International outcry regarding 2 iconic Athenian cinemas

Astor and Ideal: The cinematographic world and institutional factors are calling for the use of these cinemas to be immediately declared preserved historical landmarks.
Astor and Ideal: The cinematographic world and institutional factors are calling for the use of these cinemas to be immediately declared preserved historical landmarks.

With taped interventions by world renowned Hellenic director Costas Gavras and Fatih Akin, who underlined the importance of saving the 2 historic cinemas of the Athens center that are threatened with closure, the Ideal and the Astor, and whose administrators request that their use be immediately declared preserved, it began the long open press conference which was organized today in the Astor hall and which was attended by representatives of associations and bodies of the audiovisual and cultural sector, political parties and institutional actors (Society of Greek Directors, Hellenic Academy of Cinema, Hellenic Cinema Center, SAPOE, ESPEK, Union Hellenic Documentary, Greek Actors' Association, PEKK, POTHA etc.).

"I want to address the Minister of Culture Ms. Lina Mendoni. I'm sure he has cultural patriotism. And I hope he also has cinematographic patriotism to save these theaters" stressed Kostas Gavras, declaring his absolute support for the "great fight to save the two theaters". The creator of Turkish origin, Fatih Akin, in his own intervention described the news arriving from Greece as "sad" and spoke about the importance and history of cinema. "Cinema is our heritage. It's what our ancestors always did, telling stories through which they understood themselves and the world better. Save the cinemas. These cultural heritage sites are a sin to close," he said.

The managers of the 2 cinemas, Babis and Andreas Kontarakis (Astor), and Giorgos and Spyros Spentzos (Ideal) referred to the history of the case, calling on the public bodies - EFKA, the Ministry of Environment and Energy and the Ministry of Culture - "to do their duty" , as they said, they are "competent in relation to the defense of the public interest, culture, public property, the city and its inhabitants".

"All of us who have been protesting since the very beginning are asking for the obvious: for the State to assume its obligations in favor of the public interest. To keep the halls in their places, to keep the city. We have already collected over 10,000 signatures of support. We can bring as many as needed. But we still need one more. That of the Minister of Energy and Environment. We are at the point where the minister just needs to put a signature, but apparently something is holding him back. We therefore call on the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to assume their responsibilities and immediately declare the use of the cinemas, Astor and Ideal, protected, which, based on the explanatory reports of the Directorate of Architecture, Building Regulations and Licensing of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are entitled to this status" said Babis Kontarakis and added: "Neither EFKA nor any investors are our interlocutors. It is none of their business to protect cinemas. There is already a framework that provides for the protection of cultural sites such as ours, and while we are fulfilling the conditions for inclusion, they are preventing us."

Referring to the support call held last Sunday under the title "Our cinemas, our city", he said that the support of the people was unprecedented and proved that the people want the theaters and want their city alive.

"Cinemas are not museums, nor mausoleums. They are still making history in the city and in culture."

Responding to comments that talk about the small attendance of people at the cinemas, Mr. Kontarakis stated that "despite the cultivated impressions, the theaters only this year came out of the covid regime, and yet they managed to recover impressively. The cinemas are still here and support the entire film system of the country."

"The day before yesterday we had a magnificent night with endless queues of people, who came reverently to sign for the rescue of the halls" said Giorgos Spentzos in tears. "Ideal carries a history of 102 years. It's not a joke. It is not a shop that you can take from here and take it across the street. So it is in a place where the 'Rex' is listed, the building next door is listed, the German Archaeological Institute is listed, the restaurant 'Ideal' is listed. And I wonder: among 4 listed buildings, a 102-year-old hall doesn't deserve to be listed as well?" he added.

As is already known, the exploitation of Ideal has now been taken over by the Mitsis Hotel group. "To avoid any misunderstanding", Mr. Spentzos stressed, "we are not interested in whether we will operate the cinema, let someone else take it, whoever the investor decides. All we want is for Ideal to be saved."

The unanimous position of the municipal council of Athens, which has been expressed with 2 respective resolutions for the declaration of historic cinemas as preserved - in terms of use - was reiterated by the mayor of Athens, Kostas Bakoyannis, in his intervention at the press conference.

"We are all here because we want to join our voices with yours and highlight the need to preserve - in use - these 2 historic cinemas. I want to remind you that something similar was done in 1997 for the 47 summer cinemas. Therefore, there is a precedent and indeed there is a cross-party consensus on this," he noted.

The mayor of Athens restated his clear position that the city "belongs" to the permanent resident and that all efforts for economic development must be connected to his own life.

"Yes, we want economic development. We want the investments, we want the visitors. However, we do not want Athens to lose its soul. We don't want to turn into an ancient Greek Disneyland. The opposite. Our strength is our authenticity and mixed uses," he said.

Warm texts of support for the cinemas, through the director of the Panorama of European Cinema, Nino Fenek Mikelidis, the veteran and multi-awarded director Ken Loach, who said that "we strongly support your fight to preserve your historic cinemas that are part of the culture of the city" as well as the Serbian director, actor and musician, Emir Kusturica, who stated that "closing them would be a crime".


Lanthimos voices concern over historic Athens cinemas

Acclaimed Greek film director Yorgos Lanthimos added his voice to those calling for the rescue of three historic cinemas in central Athens which are at immediate risk of closure.

“I would like to add my voice to those who have recently expressed their concern about the disappearance of historic cinemas from the center of Athens, and to express my support in the efforts to save them,” the director said in a video-message published on social media.

“I consider it self-evident that we understand their value, socially and culturally, for the center of such a city, and I implore the authorities and those who have the real authority to do what is necessary to designate these cinemas as listed, so that they can continue their operation,” he added.

Integral parts of the capital’ cultural scene, the Ideal has been around since 1921 and the Astor since 1947.

The future of the Ideal and Astor, two of the Greek capital’s oldest movie theaters, looks uncertain amid speculation over the intentions of the owner of the buildings housing the cinemas, the Single Social Security Entity (EFKA). Last week, a Greek hospitality business, Mitsis Hotels, announced it had leased the building from EFKA and was planning an extensive renovation to turn into a luxury 5-star hotel.

A third cinema in central Athens threatened with closure is Irida, the cultural association of the Athenian University students that first opened its doors in the 1960s.

In March 30, the Culture Ministry ruled that Ideal and Astor cannot be regarded as historic cultural monuments, stating that they “do not meet the criteria” for enhanced protection and citing legislation passed in 2021. It also clarified that it has no jurisdiction over the two buildings and no say in how they are used.


It is reminded that thes reactions came from the March 30th, 2023, declaration to the media stating that the HellenicCulture Ministry dismissed calls for protection of 2 iconic Athens cinemas:

The Ideal and Astor cinemas in downtown Athens cannot be regarded as historic cultural monuments, the Ministry of Culture said in an announcement on Thursday.

Citing legislation passed in 2021, the ministry stated that the two movie theaters – on Panepistimiou and Stadiou streets respectively – “do not meet the criteria” for enhanced protection. It also clarified that it has no jurisdiction over the 2 buildings and no say in how they are used.

The ministry’s announcement came in response to growing calls for the protection of the 2  cinemas, which are located in buildings owned by the social insurance fund EFKA that are being slated for private development. No provisions have been made to safeguard the operation of the 2 venues.

Integral parts of Athens’ cultural scene, the Ideal has been around since 1921 and the Astor since 1947.

In a related development, meanwhile, the managements of the 2 movie theaters have decided to hold a series of free screenings to raise awareness about the campaign to keep them open.