New Film Celebrates Greece’s Miraculous 2004 EuroCup Championship
In the summer of 2004 the Greek National soccer team shocked the world by winning the European Championship. It was a momentous event that takes its rightful place in modern Greek history. Now, that story comes to life in a rousing and enormously entertaining new documentary film that’s making its way into theatres across the US this spring officially starting on March 25th, Greek Independence Day. For tickets, showtimes, and more info their website is www.KingOttoMovie.com. And on Twitter and Instagram at @KingOttoMovie.
Directed by Greek-American filmmaker Christopher Andre Marks, “King Otto” tells the tale of how a renowned German coach, Otto Rehhagel, transformed the ultimate underdogs into the unlikeliest of heroes, galvanizing an entire nation in the process. Packed with amusing interviews and revealing footage, the film takes the viewer on an exhilarating front row journey that is at once mythic, humorous, and thrilling.
NEO sat down for an interview with director Christopher Andre Marks to discuss the film.
What was the genesis of this film? How did it get started and where did the funding come from?
The genesis of the film was really to bring this story to the big screen for the first time. I remember when they won the Euro 18 years prior. I thought, someone had to make a movie about this one day. Then, about four years ago, I had just made a film for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, and a producer made a comment how there weren’t any great international sports stories that had been told yet. I objected strongly, and essentially set out to pursue this, and made it my mission to make the film and do justice to a story that Greeks hold close to their hearts.
The logistics must have made for quite an undertaking. It’s remarkable how all the archival footage weaves in so well with the interviews. How long did it take to go from production to completion?
Thank you. It was a challenge, definitely. The multiple languages were difficult, but really it was the thousands upon thousands of hours of archival footage that had to be sourced and scoured for the right moments to include in the film. The actual filming of the players, and Mr. Rehhagel, only took a couple of weeks. But the archival and edit process was where the bulk of the time was spent. Overall, it took about 3.5-4 years (with a year of Covid delays) from concept to our World Premiere in Australia last May.
You must have felt a huge sense of responsibility to bring such an iconic event to the screen. Were there memorable moments in the filming that gave you pause to reflect on that?
Yes, we tried not to focus too much on that so it wouldn’t overwhelm the production. But the sense of responsibility to get this right was very important. I intentionally hired a German editor and my producer is British. So it was good to have non-Greeks working with me to check my own innate Hellenism and make sure that the story worked for both Greeks and the rest of the international cinema going audience. One of the most memorable moments was when they closed down the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens for us to shoot one morning. It was just us and Mr. Rehhagel and Mr. Topalidis alone in this great stadium, and it was the first time he had been back since they won the Euro and celebrated in that stadium 17 years prior. So that was very special.
What’s fascinating about the film is, although a documentary, it plays out like a fiction feature with a protagonist, supporting characters, and a 3 act structure that builds to a stirring climax. Was that something that happens in preparation or as you work your way through in the editing room?
We definitely approached it as a feature film and kind of ignored the documentary aspect of it. That was the objective throughout – to tell a story that would work in cinemas and work theatrically. To achieve that scale, we felt like we had to let the story unfold quickly as it would in a sports drama, and we spent about four weeks on the game sound itself to make it feel like you were in the stadium reliving those moments. We had this plan going in, and then we tried to formulate the story with our outline and structure.
Has Otto Rehhagel seen the film? What was his reaction? It was shown in Germany, yes?
Yes, he first saw it in Athens and loved it, but obviously it was half in Greek. So, the real test came when we released in German cinemas. We actually premiered it at a historic theatre in his hometown of Essen. It was very special for him, and it just so happens that many national German premieres take place at this beautiful cinema called the Lichtburg that he used to go as a boy to sneak in and watch movies. Now, 70 years later, he was headlining the German premiere of ‘King Otto’ with 1,000 people giving him a standing ovation and German media surrounding him on the red carpet. It was a great honor for us to be a part of that, and the cinema molded his hands into gold to adorn the lobby wall like the actors he used to look up to as a child.
The Greek premiere must have been quite a moment. What was that like?
It was very special. The team was in attendance at the Zappeion in the National Gardens of Athens. We were very excited to bring it home to Greece and let Greeks see their story first hand. Of course, Greek audiences are more familiar with the story than other locations around the world, but the players were very emotional and we really were proud to bring it home to Greek cinemas a few blocks from the Panathenaic Stadium where the team celebrated their victory 18 years prior.
The film will be playing in theatres across the US starting in March. It’s such a welcome opportunity to see the film with an audience. Are there plans for it to make its debut on streaming and digital channels?
Yes, we plan to release it streaming / digitally as well, but we really do encourage people to go to the theaters first and watch this as it was intended to be seen on a big screen. We open on March 25th, Greek Independence Day, and hope Greeks will go celebrate by watching the film with friends and family. We released to over 80 cinemas in Australia and people were showing up in Greek flags with faces painted blue and white, chanting the entire movie as if watching a live game. We hope this kind of communal experience will exist in the US and Canada.
What’s next for you? Any new projects on the horizon?
Yes, we are working on a feature narrative to be shot in Greece next year. It is becoming a hot spot for foreign productions as of late. So looking forward to getting back to Athens to work on the next one.