The history of Cypriot cinema is a topic that inherently invites the notions of division and duality, due to the islands’ political climate. In order to gain a better perspective of Cyprus’ relatively brief and new cinematic history, one must denounce ideas which center around the identity of a “nationalist” Cypriot cinema. This is due to the fact that Cypriot cinema is not a homogenous entity, but is as multi-faceted and as multi-origins as both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities are.
Greek Cypriot cinema:
The earliest and most notable examples of Greek Cypriot cinema took place during the late 60s and early 70s with highly nationalist films that centered around political themes. Some examples of that era include films like, Attilas ’74 (1974, Michael Cacoyannis), Etsi Eprodothike I Kipros,Gregoris Afxentiou (1974, Giorgos Filis) etc. According to Costas Constantinides, and his book Cypriot Cinemas: Memory, Conflict, and Identity in the Margins of Europe, this era in Cypriot cinema served as a catalyst in terms of establishing themes and national tropes which would be used for years to come. Early Cypriot cinema felt the need to draw attention to the unresolved Cyprus problems, such as the interethnic conflict of the 60s and also the war of 1974.
Cypriot cinema’s fixation with the past, and history in general has been used for many years as the epicenter for a majority of films made in Cyprus by Cypriot filmmakers. Whether those films are feature length fiction films, or documentaries that use archival material in order to draw a line between the past and the future.
According to Maria Chalkou, Greek Cypriot Cinema aims to depict Cypriot culture and its people in two very opposite ways. One has to do with ‘nostalgic bucolic dramas, set in an unspecified past and in traditional villages, dominated by folklore and idyllic rural landscapes’ and the other will be a direct opposite and more approachable and relatable depiction of Cypriot culture, which usually uses the romantic comedy genre with films ‘set in contemporary cities and cosmopolitan beaches resorts, focusing on tourism and modernity.’ (Chalkou, 2015, p.3). After considering Chalkou’s statement, it becomes apparent that Cypriot cinema aims to either lean on the traumatic history of its people, or to act as a promotional marketing campaign for the island as a whole in an attempt to attract tourists.
A dramatic shift in the currents of Cypriot cinema occurred in 1994, when the Cinema Advisory Committee was founded. This served as a massive boost to the cinematic economy of Cyprus and gave independent film productions the opportunity to invest and fund independent projects by younger filmmakers with different interests than those of their counterparts. This led to films that adopted a more modern approach to Cypriot culture and offer a more current depiction of the island and its people. Films like I Sphagi tou Kokora are a great example of how Cypriot filmmakers used the emotional and historical baggage of the past, in order to expose current anxieties that were relevant to the younger generation.
Over the last couple of decades since the early 00s, we have seen a radical shift in Cypriot cinema. From its use of diverse themes and genres, to getting recognized in film festivals around the world. Films like Pause (2018, Tonia Mishiali), which explores the life of a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage and who’s financially co-dependent to her emotionally abusive husband. Pause gives life and a voice to the female experience, something that has been highly underrepresented in Cypriot cinema thus far. Another great example of modern Cypriot cinema is Marios Piperides’ Smuggling Henrix, which is a perfect example of young filmmakers using topics and themes that have been explored in the past, but in a much more lighthearted and open-minded way which invites conversation rather than preach rhetoric.
Another important aspect of contemporary Greek Cypriot cinema is the rise of short films that come out every year. Filmmakers have decided to use the aforementioned advantages relating to the rise in funding, to create films that are just as pivotal as a feature length feature, but much more doable and affordable for Cypriot cinema standards. It should also be noted, that sometimes many of these filmmakers will take matters into their own hands, and independently fund their own projects. This is not something exclusively seen in the short film category, but also in feature length films. Some of the most notable examples of Cypriot films being individually funded by their creators include Family Member (2015, Marinos Kartikkis) and The Magic Beans (2015,Theo Panayides).
Turkish Cypriot cinema:
Turkish Cypriot cinema is lagging behind, partly due to the lack of public funds to support creators and political reasons.
Before 1974, the political environment in Cyprus helped Turkish producers, who made a number of heroic movies about the civil unrest, with Turkish characters conquering and winning against all odds. Twenty-two films were produced about the Cyprus issue in Turkey between 1959-1974. In fact, some were shot in Turkey. With a few exceptions only Turkish actors and crews worked on these movies.
As Fatma Türkkol explained in her article “Cyprus in Turkish films and Turkish Cypriots“:
“Due to its historical relationship, Cyprus has been a part of the Turkish military and political agenda for the last 50 years. Its “Ottoman legacy,” Greece-Turkey relations and the Turkish population on the island all contribute to the interest in Cyprus that has developed on various levels. Movies and TV series are two of the tools that have built an image in the minds of Turkish Cypriots of themselves as “an international issue” and as“ oppressed subjects waiting to be rescued.”
After 1974, the economic isolation of Turkish Cypriots prevented the development of cinema. In addition, the “state” that emerged in 1983 did not attach importance to culture and arts.
Nevertheless, Turkish Cypriots have found ways to make movies. Derviş Zaim’s movie Tabutta Rövaşata (Somersault In A Coffin -1996) can be considered the beginning of Turkish Cypriot cinema.
Also, Vasfi Çiftçioğlu and Doğuş Özokutan, made a name for themselves at international festivals with two short films they shot together (Olağan Denemeler – 2016, Kısmet – 2019). Interestingly, both these films are not directly related to the Cyprus issue.
Yeliz Shukri is also an important documentary filmmaker. Her films were supported via funds and the television stations of the Republic of Cyprus.
Overall, cinema in Cyprus is nowhere near the levels of inclusivity and impartial representation that should be considered to be standard by now. However, with many more young filmmakers entering the scene and attempting to offer viewers visions of alternative states of what it means to be Cypriot in modern day society, we are definitely on the right path for Cypriot cinema to become an even broader and expanded universe. A place where one can find something they can relate and empathize with. Because after all, that is what cinema was ultimately created for. To give viewers alternative visions of themselves, to introduce them to something new, to make them feel at home in someone else’s mind.