“If you build it they will come” could very well be the motto of filmmaker Steven Bernstein. The American actor, director, cinematographer and screenwriter is currently raising funds to construct a major film studio and school on the island of Syros. If his ambitious plans come to fruition, Syros could very well become one of the most active and important film centers in Europe.
Bernstein’s connection to Greece goes back to his childhood, when he spent many summers on the island of Corfu. “Greece has always had a strong place in my heart,” he said in an interview. Greek films also had an impact on him, particularly Costas Gravas’ ‘Z.’”
Bernstein began his film career as a cinematographer in the United Kingdom, first doing documentaries, then commercials. He then went on to shoot many landmark feature films for both studios and independents, winning a 1992 prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival for his work on “Like Water for Chocolate,” alongside Emmanuel Lubezki. He also won a Cannes Golden Lion for his work in commercials.
He made his directing feature film debut with 2014’s “Decoding Annie Parker,” which won The Alfred P. Sloan Award at the Hampton’s International Film Festival. He is currently in post-production on “Dominion,” a feature film about the final days of Dylan Thomas’ life, which he both wrote and directed.
His book, Film Production (Focal Press) has been translated into several languages and at one time was the best-selling textbook about filmmaking. Bernstein was a 2014 ASC nominee for The Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in One-Hour Episodic Television Series Award for his work on “Magic City.”
Two years ago, while he and his wife were on Mykonos working on a film script, he met some people from Syros who invited him to their island. “They showed me a navy base and shipyard which were no longer in use,” he said. “There also was a dive tank which I realized could be used for underwater filming. The site had security and high ceilings—ideal for a film studio. And of course Syros had beaches! We could have shot ‘Dunkirk’ there!”
He talked to officials on Syros who approved of his development idea and then submitted a proposal to the Greek government. “For the project to work in Greece the country would have to offer international filmmakers a tax rebate amounting to about 25 percent of a film’s budget. Other countries offer this kind of deal, but to date Greece has not followed suit. But the Greek government has now okayed the idea and the rebate law is expected to be approved this summer.”
Bernstein’s eventual goal is to build at least 20 major studios, post-production facilities and sound stages. All the equipment (cameras, lighting, sound, editing) will be of top professional quality as well. As for the school, all tutors will be working professionals in the film industry.
The project will advance incrementally. “For the first pilot year we hope to enroll from 30 to 50 students. Next year, with the help of the local government, we hope to enroll up to 300 students, and in two years 500. Three-quarters of the student body will be Greek, with the rest coming from abroad. Greek pupils will study free of charge.”
Since no financial support has yet to come from the EU or the Greek government, Bernstein is looking for support and sponsorship in the private sector. “To date, most of the start-up funds have come out of my own pocket,” he said, “but an appeal for help was made at the recent [Los Angeles] Greek Film Festival, and I am also reaching out to the Hollywood film community and to the European Union. Other possible donors include film-financing banks, European production companies and individual actors, directors and producers.
“Overall, we are talking about a $200 million investment,” he added. “But we will build up to that pinnacle step by step.”
Bernstein will return to Syros this fall, teaching and administering the development program. “Eventually, I’d like to be able to live on Syros the year round.”
If you’d like to become involved, or make a donation to this fine and ambitious project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although this does not concern only Southern Californian readers , as a treat, I share with you all an article sent to me by Basil P. Rouskas about the ancient Greek ‘whistling language’ practiced in Antia, a tiny village in the south-east corner of Evia island on the slopes of Mount Ochi.
Email the author: Mavis Manus