You would be hard pressed to find a better tour guide of Greece than Billy Cotsis. He doesn’t just know Greece, having travelled there countless times and visited over 65 of its islands, when you see him sporting t-shirts with the name of the place he is in (a particular fan favourite is the Lesvos t-shirt), it feels as though he is Greece.
Following the release of their award-winning documentary Lesvos: Fall in Love, which was shown in film festivals around the world, and was the first documentary to sell out two cinemas at the Greek Film Festival in Sydney, Cotsis has once again teamed up with his friend and film-maker Basil Genimahaliotis, on what is their fourth collaboration, to bring audiences Mykonos: The Other Side.
Long associated with endless parties on the beach, booze-filled nights and bronzed scantily clad bodies as far as the eye can see, Mykonos The Other Side, delves into everything else the island has to offer.
Travelling to Mykonos for the first time in 2004, the island’s beauty struck a chord with Cotsis. “I remember walking out past Mykonos town, up a hill and to a vantage point of the whole town. It was stunning, different to the places I had been to before. I had a Pentax camera, film not digital and I took a range of shots. When I developed them, I could see how amazing the architecture was and how busy the town was and still is,” he says.
Not that he didn’t enjoy all the partying Mykonos had to offer, especially in his subsequent 2008 and 2009 trips. By then, as he himself puts it, Mykonos had started speaking to him.
“It was the power and magnetism of the island, the music, and the people. It was an incredible feeling. By night I just seemed to meet almost every person on the island and by day we managed to chill by a beach, again meeting people from everywhere. Mykonos was speaking to me, and I guess I began to speak the language, which is of course, “come, unwind and let the magic inspire you,” he says.
“The one constant throughout that era, from the first trip onward, was how people from all over the world wanted to engage. Mykonos was like a welcome portal.”
Cotsis readily admits he didn’t really understand that there was more to Mykonos than late nights. “Every trip, for example, we used to say, we will go out to Delos. And on every trip, we wouldn’t get up until the afternoon after a late night. I was missing the cultural side,” he says.
“We visited some quieter nisia on the 2009 trip and actually had a better time just chilling and engaging with locals than the all-night parties. It made me ask, what else is there to do on Mykonos? Is there anything outside of the party scene? These are the questions that I set out to answer.”
As it turns out, there is plenty Mykonos has to offer, from the old bakery in the Cyclades to one of the best outdoor theatres in the world to Delos. GCT asked Billy Cotsis about his top picks to see and do in Mykonos and experiences filming the documentary.
What is your absolute must see for a visitor to Mykonos?
If you ask Tekno Manos who stars in the documentary, he will tell you it’s Teknomania at Super Paradise or Queen Bar. If you ask a fisherman, they will tell you it’s the early hours of the morning on the water. If you ask a well to do person with cash to splash, they will say Nammos where you can spend a mini fortune trying to impress people, or if you ask the GLBT community, they will list a range of bars starting with the mythical Ramrods.
It doesn’t matter what you do or where you stay, one will always be drawn to Mykonos Town. This is the heartbeat and it is here you will understand that the economy of Mykonos has no crisis. Be it the 7 euros for a tzatziki in some places to overpriced drinks, you will find some of the best boutique fashion labels and stores in Europe. You will see how Sheiks and princesses or princes turn up for a few hours to spend a crazy amount of money on items ranging from locally designed and produced jewellery or Greek designed clothes for example. Shops close when people stop spending. Here there is an understanding that it is time that matters. Looking after your customer is more important.
In the town you will find the oldest bakery in the Cyclades, churches at every turn, bars, the magic of sitting by Little Venice as the waves lap up your veranda table, the limani where you will find my friend Nicholas Theodoridis at Vegera Café Bar/Restaurant and you WILL bump into people again and again as people walk aimlessly for hours upon hours. The white painted paths or the narrow alleyways were, of course, painted to confuse pirates, though I suspect it confuses tourists more. At one of these narrow lanes, you will probably bump into my friend Anna Moskalova at Hair Lab. You will make your own friends every day.
Not far from there, you will find one of the best outdoor movie theatres in the world: Cine Manto. Nicholas made sure we had an introduction to internationally renowned film-maker Andonis Theocharis Kioukas and his wife Thalia who own the venue.
What makes this a unique place is the setting. Unless you follow the signs, you may not find the entrances. Set amongst a number of trees, yes, trees, which are rare on the barren island, you will find a bar, a restaurant, the cinema, paintings of Mexican-born Louis Orozco and plenty of other talented artists.
Once you go past the narrow laneways, the limited taxi rank and bus stop, and out of the town, you have plenty of options and roads to take. The other side of the island will present you with my favourites, the stunning Kalo Livadi which only has two beach bars, Solymar and Nemo. My actor friend Anta Paparapti who was helping us with the film shoot explained that Livadi is her favourite place. “It is beautiful, quieter, and the sea is amazing for a swim,” she told us before we ventured there, and she was spot on. Here you can swim with the freedom of knowing you won’t be consumed by the same hordes as Nammos, Platis Gialos, or Ornos with all the parties and frenetic activity.
We also learned that Ano Mera, the largest village on the island, is technically the largest township in the Aegean. Ioanna, from very appetising (highly recommended) Fisherman Giorgos & Marina, told me that, “Ano Mera is spread out, from the platea you are in, it stretches out for a big distance.”
One of the other highlights you will find on the island is the number of famous people and writers. After a catch-up with my friend and best-selling author Alexandra Symeonidou, who has just released her 14th book, and whose son and brother manage the Imar Gallery, we met up with a favourite author of mine, Jeffrey Siger, the author of Murder in Mykonos and another nine titles including his latest novel set in Lesvos. It’s not every day you can meet the guy who has written the book which I literally read on the plane over to Europe, Mykonos After Midnight. We met with Jeff and his partner Barbara at the stunning Rhenia Hotel in Tourlous. Our company included a number of Americans as well as the hotel owner, Mykonian Andreas Fiorentinos, formerly Deputy Secretary General of the Greek National Tourism Organisation.
My friend Paul-Nicholas Trahanas who was travelling with his friends and inadvertently kept bumping into us in Mykonos Town told me a few times to get to Delos, which we eventually did. Trust me, or rather trust him, this is one of the most picturesque places in the world.
How was your experience throughout filming?
I got lucky in every sense. I was very ill the entire trip but Mykonos perked me up to the point no one noticed. Basil Genimahaliotis made the film possible. His expertise shooting, sound, light and the ability to combine film work and late nights was multitasking at its best. He is an architect by background and this made me reevaluate how I viewed the architecture of the island.
Having a camera and a smile on your face meant that it was easy to interview people. We could interview someone in one area and by chance, you would see them elsewhere later and then again the next day and the next. It becomes a small place.
Occasionally in the middle of nowhere, you would talk to random strangers, but one Barcelona lad who explained he had ancestry from Greece and came to Mykonos to find it, on the other side of the island.
I had a good laugh one night when a Melbournian came up to me and said “hello Billy.” I was trying to work out how I knew her, until she said, “you’re on MerakiTv!!” Never happened to me before.
We also met a Drag Queen, Gege Silva from Brazil. I can’t recall ever hanging out with a Drag Queen, but we did and the mutual language was…. some Greek! This is Mykonos at its best, everyone is part of the fabric.
Everyone had a story to tell and one hotel worker relayed a story that epitomises Mykonos. A Scandinavian couple stayed at his hotel and they asked why the flag of Mykonos wasn’t flying. The Greek guy was puzzled as there is no flag. The couple persisted that there must be because the island has a wealthy economy, it cannot actually be part of Greece!
What can the audience expect from the film?
Plenty of action as we do all our stunts. For example, eating four gyros’ at once is dangerous, or the time we tried to keep up with Tekno having shots. Impossible, yet we did what we could for the sake of the film haha.
We have tried to bring in what the reality is and that is glamour and parties. Once we introduced that, we provide the stories of the people and we focussed on four, in particular, stories of tourists and the economy. We then found it easier to introduce the beaches on the other side of the island, history and other areas to visit, hidden gems and the cultural layers that exist on the island. The film remains reasonably fast paced and we keep it as real as possible.
From the music, the people, the stories and the enigma that is Mykonos, the island outside the party scene is amazing and we feel that we have brought it back to Australia via this film.
Mykonos The Other Side will be launched Thursday 13th September at GU Film House, Beverly Hills at 7pm, with free entertainment and Greek finger food. The film will play as a double with the award-winning Lesvos: fall in Love Writer and film-maker Alex Lykos will take a break from his busy schedule promoting his new feature film ‘Me and My Left Brain’ to introduce the film.
*For tickets, contact Toula Mavrick on 0405 771 819 or [email protected]