On June 1, Greece’s open-air cinemas will finally reopen. In any year the opening of these theaters in the summer is a cause for celebration; this year the milestone is even more eagerly anticipated by people all around the country longing for a midsummer night’s dream.
Open-air cinemas did not originate in Greece, but they fit the country like a glove. Aigli Zappiou was the first outdoor cinema to open in Athens in 1904. Before that, outdoor screenings were organized by the cafés on Syntagma Square and they all began with a news broadcast. The 1960s and the 70s were the golden age of outdoor cinemas, when Athens alone counted 542 establishments.
Outdoor cinemas awaken nostalgic memories in the minds of older visitors; they often recall heady adolescent evenings discovering the magic of the silver screen in outdoor movie theaters hidden away in lush gardens or on terraces nestled among towering buildings on either side.
Nowadays, teenagers are perhaps less entranced by open-air cinemas; it is more commonly people in their 30s and up who really appreciate them – along with the people who keep these beloved institutions alive.
The vast majority are family businesses, with the owner often being the same person who will take your ticket stub at the entrance. The experience they provide customers always begins with a chat at the ticket booth about the movie before it starts, and ends with a friendly “good night” at the exit.
No matter how many years have passed, and no matter the technological sophistication of the film on the screen, nights at the outdoor cinemas still smell of jasmine, are colored by bougainvillea and taste like popcorn or ice cream, depending your preference.
There are open-air cinemas all around the capital (and the country), but if you are in the center of Athens, below are two all-time favorites:
Cine Thisio, one of Athens’ most popular open-air movie theaters, is preparing for the difficult summer ahead. Its location by the Ancient Agora on Apostolou Pavlou Street naturally attracts many tourists who wish to enjoy a movie with a view of the Parthenon.
The establishment, which opened in 1935, is run by Thomas Maniakis, whose vision and passion for the place goes beyond the view and the neighborhood; indeed, he is very eclectic in his choice of movies and quite conscious of the fact that they may not be the most popular. He is a lover of the big screen with a soft spot for classic movies, which he always includes in the program: “I like it when viewers discover classic cinema. Nowadays, they hear about the new films before I do.”
Cine Thisio should have opened its doors at the end of April for the season, as it usually does, but this year, like everything and everyone else, it is on standby for further instructions. “I realized in January and February that we would be in trouble. In normal circumstances, the space would be all brushed up by March and I would be planning our screenings. But the Cannes Festival was postponed, and film distribution companies closed – they may even decide to release movies in autumn to have a longer screening season,” Maniakis had said, only a few days before it was announced that outdoor cinemas would reopen on June 1.
A highly awaited start, which nonetheless causes some anxiety: How will crowds be prevented from forming at the cash register, and the snack bar – which, in Cine Thisio’s case, is considered a fine culinary spot that normally serves traditional dishes such as tsipouro with Messolongi fish roe, spoon sweets, and more?
“We might need to cut down the screenings from two to one per evening, because usually, as the first film ends, a line has already formed at the box office for the second one: good movies last two hours and must be screened on time if we want to stick to the schedule. I want to open with a screening of Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory or Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, which combines adventure, mystery and humor. People want to go out and enjoy themselves.”
Cine Thisio has appeared numerous times on lists of the best cinemas in the world in the foreign media, including CNN, BBC and Time Magazine.
Apostolou Pavlou 7
tel (+30) 210.342.0864
Riviera & Vox Cinemas
“We have received a lot of tourists in the last two years, both at Riviera and Vox. The Exarchia neighborhood is all the rage,” Peggy Riga, owner of the two outdoor movie theaters, says. Riviera Cinema celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. The establishment continues to pleasantly surprise visitors with its verdant garden, hidden in the heart of the densely populated city center.
Most of the films screened are European, hence they are often accompanied by subtitles in two languages. The prevailing genre is classic cinema although certain movies that are “more mainstream” are also shown.
“Enjoying a classic on the big screen in an outdoor cinema is a priceless combination for foreigners who come to Greece. This year, Riviera Cinema will open with a screening of Yannis Economides’ Ballad for a Pierced Heart.
“This difficult season will allow us to screen the movies that are most loved by the people. We had heard that outdoor cinemas would be allowed to operate at 60 percent capacity, so when we heard that the number was actually 40 percent, we all froze.” (The restrictions have since been relaxed, allowing cinemas to operate at up to 75% capacity).
At the moment, the program has still not been finalized, but Riga intends to resume the late-night screenings of the film club Midnight Express, which are now scheduled to take place every Saturday at both establishments (Riviera and Vox) simultaneously. “The audience loves these screenings, and they often come dressed up according to the movie’s theme! We decided to organize screenings in both cinemas at once because we want to avoid large gatherings while offering people more tickets.”
Open Air Cinemas in 2020
Open-air cinemas will be able to open around the country on June 1, although theaters will only be allowed to operate at 75% of their maximum capacity. To maintain physical distancing, seats must be left free between different groups of cinema goers. Physical distancing must also be observed in all areas (such as the queue for the snack bar) and the use of hand sanitizer and masks is recommended.
To help offset lost revenues, the state will be reducing the VAT on tickets from 24% to 13%.
Despite the difficulties, the line-up of movies on offer this summer is rich, with the distribution companies are offering 100 different titles; these include new releases (for the Greek market), films whose theater run was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, top hits from 2019 as well as old classics to be enjoyed again under the stars.
Below are some of the films scheduled to play in (open-air) cinemas in Greece in 2020:
Doubles Vies (11/6) – French comedy starring Juliette Binoche, Guillaume Canet
Bloodshot (18/6) – Action adventure movie starring Vin Diesel
Pinocchio (18/6) – Italian remake of the classic story starring Roberto Benigni as Gepeto
The Translators (Les Traducteurs) (18/6) – French thriller directed by Régis Roinsard featuring Greek actor Manolis Mavromatakis
True History of the Kelly Gang (18/6) – The story of Australian bushranger Ned Kelly and his gang as they flee from authorities during the 1870s, directed by Justin Kurzel
On a Magical Night – A comic fantasy directed by Chistophe Honore and starring Chiara Mastroianni
Films interrupted by the lockdown that will continue their run at open-air theaters:
Onward – Disney/Pixar animation
After the Wedding – A remake of the same-named 2006 film, starring Michelle Williams and Juliette Moore
Happy Birthday (Fête de famille) – French drama starring Catherine Deneuve
The Trip to Greece (2/7) – The fourth installment of the popular series with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2/7) – Tom Hanks stars in this drama based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod.
For Sama (9/7) – An Oscar nominated documentary, “an intimate and epic journey into the female experience of war”.
The Burnt Orange Heresy (9/7) – An erotic neo-noir featuring Mick Jagger and Donald Sutherland
Tenet (16/7) – The much-anticipated action movie written and directed by Christopher Nolan in which a secret agent is tasked with preventing World War III.
Mulan (30/7) – Live action remake of Disney’s animated film of the same name
Wonder Woman 1984 (20/8) – The sequel to the superhero blockbuster starring Gal Gadot
Trolls World Tour (20/8) – Animation
The Roads Not Taken (20/8) – Drama featuring Javier Bardem and Elle Fanning
Capone (27/8) – Tom Hardy takes on the role of the legendary gangster
Vivarium – Sci fi mystery starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots