Saturday, 22 February 2014

Interview with Michael Kokkinaris

Michael Kokkinaris was born in Athens and studied Byzantine and Modern Greek Literature, Theology, and Medicine at the University of Athens.
    For many years he was an assistant professor at the University of Athens; today he works as a Pediatrician in Pireaus. He is also an active writer with almost two dozen novels and screenplays to his name.
    I met Michael online when he started searching for someone in Australasia who would be interested in mounting a co-production of a script he has written about the Gallipoli Campaign.
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Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born in Piraeus, Greece, in the 60s decade, from parents and relatives who came from Asia Minor, with strong memories of the persecution of the Greeks by the Turks, victors in the war of 1919 to 1922. So my childhood sounds were the sounds from the lost homeland of Greeks in Asia Minor.


The Turks sent us away as 'Greeks,' while the Greeks received us as 'Turks.'
A Touch of Spice (2003)



These sounds were added to the sounds of the Greek resistance against the German and Italian invaders in my country during the Second World War. So I decided from an early age to learn and write about all these events.

Who was the teacher who had the biggest influence on you?

Three sections set the horizon of my knowledge: the Russian literature that led to the Theological School of the University of Athens; the promising knowledge of biology to fight human suffering, entitled Biological Sciences (Editions Rene Kistrer, 1963), which I first read at an early age; and the book La seconde guerre mondiale, by Raymond Cartier (Ed. Larouse and Paris-Match, 1965). So it was a matter of time to study Medicine and Literature, in the hope that I could become a good writer.

When did you first take an interest in movies?

But when I wrote my first novel, my readers assured me that they saw images in my books and that it would be good for me to write scripts. So I decided to write scripts and to take part in screenplay competitions in Greece. At the same time, I studied important scripts of American cinema.

What was your first paying job (in any field)?

In the first two years of my studies, from the age of 18, I worked as a laborer in factories during the summer holidays.

You were an assistant professor at the University of Athens for many years. Today you work as a Pediatrician in Pireaus. What brought about the change in careers?

I taught Hebrew and Translation of the text of the Holy Bible at the University of Athens for ten years. I quit to become a Pediatrician and followed the medical profession, having now a full reservoir of knowledge.

You’ve written many novels and screenplays, and one stage play which was performed at La Mama in New York in 2012. How did that come about?

Ιn my attempt to make known the script Exodus from Birkenau, which refers to the
Jewish Revolt at the Birkenau extermination camp in 1944, I asked the well-known theatrical producer, Leonidas Loizides, to read the theatrical monologue, Kaddish. In it, a Jewish woman named Sarah shares her final thoughts before being killed at Auschwitz. She mourns for the life that she will never live with the man she loves, the children she will never hold in her arms, and the simple dreams she will never see fulfilled.

From April 1915 to January 1916, Britain led a failed invasion of Gallipoli. You have a screenplay which takes place during that campaign. What led you to write about that, despite the fact that the war did not involve Greece?

Australians and New Zealanders are generally
well aware of Gallipoli, though many don't
realise that the French were involved, or that
the British suffered great losses (including
the death of the father of David Niven).
Anyone who studies the Greek history of that period, and the deep divisions that characterize it, will discover that the Battle of Gallipoli and the sacrifice of so many people, was due to the refusal of the Greek side to allow allied troops access from its territory on the way to Istanbul. As an expression of apology for that fact, I wrote this script titled All Of Them Are Fate. I am looking for a producer in Australia or New Zealand, to highlight the Battle of Gallipoli with the characters chosen to play in this unique film.


•  If a producer in Australia or New Zealand wanted to contact you, how should they go about it?

My e-mail address is:  m.kokkinaris@gmail.com

What are your ten favourite movies of all time?

Lord of the Rings (2001)
Deja Vu (2006)
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
The Winds of War (1983)
The Last Samurai (2003)
El Cid (1961)
55 Days at Peking (1963)
Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Eternity and a Day (1998)

What’s next for Michael Kokkinaris?

I will continue to study, write and look for the true meaning of life, as I live.

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2 comments:

Kathy Smart said...

Michael Kokkinaris has done EVERYTHING! Not only a novelist and creator of plays and screenplays, but a fully qualified and practising paediatrician and a student of history. He knows what it is like to be a displaced citizen and to grieve for his homeland. It sounds like his screenplay about Gallipoli will teach us about our national icon.

Kathy Smart said...

I find the interviews you post are greatly enriched by the links and facts presented to illustrate what is mentioned.

The great number of English missing and dead contrasts strongly with zero for the other nationalities. Does this merely reflect a different method of counting, or does it reflect the English army's attitude towards its troops, in that it did not bother to recover bodies? Or is it a reflection of censorship, where in Australia and other countries, missing soldiers were counted as having heroically died in action? Perhaps a screenplay by someone like Michael Kokkinaris with knowledge gleaned from a different society will cast light on such vexing questions.