Michalis Cacoyannis: The famous Limassolian whose talent led Greece to the Oscars!

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Social Life
Culture / Arts
Political History

On 11 June 1921, a baby boy was born in Limassol, who was one day destined to honor both Cyprus and Greece around the world. Greece owes him some of the country’s most significant, Oscar-worthy films, as well as the first lighting of the Acropolis. In Cyprus, he was responsible for one of the most dramatic recordings of the events of 1974.

It was thought that Michalis Cacoyannis, son of Aggeliki and Panayiotis, would be a lawyer like his father. His unique temperament, however, already evident from the antics he pulled as a child, meant he was destined for greater things. His family’s affluence allowed him to study law in London, though his heart was quickly won over by the dramatic arts and directing. His sister, Stella Soulioti, was the one to be acknowledged in the legal profession and in politics, as head of the Ministries of Justice and Health.

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His talent was evident in his moves and expressions while shooting his films.

For the majority of the time he was in London, he worked at the Greek service of the BBC as a translator and announcer. At the mere age of 22, he was the program director of ‘Cyprus Hour.’ Though he embarked upon an acting career in 1947, he soon began directing, and in 1953 ended up in Greece.

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The first film he directed was ‘Sunday Awakening’ (1954), the first of a series of collaborations with Elli Lambetis. The film ‘Zorba the Greek,’ starring Anthony Quinn, was nominated for 7 Oscars (film direction, adapted screenplay, photography, set design, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress). His landmark film, ‘Stella’ (1955) dramatized several ancient tragedies, such as ‘Electra,’ and showcased the emblematic figure of the internationally renowned Irene Papas.

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Moments from the shootings.

During the time the Junta was taking place in Greece, Cacoyannis, who was living abroad at the time, spoke openly on French radio against it, and participated in the anti-dictatorship struggle alongside Melina Mercouri.

In 1974, shocked by the dramatic events of the Turkish invasion in Cyprus, Cacoyannis, along with a cameraman and sound engineer, filmed a unique documentary about the Cypriot tragedy called ‘Attila ’74.’ He also donated towards the building of the ‘Michalis Cacoyannis’ Agioi Anargyroi Primary School in Larnaca in 1978, which helped cover the schooling needs of children from refugee families.

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Another project of Michalis Cacoyannis was the realization of his vision to light up the Acropolis monuments at night. He achieved this through the founding of the ‘Friends of Athens’ association, and securing the services of famous French illuminator Pierre Bideau, and also undertook the financing of all necessary planning studies.

He has received a multitude of awards from all over the world (including the Academy of Athens award as well as honorary degrees from US Universities). Michalis Cacoyannis, however, was first and foremost a man of the arts, and a deeply human art at that, who made sure that this tradition would be continued well into the future. This is why in 2004, he established the ‘Michalis Cacoyannis Foundation,’ a public benefit institution for the study and dissemination of Film and Theater Arts.

Source: Michalis Cacoyannis Foundation

* NOTE: The tributes of the Project "History of Limassol" present information that has emerged from historical research thus far. Any new data is embedded into the tributes, once it has been confirmed.