Open air cinemas, or Therini Kinimatografi (summer movies), are a typically Greek phenomenon and constitute an integral part of Greek cutural identity. ┴ll cities and large towns have at least one open air cinema, and many quite a few depending on the size of the community. The Athens area alone has close to one hundred open air cinemas!
The summer cinemas of Greece operate from May to September, when the really hot summer weather sets in causing the movie-going habits of city-dwellers to change radically. ═early all the indoor cinemas close down for the summer (with the notable exception of the new multi-c´mplexes and the few cinemas that possess retractable roofs!) as audiences seek out the more refreshing backyards and rooftop gardens of open air cinemas. Some say that the open air cinemas are a direct extension of the tradition of ancient Greek drama which was always staged in open air theatres.
Film-going has always been a Đ´pular pastime in Greece, a fact greatly influenced by the prolific Greek film industry of the post-war era. The first open air cinemas were very simple indeed, and contained only the basic necessities: projection screen, an area with chairs for the audience, the projection cabin, restrooms and perhaps a canteen selling lemon and orange drinks and dried pumpkin seeds. When admission began to be charged during the l930's, a box office was added. At this time Athens and its suburbs had not yet been built up and each neighborhood included perhaps two or three outdoor cinemas where people c´uld enjoy cheap entertainment. But it was in the post-war decades, especially the 60's and 70's, that the open air cinemas flourished, together with the growth of the Greek film industry, becoming one of the most popular forms of entertainment in urban centers.
ďoday, after a short peri´d of decline in the l980' s (perhaps due to the advent of colour TV's and video rentals), open air cinemas are as popular as ever in Greece. Surprisingly, even the advent of the huge cinema multi-c´mplexes with their cutting edge sound systems and projection screens have not usurped the smaller, less sophisticated outdoor summer venues. This is principally due to a combination of tradition, nostalgia and romanticism which many refer to as the 'magic of the open air cinema'. Ritual elements like the floral decor of bougainvillea and jasmine, the gravel underfoot, the director's chairs, and the cold beer and 'passatempo' (dried sunflower or pumpkin seeds) are inextricably linked to the experience of the outdoor cinemas, as is the idea of 'nostalgia' which invokes (for a certain generation), a time when the cinema was a meeting place, a place for social gatherings, and sometimes the only form of escape and entertainment available. And for those too young to experience this kind of nostalgia, there is no denying that a moonlit summer night with a star-filled sky forming a second screen in the sky, is definitely more romantic than the perfect technology offered by the multi-complexes.
Happily, the outdoor cinemas of Greece are enjoying a revival as new venues appear and old ones are refurbished. Some of the new ones are quite a bit more sophisticated than their predecessors in terms of architecture and style, with more comfortable armchairs, state-of -the-art screens, more options offered by the canteens, and wooden floors instead of gravel. The movie fare is also changing, with some cinemas specializing in 'art' films and offering a different program every night, while others screen the latest Hollywood blockbusters.
What hasn't changed, however, is the sky and the open air, which are what make the Therini Kinematografi, an enchanting experience loved by everyone.
ę Christine Lacroix