Letter – A Story is designed to be used in the classroom by teachers via an interactive whiteboard and/or by students in a computer lab or with a parent at home.  Although designed specifically for children, it could be used by anyone who wants to learn Greek.  Sophia told me that she hasa received letters from all over the world from people who have used A Letter – A Story to teach themselves Greek.  It has also been used by people of Greek origin who live in other parts of the world to teach their native language to their children.

     Erik Tijman, head of film and television at Cinekid Festival was also a member of the Kid’s Content Round-table.  Cinekid Festival is the largest children’s media festival in the world.  Located in Amsterdam, Cinekid is designed for kids from 4 to 14 years old to watch film, television, and new video productions.  They can also explore the Media Lab which extends over a 1,200 square meter building and is filled with interactive art installations, workshops, games, and apps.  Erik also explained that Cinekid is not just a festival.  During the year Cinekid travels throughout the Netherlands to bring film and workshops to young people.  Cinekid For Professionals is an international multi-day event for the children’s media industry running concurrent to the festival.

     Another interesting project aimed primarily at children and young people but relevant to all ages is Save Your Planet.  Tassos Kotsiras has created a humorous, easy to understand animated series about the environment.  The aim of the series is to raise awareness of ever-increasing environmental problems and show people how they can make small changes in their lives that will collectively make a difference in the environment for future generations in an entertaining, non-preachy manner.

MArk Mullery and Nora El Bekri

     TV Paint, an all-inclusive, all-around tool for the creation of traditional 2D animation, was the topic of the Software Showcase.  Mark Mullery, Technical Director at Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon, gave an in-depth presentation on the uses of TV Paint in the 2D animated feature film The Breadwinner.  Mark told us that the film was the work of over 100 artists across three countries and the fruit of both 21st Century technology (TV Paint) and age-old hand-drawn techniques.  He is currently the assistant director on Tomm Moore’s upcoming feature film Wolfwalkers.

     In honor of Mark Mullery and Cartoon Saloon’s participation in Athens Animation Agora Marianne Bolger, Deputy Head of Mission at the Irish Embassy in Greece, gave a short presentation about Ireland.  That was followed by Mark introducing a special screening of The Breadwinner.

     Nora El Bekri, French sales agent for TV Paint, also gave a brief overview of the uses for her product.

     I was extremely honored to be invited to moderate the Festival Round-table Discussion.  Joining me were Karin Vandenrydt, Sanja Cakarun, Fernando Galrito, and Charalambos Margaritis.

Festival round-table - Nancy, Charalambos Margaritis, Sanja Cakarun, Fernando Galrito and Karen Vandenrydt

     Karin Vandenrydt is a programmer at ANIMA BRUSSELS in Belgium.  ANIMA BRUSSELS operates in both French and Flemish which, along with German, are the official Belgian languages. Along with programing for the festival, Karin takes care of the Flemish-speaking guests as well as the juries.

     Sanja Cakarun is head of Public Relations and Audience Development at ANIMATEKA in Ljubljana, Slovenia.  In 2000 Fernando Galrito founded MONSTRA in Lisbon, Portugal.  He is the artistic director of the festival as well as its guiding light.  Last but not least Charalambos Margaritis founded the international animation festival THE ANIMATTIKON PROJECT in 2017 which takes place in Paphos, Cypress.

     We began our discussion with each participant giving a brief statement about the character of their festival and what makes it unique since every festival has its own character.  We went on to discuss specific programming styles and methods that the various festivals use to build and retain an audience as well as the type of year around outreach programs each festival engages in.  How to program for specific audiences such as teenagers generated a lively discussion. Because the teenage audience covers such a wide age difference, they are particularly difficult to program for. For anyone interested in how festivals work, from selection processes to the actual screenings, there was a lot to learn from this panel.  ANIMA BRUSSELS is in its 36th year while ANIMATTIKON PROJECT was founded in 2017, so the discussion represented a wide range of experience and knowledge.

     The first public screening of a Greek animated film was Duce Narrates, a short film by Stamatis Polenakis in 1945.  The anti-fascist satirical film was made during the German-Italian occupation of Greece and heralded the heroic resistance of the Greek Army against the Italian invasion via Albania in 1940 at the beginning of World War ll.

     2015 was the 70th Anniversary of Greek animation and in honor of the event, ASIFA (Association Internationale du Film D’Animation) HELLAS published 70 Years of Greek Animation, a 220-page book covering the history of Greek animation.  The book thoroughly traces the development of animation in the country from its inception to 2015 with detailed text and lavish illustrations.  There is also a timeline which records film release dates and distinctions along with texts of lectures and interviews.  70 Years of Greek Animation is an excellent addition to the library of any animation historian as well as a fascinating read for anyone interested in animation.  It is written in Greek on one side of the page with a well translated English version on the other side.  You can learn more about the book and order it at:

     A special website was created for the 70th Anniversary celebration.  It is an attempt to register all of the countries’ animations along with their creators.  There is also a section for production companies, festivals, and awards.  You can check out the site at:

    The Greek animation industry has come back strong despite the recent financial crisis.  One illustration of this success is the close relationship between Greece and France, a country that holds a prominent place in the field of animation.  The French Embassy and the French Institute of Greece have been staunch supporters of the ANIMASYROS Festival and have now offered their support to ATHENS ANIMATION AGORA.  At the opening session of the symposium, Christopher Chantepy, French Ambassador to Greece, gave a welcoming speech.  On another evening, Ambassador Chantepy and Monsieur Olivier Dovergne from Mazinnov hosted all of the Agora participants at a sumptuous reception at the elegant French Embassy.

Vassilis Karamitsanis, Olivier Dovergne from Mazzinnov, and Christophe Chantepy, French Ambassador to Greece

     Mazinnov is a French-Greek network designed to connect ideas, projects, and people in order to match creative people in many different fields with entrepreneurs in both countries.

     All of the sessions of ATHENS ANIMATION AGORA were held in the lovely Onassis Cultural Center.  This first edition of AGORA was an initiative of the General Secretariat of Information and Communication of the Ministry of Digital Policy and ANIMASYROS INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION Festival in cooperation with the Onassis Cultural Center.  The symposium was made possible thanks to the support of the French Embassy in Athens, the French-Greek Innovation Network Mazinnov, the Delegation of the European Commission in Greece, and the National Center of Audiovisual Media and Communications.

     The day after the symposium most of the participants left by ferry for the isle of Syros and ANIMASYROS.  I was not able to attend this year because I flew straight to Bristol, England where I was on the animation jury of the ENCOUNTERS Festival, but more about that in my next article.

     I extend my great thanks to Marineta Mak Kritikou, ATHENS ANIMATION AGORA coordinator, and everyone connected with the symposium for inviting me to be part of the event. Their warm and generous hospitality was far beyond my expectations.  Even more important, the event has given me a greater understanding of Greek animation and of the opportunities open to Greek animators.  I feel like the symposium was such a success this year and hope that there will be a 2019 edition.

     You can see the full schedule of events at ATHENS ANIMATION AGORA and ANIMASYROS at: