Vassilis Karamitsanis, President of Animasyros International Animation Festival + Agora, which takes place every September at the Apollon Theater and elsewhere on the island of Syros, explains how the festival was born and how it grew to become inextricably linked to the island of Syros.
What’s your favorite cartoon? Which cartoons did you watch as a kid, which one drew your interest and made you see outside the cliché box?
Tintin has always been my favorite because he was a bit too grown up for his age, just like me. I grew up in the 80’s, the golden age of television when the booming trade of Japanese cartoons showed a bizarre, almost otherwordly picture of the Western world, the notion Asia had of the West before the advent of globalization.
Why did you choose Syros as the site of an animation festival?
Because Syros is a gorgeous, historical island with fantastic cultural infrastructures. It was also because Hermoupolis and Ano Syros, built as they are in an architecturally multi-faceted and geometrical layout on two hills, look like they have been plucked right out of an animated cartoon film.
What’s your connection to the island?
It’s a bond of love not one of origin. I was actually born in Athens and hail from mountainous Corinthia. It is I who chose Syros, not the other way around.
Any first-time memories of the island?
We used to spend our summers at a friends’ house at Foinikas: Sun, bare feet, beach diving platforms, all in the company of a childhood friend who is sadly no longer with us. Those are my very first memories.
How about sharing with us a best-kept secret of the island?
The archaeological hike to Chalandriani. It’s not a best-kept secret per se. It’s more of a journey to a remote location that offers a rather lonely journey back to the island’s glorious history.
Every nook and cranny of the Apollon Theater; the stone platform at Asteria Beach; the beach at Ambela; the City Hall’s eastern atrium; the main road of Ano Syros overflowing with smiling people.
How would you describe Syros to someone who’s never been there before?
Beautiful and bizarre, profoundly Greek and European, Syros has it all.
Have you ever been angry at the island?
No, I’ve never felt anger but I’ve been disappointed at it a few times.
What were your expectations of the festival? Have they been exceeded?
I was hoping to set up a small-scale, decentralized cultural institution dedicated to an up-and-coming form of art. It was last year when I realized that we have gone way beyond the island’s scale. I must admit I have mixed feelings about it because, to me and for me, the size and scale of an island like Syros is ideal.
How do you interpret the festival in numbers over time?
Fewer than 80 animation films submitted in 2008, the first year’s competition; over 300 animation films this year in three competition categories. Back then, one badly creased projection screen at the Apollon Theater. This year, there were three, state-of-the-art projection screens, one at the Apollon Theater, another one at the Pallas indoor cinema, and an outdoor projection screen on Miaouli Square. The production crew counted no more than 11 people that first year while this year we had over 80 ANIMANIAX!
What about foreign visitors coming for the festival? What dο they comment on?
Most of the foreign visitors coming for the festival talk to me about Hermoupolis. They are fascinated by the unexpected, almost Florentine, beauty of the city, the endless horizon beyond “Nisaki”, the beach with the crystal clear waters next to the port, and the locals’ discrete yet warm hospitality.
Best and worst comments you’ve heard from locals (for example, off the top of my head, “why have you dragged these loony crazy artists here”…)
I haven’t heard any negative comments, although it seems perfectly reasonable to me that they should exist. As for positive comments, I’m always moved by a simple “thank you for all you’ve been doing for our island”, an island which is de facto my island now as well!
Favorite island characters? (I, for one, am pretty fond of Lakis, the “permanent resident” of Asteria Beach…)
Animaspyros, the mascot of Animasyros ever since the start! I also love the adorable elderly gentlemen, true noblemen of Syros, sipping their coffee at the city’s old cafés.
Whenever you leave Syros, what do you take with you?
The light at Dili; the magic of the architecture and the salty air in the area of Vaporia; the islanders’ subtle melancholy; and my never-ending drive to see Syros move forward.
Name one thing in your life you’re proud of.
I can only feel proud of my country and of our society’s achievements. At the same time, I feel crushed when faced with our failures.
Vassilis Karamitsanis was born in Athens in 1976. His family roots are in mountainous Corinthia. He is a graduate of the Athens College Lyceum High School and of the Law School, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He has studied on a postgraduate level at the Universities of Rotterdam, Hamburg, and Marseilles-Aix III. He is an attorney-at-law and has been registered with the Athens Bar Association since 2002. He served as legal advisor to the Minister of Development and Competitiveness during 2012-2014 and as special advisor to the Ministry of Health and Welfare during 2003-2004. He is a founding member of the “BROSTA” political movement. He is Chair of ASIFA HELLAS (the Greek branch of the ASIFA International Association of Animation) and of the Animasyros International Festival.