Pioneer filmmaker Filopoimin Finos remembered by his longtime collaborator
Nikos Kavoukidis worked at Finos studios from the age of fifteen and talks to NEO
by Kelly Fanarioti
The studio of 80-year-old filmmaker Nikos Kavoukidis on a corner of Karea Avenue in Athens resists the passage of time. Inside are black-and-white photos of the stars of old Greek cinema, and images of film pioneer Filopoimin Finos and an archive of the 1930s vintage cameras he used to film the historic events on the Albanian front and the subsequent fighting in Athens.
Kavoukidis is one of the few living collaborators of the “patriarch”—as he calls him–of the Greek film industry and founder of Finos Films. In fact, he left school at 15 to work at Finos studios in Exarchia. “In the mornings I was at Finos studios, and at nights I attended the night high school on Koletti street. I have been in films for sixty-three years and I consider Finos to be my spiritual father,” he tells NEO.
During the Italian attack on Greece, Kavoukidis’ father Giorgos-a pioneer filmmaker in his own right–worked with Finos to film the Greek resistance on the Albanian front. Most of this footage was destroyed by the Germans at the beginning of the German Occupation, but some of it was saved. Kavoukidis’ passion for film led him in 1942, the worst year of the famine and German reprisals in Greece, to the creation of his first film named “The Voice of the Heart.”
“My father had enough golden British pounds then and funded the film starring Dimitris Horn and Aemilios Veakis. It was the first film made during the Occupation and it became a national sensation,” claims the 80-year-old cinematographer. Enthusiasm for the premiere in Athens led the venue to be transferred to a rally of candles at Panepistimiou Street, a fact that angered the Germans.
Kavoukidis explains Finos‘s glorious career in Greek cinema was due to the passion that distinguished him even under the most difficult conditions. “He lived for it. From morning till night he was in his studio. He did not come out to eat,” he says, singling out all the remarkable personalities of Greek cinema who worked at Finos Films. “Aliki Vougiouklaki, Jenny Karezi, Zoi Laskari, Alekos Alexandrakis, as well as directors such as the great Alekos Sakellarios and Nikos Tsiforos, started their career with Finos.”
In fact, Alekos Sakellarios earned his start in films through Finos’ encouragement. When Finos wanted to do the film “The Germans Return” with Vassilis Logothetidis and Georgia Vasiliadou in 1948, he wanted Alekos Sakellarios to direct it, though until then Sakellarios was known only as a theater director.
“Sakellarios said he had no idea how to direct a film; he did not want to do it, but Finos insisted and put him with Dinos Karydis, who knew how to set up the shots and handle the cameras. That was how Aleko’s grand career in cinema began. I worked with him for the film ‘Doloma‘ with Aliki Vougiouklaki.”
Another characteristic of the great producer was his loyalty to his colleagues, who were paid every 15 days. But when he made the film “One Life We Have” with Dimitris Horn for which he spent a fair amount of money, he was unable to pay the crew because the proceeds were too low. “So he applied for loans to pay us–that’s how good a person he was,” says Kavoukidis. “He then told filmmaker Alekos Sakellarios to make a movie quickly so that Finos Film could get back on top. So Sakellarios wrote ‘Elias of the 16th’ and in four weeks we filmed and edited it and a few days later sent it to theaters. Finos gave us vitamins to stay strong during the long hours of work. The movie was highly successful and so Finos Film returned to good times.”
One of the many nicknames his crew called Finos was “screwdriver,” because he liked to repair the cameras himself. “He did not stint the money, he was always getting the best out of France and Germany, but he bought them secondhand and had to fix them all the time with his screwdriver,” says Kavaoukidis. When Finos brought the Nagra tape recorders to Greece he started fixing them one by one with his screwdriver and sent a letter to the Swiss company that made them urging their technicians to make corrections.
“The camera’s designer, Stefan Kundelsky, adapted the corrections but Finos never asked any money for them. He was not greedy,” says Kavoukidis, and he remembers an incident from the shooting of the film “Klotsoskoufi” with Aliki Vougiouklaki. ”I worked as a cinematographer on this movie and half of it was filmed with Michalis Nikoulinakos. When Finos saw the plans, he decided that he did not like Nikoulinakos and asked Alekos Alexandrakis for the role. We made the shots of the film from the beginning with the new actor. This process had a lot of costs, but Finos did not charge anything. His perfectionism on the quality of his films was unprecedented.”
Closing our conversation, Kavoukidis remembered the last years of Filopimin Finos‘s life which, he says, was passed in typical fashion in the studio. And just before he died Finos bought his first brand-new camera, which sat next to his bed and he often caressed. “He was a multifaceted personality, an insightful filmmaker unparalleled in Europe. I have been in cinema nearly seventy years and I owe it to Finos,” he says.