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Introductory Note By Michael Cacoyannis

“Looking back at my career as director – producer – writer, I realise to what extent my choice of subject was determined by the personality and special gifts of some actor – mostly female, whose striking looks and emotional complexity I felt challenged to explore.

Four of my first five films, all shot in Greece, starred Elli Lambetti, in original screenplays that explored her mysterious beauty and wide range from sophisticated comedy to violent drama. The fifth, “Stella”, was tailored to the sensual and explosive personality of Melina Mercouri and launched her on the international scene.

I had been toying with the idea of adapting a Greek tragedy to the screen, when I met Irene Papas in the early sixties. Her unique classical beauty, her intelligence and emotional power were just the right ingredients for the title role in “Electra”, which I scripted with her in mind. Distributed by United Artists, the film met with international acclaim, planting the seed for a trilogy about the Atreids and the Trojan war. This would be undertaken after my next project, designed to explore the power and versatility of a male actor for a change, that of Anthony Quinn, as Zorba the Greek, shot entirely on the island of Crete.

My plans for the trilogy had to be temporarily abandoned when military dictatorship forced me into exile. Dividing my time between Paris and New York, I had to be contented with directing the other two plays of the trilogy – “Iphigenia in Aulis” and “The Trojan Women” - on the stage. It took five years before I felt ready to pick up the strands of my film career, shooting “The Trojan Women” in Spain on a modest budget with a cast headed by four brilliant actresses, taking token fees of $25,000 each: Katharine Hepburn (an old friend), Vanessa Redgrave, Genevieve Bujold and Irene Papas, this time playing Helen, the beautiful sister of Clytemnestra, Electra’s mother.

Returning to Greece, I eventually completed the trilogy, having discovered a stunning 13-yearold, Tatiana Papamoskou, to play Iphigenia, sacrificial victim to the Gods in the cause of war. Playing Clytemnestra, her heartbroken mother, is Irene Papas, who, owing to the time lapses between films, became a vital link in the trilogy by portraying three women of different ages, belonging to the same family”.

Michael Cacoyannis


Michael Cacoyannis

Educated in Greece and London, Cyprus-born Michael Cacoyannis launched his professional career as a lawyer. Having had a taste of the arts by producing Greek-language programs for the BBC during the war, Cacoyannis forsook the legal world for the theatre, joining the Old Vic as an actor and director. When he ran into difficulty securing directing jobs in the British film industry, Cacoyannis returned to Greece, where he made his first film, Windfall in Athens in 1953.

The director was instrumental in the success of Greek superstar Melina Mercouri, guiding her through the multi-award-winning Stella (1955). Cacoyannis' first significant international success was Electra (1961), a fluid adaptation of the venerable Euripides play. His biggest hit was Zorba the Greek (1964), which fully demonstrated the influence that the Italian neorealist movement had had in the director's work. Unfortunately, Cacoyannis' next film, The Day the Fish Came Out (1967), was an expensive disaster, though he more than compensated for this set-back with his critically acclaimed The Trojan Women (1971) (he'd previously directed the well-received Broadway stage version of this ancient drama in 1963).

After a long absence from the screen, Michael Cacoyannis directed the 1986 film Sweet Country, which received negative criticism at the time, but looks better with each passing year.


Cannes Film Festival Adaptation Award for Electra, 1962

Salonika Film Festival Best Director Our Last Spring, 1960


1999 The Cherry Orchard

1993 Pano Kato Ke Plagios

1987 Sweet Country

1977 Iphigenia

1975 Attila 74: The Rape of Cyprus

1974 The Story of Jacob and Joseph

1971 The Trojan Women

1967 The Day the Fish Came Out

1964 Zorba the Greek

1963 The Wastrel 1962 Electra

1960 Our Last Spring

1958 To Telefteo Psemma

1957 A Matter of Dignity

1956 Windfall in Athens

1956 Girl in Black

FILMS directed by Michael Cacoyannis:

1953-1954 – Windfall in Athens, based on his own original scenario. A comedy set in contemporary Athens, it was an instant success and the first Greek film to have distribution abroad. It was chosen for the gala opening of the Edinburgh Film Festival receiving the Diploma of Merit.

1955 – Stella which launched Melina Merkouri on the screen. Directed from his own screenplay, it was acclaimed at the Cannes Festival and won several international awards, including the Hollywood Golden Globe.

1956 – A Girl In Black (written and directed by M.C.) a stark drama, it was distributed internationally and critically acclaimed, winning the Golden Globe and Silver Bear (Moscow Film Festival) and critics’ awards.

1958 – A Matter Of Dignity, Cacoyannis’ film about the phony values of the bourgeoisie, his third film starring Ellie Lambetti, received raves and was critically voted Film of the Year in England.

1959 – Our Last Spring (Greek title Eroica) was adapted by Cacoyannis from a novel about adolescence and had a cast of non-professionals, mostly boys and girls of about 15 years of age. It was selected for both the Berlin and the London Film Festivals.

1960 – The Wastrel, adapted from an American novel, was an Italian production, shot in Italy in English, starring Van Heflin and Ellie Lambetti. It was selected for the Cannes Film Festival and was distributed internationally.

1961-62 – Electra, scripted by Cacoyannis from the tragedy by Euripides and starring Irene Papas, was hailed internationally as a film classic. It won over thirty awards including the Jury Prize at Cannes, the Prix Femina and an Oscar nomination.

1963-64 – Zorba the Greek, adapted from the novel by Kazantzakis with a cast including Anthony Quinn, Alan Bates, Irene Papas and Lila Kedrova was an instant success all over the world. It got seven Oscar nominations (including best picture, best director and best screenplay) and won three – for the best supporting actress, photography and art direction.

1966-67 – The day the Fish Came Out. An original screenplay by Cacoyannis, set in the not too distant future, alerting us to the dangers of the atomic age. Made with an international cast as a satire with serious undertones, the film was both provocatively critical of the policy of secrecy employed by the big powers (and America specifically) and controversially received.

During the period of the Greek junta (1967-1974), Cacoyannis was self-exiled from Greece. He lived in France and the United States, absorbed in diverse political activities and directing plays in the theatre. Cut off from his roots, he made only one film in seven years.

1970-71 – The Trojan Women, adapted from the tragedy by Euripides, starring Katharine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave, Irene Papas, and Genevieve Bujold. The film was dedicated to “those against the oppression of man by man” and was hailed as a worthy sequel to Electra.

1974-75 – Attila ’74, a full length documentary about the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey, the establishment of the Attila line (so named by the Turks) dividing the Island in two and the events that led up to it, expounded by Archbishop Makarios and other political figures. Cacoyannis stressed the human element by interviewing refugees, prisoners of war, victims of Junta followers and families of the missing. The film was shown at the American Congress and commercially release in several countries and assessed as an important historic document.

1976-77 – Iphigenia, based on Euripides’ tragedy “Iphigenia in Aulis”. With this strongly anti-militaristic film, scripted, directed and edited (as in all his films) by himself, Cacoyannis won more praise (Prix Femina, Oscar nomination, Critics’ awards) and attained his dream of many years to complete a Trilogy about the Trojan Wars, inspired by the Euripides’ texts. The trilogy constitutes the director’s major work and was universally acclaimed by scholars the world over. Long articles, essays, and books have been written about it (notably, “Euripides in Cinema” by American scholar Marianne McDonald) and university symposiums are organised around its screenings.

1985-86 – Sweet Country, adapted from a novel by American author, Caroline Richards, inspired by her experiences in Chile before and after the coup. The film, a harsh human document about the corrupting effects of fear in totalitarian regimes, had an important international cast (Jane Alexander, Joanna Pettet, Carol Laure, Franco Nero, Jean-Pierre Aumont and Irene Papas) and had a mixed reception – most favourable in France as opposed to the United States.

1993 – Up, Down and Sideways. Produced, financed, written and directed by Michael Cacoyannis, the film was an instant box-office success in Athens. American release is pending. “A huge-audience pleaser,” Hollywood Reporter. It is an “anarchic comedy” about the horrors and tribulations of life in a modern city, with Irene Papas heading an all-Greek cast.

1998-99 – The Cherry Orchard
From the play by Anton Chekhov, produced, written and directed by Michael Cacoyannis, starring Charlotte Rampling, Alan Bates, Katrin Cartlidge and Owen Teale.

Cacoyannis’s return to cinema with a self-adapted English language version of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard is a triumph.
The Cherry Orchard sees a major director from the past producing a new film close to his best.
What’s On, London

Michael Cacoyannis – his big hit was Zorba the Greek, in 1964 – has made it as a labour of love, and it’s a film that’s full of elegance and sophistication. The look is painterly, and shows painstaking study of art at the turn of the century. The picture is beautifully lit and a fine cast is given every chance to explore the depths of the characters.
Daily Mail


As a stage director, Cacoyannis has worked in Europe and the United States, alternating his cinema activities with prestigious theatrical productions. Below is a list of some of the plays he directed:
Greece (between 1954-1995): Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Chekov’s The Three Sisters, Sophocles’ Electra, Pirandello’s Let Us Dress the Naked, Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, Euripides’ The Trojan Women, Terrence McNally’s Master Class and several others.
France – The Trojan Women by Euripides adapted by Jean Paul Sartre (1965) at TNP, Palais de Chaillot, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1968), TNP, Euripides’ The Bacchae (1977) at the Comedie Francaise.
Italy: The Trojan Women, Spoletto Festival 1963, An Evening of Becket and Billetdoux Plays, Spoletto (1968) Ireland: Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Abbey Theatre, 1973

United States: The Trojan Women 1964, (N.Y. Critics’ Award), John Whiting’s The Devils, 1966 (starring Ann Bancroft, Jason Robards), Iphigenia in Aulis, 1968, The Bacchae, 1981, Zorba, (a musical starring Antony Quinn) 1983 – 1986
Spain: Medea (by Euripides) 2001 - 2002, (starring Nuria Espert). Merida, Barcelona, Sagunto, Santander, Madrid, Toledo, Sevilla etc.
Greece: Chapter two, (K. Dandoulaki, S. Zalmas), 2002, Hamlet, Nat. Theatre, 2004, Lysistrata, 2005 - 2006, Coriolanus, 2005 - 2006
Mourning Becomes Electra by Marvin David Levy at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, (1967), Puccini’s La Boheme at the Julliard, New York (1972), Verdi’s La Traviata, Athens National Opera (1982), Gluck’s Iphigenie en Aulide and Iphigenie en Tauride at the Frankfurt State Opera (1987), Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito (1989), Aix-en-Provence Music Festival and in Athens (1994), Cherubini’s Medea, Athens Music Palace (1995).


In Greek: Translations of four Shakespearean tragedies; Antony and Cleopatra (1979), Hamlet (1985), Coriolanus (1990). Othello (2001). In Other Words, a collection of essays (1990), Stella, a screenplay (1990), Euripides’ The Trojan Women into modern Greek (1995).
In English: The Trojan Women, the screenplay, Bantam books, New York (1971), The Bacchae, Introduction to and translation of the Euripides play, New York Library, 1982, Penguin USA.


Order of the Golden Phoenix (Greece)
Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres (France)
Doctor of Arts (Columbia College, Chicago)
Honorary Citizen (Limassol, Cyprus)
Honorary Citizen (Montpellier, France)
Honorary Citizen (Dallas, Texas)
Life Achievement Award (Salonica Festival, 1995)
Honoured by the Greek Academy with its highest award for national services (1995)
Special Grand Prix of the Americas – Montreal 1999.
Phidippides Award (New York 1999)
Life Achievement Award (Jerusalem Film Festival 2000)
Life Achievement Award (Cairo Film Festival, 2002)
Honorary Doctorate (Athens University) 2002
Honorary Doctorate (University of Cyprus) 2003
Honorary Doctorate (Aristotelio University, Salonica) 2005


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