This past week, I sat down with writer, director, and producer Coerte Voorhees, who released his film, The First Line, which is a legal drama set in modern day Athens and tells the story of the Parthenon Marbles as two Greek lawyers, romantically intertwined, sue the British Museum calling for the return of the famous Marbles to Greece.
So far, the film has made quite the buzz. It was acquired by Netflix this past September and has received wide acclaim. The film screened at Berlin Festival along with every major Greek film festival including those in Thessaloniki, Athens, Los Angeles, New York, Melbourne, Sydney, and was recently screened out of competition during the Berlin Film Festival. It has received the support of the Prime Minister of Greece with a special premiere screening at the Acropolis Museum in Athens; The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and most recently during the world premiere of the film in London on September 28th.
The First Line includes many talented actors, such as Giancarlo Giannini, Paul Freeman, Michael Byrne, renowned Greek actors Georges Corraface, Yorgo Voyagis, and newcomers Pantelis Kodogiannis and Kassandra Voyagis.
Check out our interview with Coerte as he demystifies the making of the film.
You and your brother John wrote, directed and produced the film. Tell us a little about how you got started.
John and I are half Greek on my mothers side. We spent a lot of time over in Greece while we were young, and my father is an attorney who was originally hired by the Greek government in 2006 to help put together the legal arguments for the Parthenon Marbles. He was working with the Greek government when they were making the new Acropolis museum – along with advising and supporting their efforts for the Marbles. I was really inspired by my dad’s work, and when I went to Georgetown, I studied history and classics. I decided to do my thesis paper on the restoration of the Parthenon Marbles, which led me to make a film about it. The Marbles are the most famous case of art theft. All of that was inspirational to me. I actually had to take a semester off at USC in order to direct the film with John.
Were there certain challenges you had to overcome while filming in Greece for these reasons?
Absolutely. Greece is one of the hardest countries in the world to film in. But we embraced it. The background of the film visually showcases the Greek economic crisis – we show protesting in the film which highlight the riot scenes that were going on in 2012 and 2013. And we made it a choice to put that in the background to show how the marbles signified Greece coming back to the idea of democracy. Greece was seeking a civilized society despite the challenges going on. Our actors were actually participating in those riots in the scenes as they were unfolding in real life, which was thrilling.
What would you say was the most rewarding part of making the film?
We were actually the first feature film allowed to film in the Acropolis, which we are very proud of. It’s a beautiful museum. We went through 12 different committees, and it took 2 years, but we got the permission, which was very rewarding.
Do you think the Parthenon Marbles will ever rightfully be returned to Greece?
We hope so – there has been a real emphasis on the restoration of cultural history and artifacts. In 0ur case it’s clear that what happened to the Marbles was under shady circumstances – forgery and bribery that the British admitted to in this documentary – so for those reasons, yes. And because there is just a greater audience these days. People are more aware of what has happened through colonialism. So this is something that is becoming more popular in Hollywood and internationally.
What is the most important thing for viewers to take away?
The Parthenon tells the story of the birth of Athena and the Athenian democracy. We want to show that the Parthenon Marbles tell the story of Greece and it’s the foundation, just like the Declaration of Independence is foundational to the United States. Important pieces of history are much more than their physical form – they inform where we are in society and how we advance civilization.
How did this intention play into directing the film?
We had a combination of a Greek and English crew. People were very supportive of the film, and knew what we wanted to accomplish. Greeks were very supportive and happy we were taking a stance on the issue. Many have tried to bring the case forward, but were not able to, which is why we are ecstatic with the Netflix acquisition. The best films aren’t only visually entertaining, but educational as well.
Make sure to check out the film on Netflix!
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Coerte’s next film is a historical drama about the first female archeologist and her contributions to the field in the 1920’s. Don’t worry, we will be sure to keep you updated!