“It was fairly anarchic…” Nick Broomfield recalls Greek cinema under the stars with all-natural extras

The director of My Father and Me Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love shares fond memories of screenings in an open-air cinema on Hydra – accompanied by the smells and sounds of nature.

Gardenia Open-Air Cinema, Hydra, GreeceIllustration by Lucinda Rogers

My Father and Me, Nick Broomfield’s latest documentary, is available on BBC iPlayer.

The Gardenia open-air cinema in Hydra opened in 1955, though I was there in ’68. It’s in this teeny lane, sandwiched between two other buildings that slightly tower over it. But then you suddenly look up, and you can see the whole hillside. And you can see the sky and stars.

I first went with Marianne [Ihlen] and it was a wonderful event. You’ve got all the smells of the jasmine and gardenias that would drift into the screening room with the breezes from the ocean. You can hear all the donkeys braying, and the crickets making an incredible noise. And the odd animal would run along the top of the roof, over by the screen.

It was mainly showing spaghetti westerns, though the film I do remember seeing was In Cold Blood [1967], which is such a brilliant, brutal film. It contrasted so much with the sort of idyllic romantic surroundings. I remember the footprint in the blood and just thinking how weird it was seeing it there, because it felt like being almost on a different planet.

Nick Broomfield

The audience was mainly Greek people who lived on Hydra. They were selling souvlaki in the foyer, and popcorn, and there were kids and cats and dogs all running around during the screening. It was fairly anarchic, really. It got slightly nippy after around 10 o’clock, with the breeze, and the Greek women would all bring these rather nice shawls and put them over their shoulders while they were watching the film.

Later, when I went back, one of the most popular films was Midnight Express [1978]. Because it was very anti-Turkish.

I also premiered my film Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love [2019] there. I managed to round up a whole lot of people who were in the film, and people who were still living on the island, who I’d met. And a friend of mine, Pawel Pawlikowski [director of Cold War, 2018], has bought a house there. So he came along.

And it was memorable because it broke down after the first 20 minutes! They could only get the sound to work with no picture. They had this big old 35mm projector up there. And I had a modern link for the film. Pawel and I were scratching our heads trying to see if we could get it to work and we couldn’t. And the cinema owner, Lakis Christidis, who’s Greek and was probably in his eighties, was being incredibly charming and offering us cigarettes and coffee, but really didn’t know the equipment at all. But I remember the audience were so thrilled to see the film and see all that old archive of Hydra.

The following night, we screened it again and there was some other problem.

But on the third evening we got it to work all the way through. And even that was crazy, because the projectionist brought her dog as she couldn’t find anyone to look after it. It was just barking and howling throughout the screening. I thought this was a sort of Zen test: just to do nothing. And Pawel whispered to me, “What about the fucking dog?” It was making such a noise! So I went down and took the dog for a long walk for the rest of the film.

  • Nick Broomfield was talking to James Mottram.

Further reading

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