'We can understand each other through art:' Vassilis Karamitsanis, president of Greek Anima Syros animation festival

Eman Youssef, Monday 26 Jul 2021

The festival will include animation film screenings, educational workshops, and a professional marketplace

animation festival
The 14th edition of Anima Syros, the international animation festival, will be held from 22 to 26 September in the island of Syros, the capital of the Cyclades islands complex in the Aegean Sea.
The festival is presided over by Vassilis Karamitsanis, who also heads the Greek Animation Association. Basically a lawyer but also a passionate art lover, he is president of Anima Syros International Animation Festival and ASIFA Hellas, the Hellinic Animation Association, which is the umbrella organisation for Greek animation creators.
Karamitsanis studied law in Thessaloniki in the Aristotle University, and continued his postgraduate studies in the field of law in both Germany and France. 
As he shares his time between law and art, he remains equally dedicated to both fields. "I am satisfied with sharing both fields, and happy about the Anima Syros festival and the animation adventure," Karamitsanis revealed to Ahram Online.
The annual Anima Syros festival is the largest international animation event in Greece, where the best animation films are displayed with the participation of prominent professionals and creators from all over the world.
The festival will include animation film screenings, educational workshops, and a professional marketplace (Agora), and there will be educational workshops on animation not dealing only with kids but also including other lessons for adults and people with special needs.
The third part of the festival is the Agora marketplace, which is a professional event for producers, creators, distributors, funding organisations from all around Europe and the Mediterranean.
This year, the festival will have a special focus called Med-Anima, bringing together professionals in the field of animation from the Mediterranean area.
“We are welcoming people from Egypt, and we already sent requests of participation through the cultural centre in Athens,” Karamitsanis said. The festival will also include plenty of events and activities, in the traditional (new classic) historical theatre building “Apollo”, which is the municipal theatre of Syros.
Karamitsanis emphasised that the Anima Syros festival started in 2008 and became the most important festival in the region.
“We were experienced in organising cinema events in Athens, and we wanted to have the festival in a small and quiet place like Syros,” Karamitsanis said. 
Karamitsanis said that he was in Cairo in 2019 as a representative of the Greek Ministry of Digital Policy and as a president of ASIFA Hellas, the Greek animation association, to enhance cooperation in cultural affairs, and also because of the fact that Greece has a developed animation community. "We wanted to show the Greek animation and do workshops bringing together both Greek and Egyptian cultures.
“We held screenings at the Hellenic culture foundation in Alexandria and in the Bibliotheca Alexandria," he added.
“Egypt has been always a revelation. The Egyptian people are very friendly. Egypt is very safe,” Karamitsanis said, emphasising that one of the main objectives of the festival is to open the doors to talented animators from Egypt and all over the world.
“The second edition of the festival was a tribute to the Egyptian animation. This year, the initiative will be revived because we are going to contact all the embassies of the Mediterranean countries to participate in the festival."
According to Karamitsanis, the coronavirus pandemic severely damaged the entire culture centre in Greece and Europe.
"Anima Syros is one of the courageous and resilient festivals. It encourages young talents from developed countries and smaller capacity countries in terms of animation. We are trying to develop the local industry through our festival.
“We had to invest in technology, most of our activities and communication were held online because of the pandemic," Karamitsanis explained.
“Throughout the year, we do a lot of projects but the core of our activities is the annual festival. We also do a number of workshops, such as those in Egypt in the Greek culture centre or other countries, such as Cyprus and the United States."
Operating through a nonprofit organisation that deals with a vast array of visual art, Karamitsanis and his team also do animation productions, such as short films, lots of screening around Greece, and many other cultural projects. Their main sponsors include the ministry of culture and sports, the ministry of digital governance, and the Greek film centre. 
According to Karamitsanis, everything that the festival offers to the audience, members, and the participants in the workshops is for free, including access to the platform and watching movies, which is part of the concept of the festival that it is open to all.
“With my experience on a voluntary basis with art, I believe that the best way to understand each other, not only between cultures or between nations but also between each other in the same society, is through art," he commented.
"Art and culture can play an important role in bringing people together; culture is a soft power of very important force that may change the world. What you see in contemporary Greek culture is a mirror of what the Greek society is today," he added, saying that his dream is for the festival to "have more regional importance and attract the attention and presence from art scenes of our region which is the eastern Mediterranean and south eastern Europe, and of course Egypt is included and all our neighbouring countries.
“I believe we share the same set of values, a common identity which is profoundly historical, yet very contemporary.”
Karamitsanis stressed that "we have to understand that artists are not free of the responsibility of maintaining good social standards for the entire audience, through their messages.
"When you are an artist, you have to understand that you have an obligation towards society and the audience," he noted.
Oum Kalthoum is Karamitsanis’ favourite artist, and he describes her as the voice of the Mediterranean, yet he loves art in general and remains especially active in the field of animation.
Karamitsanis loves both Egyptian and Greek art, and contemporary and ancient art. “My family supports me and is very proud of me. The festival became widespread; I have many friends collaborating in the festival's organisation.”
Referring to the changes that took place in the art scene, he believes that the big change throughout the years is the bigger role played by digital technology. "The internet has changed the world 20 years ago and now it is changing it again. Making applications through the internet, the social media, digital media, and also the fact that we can all be photographers with very high quality equipment like smart phones is an artistic revolution which helps every young student or whoever loves art to become an artist. It is all about digital arts now; the digital reformation is the largest revolution in the history of contemporary art," he concluded.
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