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Cinema under the stars and old films with sour cherries scent

17 August 2011 / 15:08:40  GRReporter
5442 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

Jasmine fragrance, smiling people walking, street artists. August evenings in downtown half-empty Athens are always so pleasant and relaxing.

When climbing the paved street from Keramikos to the Acropolis, there is no way to miss the open-air cinema Thisio. Greenery covers its entrance and the pictures of movie stars from the "golden" era of American and European films slightly lift the curtain of surprises for those who cross its threshold.

The open-air cinema Thisio was founded in 1935 and has been operating ever since. It is one of the first open-air cinemas in the Greek capital.

"Thisio, along with Vox and Bonboniera is one of the oldest open-air cinemas. But it is the cinema with the most beautiful views in Athens," says the owner Thomas Maniakis while pointing to the Acropolis. In the 1950s and 1960s, when was the boom of the Greek cinema, the queue to the cash desk reached 50 m. The same happens today when Thisio presents old classic films.

Five and sometimes six people work in the cinema. "This is a family business. If we were not working in this way, it would not be beneficial to continue with this business."

The first look at the "hall" makes it clear. The cinema is like a big garden of a family house, where the careful hands of a housewife have arranged the pots and take care of the greenery that is everywhere and stops only where the big white screen begins.

"Our specialties are alcoholic drink from sour cherry juice, sour cherry jam and juice, which have  no preservatives. We inherited the recipe from my mother. In the back of the cinema, in front of the projection booth you can see the bottles of sour cherry juice that is fermenting in the sun. We use black sugar and five-star Metaxa for the drink. It is the best for the drink we have been offering 20 years. We are the first to put tables between the chairs."

Although the atmosphere is idyllic, Thomas Maniakis says that the financial crisis and the social responses have affected the business. "The protests on Syntagma Square and the strikes of taxi owners also affected us significantly. We have customers who come here by taxi, because the cinema is not very close to the stations of the subway and the electric train. This year is not so good for us because there were many rainy days. Furthermore, we sell few tickets but the costs are large. The films are also very expensive. For big productions, the profit for the distributors is 50 per cent, while for the smaller ones that are for the first time on screen it is 45 per cent. After paying our obligations to the property owner, the profit remaining for us is within 15-20 per cent, with which we pay all other costs. "

However, Thomas Maniakis has not changed the ticket price for ten years. Thisio visitors pay 8 euro, while many of its competitors have fixed a price of 10. For students, children and people aged over 65, the ticket costs 6 euro.

"I urge the people to support open-air cinemas, because if they close, the people will pay not just higher ticket prices in the big cinemas, but will be offered whatever the cinemas decide. I think that young people should not go to modern cinemas so much".

The open-air cinema is a Greek phenomenon. Therefore, many foreign media are interested in the Thisio cinema. "Several years ago, French, Turkish and Swedish televisions made a film for us."

According to Thomas Maniakis, the future of open-air cinemas is not quite encouraging because the rapid development of technology is a threat to it. "If the companies no longer provide 35-mm films, the open-air cinema will simply vanish. This is the requirement in order to have a good picture on these screens and outdoors and the technology development is a threat to our work. Some open-air cinemas introduced screening films from dvd and it was a disaster. A few days ago, I read a review in a major Athenian newspaper, in which the journalist expressed his anger and dissatisfaction with the picture quality. It is completely unacceptable for me to screen films from dvd in open-air cinemas. People should turn away from them because if they want to watch a film from that source, they can do it at home. The films screened in this way have no good picture, lighting and sound."

Thomas Maniakis has been in the business 60 years. For 20 years, he opens the season of open-air cinema at the end of April and closes it around mid-October. Thisio cinema prefers to show films from the golden age of American cinema. According to Thomas Maniakis, they attract the audience. "If we were to show only new productions, we would have closed the cinema. They are films of third and lower quality and people do not prefer them. Unfortunately, contemporary cinema is not good but fortunately, we have the good old films."

Many foreign tourists are among the visitors. They do not miss the opportunity to enjoy some old classic film and say they appreciate the experience.

Thomas’ nephew, Michalis Maniakis who probably will inherit the cinema is not optimistic for the future of the open-air cinema either. "We will survive if we continue to show old films. Contemporary films are more a matter of technology rather than directing and the audience interest to 3D films is growing. On the other hand, people still love old films. Therefore, the "battle" is not yet lost. We show more such film as a percentage and fortunately, we have customers, especially compared to other open-air cinemas. According to Michalis, their future depends on the interest of the audience. "We will continue to exist only if people continue to support us."

Tags: Opne-air cinemaClassic filmsThisioNew technologiesAcropolis
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