Michael Cacoyannis

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Limassol, Cyprus
Birth Sign
Limassol, Cyprus

Michael Cacoyannis was a well-known Greek Cypriot film director, producer, and screenwriter who was widely regarded as one of the leading torchbearers of Greek cinema on an international stage. He was best known for the 1964 film ‘Zorba the Greek’ (‘Alexis Zorbas’), which introduced Greek cinema to an international audience. The film received numerous nominations, including three ‘Academy Honors,’ one ‘Grammy Award,’ five ‘Golden Globe Awards,’ and four ‘BAFTA’ awards. He has directed operas and stage plays, including a musical adaptation of “Zorba the Greek” in 1983. Several of his works were inspired by classical works, particularly those by Euripides, the Greek tragedian. He had made a number of notable films that were both critically praised and commercially successful over the years. ‘Windfall in Athens’ (‘Kyriakatiko xypnima’), ‘Stella,’ ‘A Girl in Black’ (‘To koritsi me ta mavra’), ‘A Matter of Dignity’ (‘To telefteo psemma’), ‘Electra,’The Wastrel’ (‘Il Relitto,’) and ‘Iphigenia He was nominated for five Academy Awards, a record for any Cypriot cinema figure. Three for ‘Zorba the Greek’ for Best Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director, and one each for ‘Iphigenia’ and ‘Electra’ in the category of Foreign Language Film.

Early Years and Childhood

Sir Panayotis Loizou Cacoyannis and Lady Cacoyannis welcomed him into the world on June 11, 1921, in Limassol, Cyprus. In 1936, the British government knighted his father for his contributions to the people of Cyprus. In 1939, his father sent him to London to study law. In 1943, he earned a law degree from the University of London and was admitted to the Bar (Barrister-at-Law).

Career of Michael Cacoyannis

Cacoyannis joined the ‘BBC World Service,’ the world’s largest international broadcaster, and took over the broadcaster’s newly established Cyprus service within a short period of time. He began his career as a newscaster for the BBC’s Cyprus service before moving on to become a cultural program producer. His deputy, Beba Clerides, worked there. Glafkos Clerides, an RAF fighter pilot who subsequently became the President of Cyprus, was her younger sister.

Several Greek-language shows for the ‘BBC World Service’ were created by Cacoyannis during WWII. At the same time, he was studying acting at London’s Central School of Dramatic Art. For a short time, he performed under the name Michael Yannis at the ‘Old Vic,’ a London theatre located south-east of Waterloo Station. Later, he shifted his attention to the direction.

In 1952, he migrated to Greece and stayed in Athens after struggling to find a proper opening as a director in the British film industry. ‘Windfall in Athens,’ a 1953 Greek comedy starring Ellie Lambeti and Dimitris Horn, was his directorial debut. The following year, it was accepted into the ‘Cannes Film Festival.’ The film’s popularity was merely an unwritten and unspoken testament to the amazing and well-woven career of the worldwide director.
‘Stella’ (1955), his next picture, featured Melina Mercouri, a former diva.

Despite the fact that the picture sparked much debate and was panned by critics, it was a commercial success and is now considered one of the top five Greek films. One of the first Greek films to gain international notoriety was the drama ‘A Girl in Black,’ which he directed and screenwrote in 1956. At the 14th Golden Globe Awards, it won Best Foreign Language Film alongside five other films, and it was also nominated for a Golden Palm Award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.

‘A Matter of Dignity’ (1957), ‘Eroica’ (1960), ‘The Wastrel’ (1961), and ‘The Day the Fish Came Out’ (1967) were among Cacoyannis’ other films; but, his masterwork, a British-Greek drama film titled ‘Zorba the Greek’ (‘Alexis Zorbas’), was released in 1964. He directed, wrote the screenplay, and produced the picture ‘Zorba the Greek,’ which starred Anthony Quinn in the main role and was based on Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel. The picture was a huge success not only in the United States, but all around the world, and it was the 19th highest grossing film of 1964.

Cacoyannis received three Oscar nominations, including Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Finally, it was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction (Black and White), and Best Cinematography (Black-and-White).

‘Electra,’ the first picture in his ‘Greek tragedy’ trilogy, was released in 1962. It was based on Euripides’ play of the same name. The picture was selected for the ‘Cannes Film Festival’ that year, where it earned the award for Best Cinematic Transposition. Cacoyannis won best film and best director at the ‘Thessaloniki Film Festival,’ as well as a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the ‘Academy Awards.’

The Trojan Women, starring Katharine Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave, was the second film in this trilogy, released in 1971. The ‘Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award’ awarded Hepburn Best Actress. The final film of the trilogy, ‘Iphigenia,’ was released in 1977 and was based on the Greek legend of Iphigenia, the daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon who was sacrificed by the goddess Artemis. Apart from a Best Foreign Language Film nomination from the ‘Academy Awards,’ it won the Best Film Award at the 1977 ‘Thessaloniki Film Festival’ and the 1978 ‘Belgian Femina Award.’ It was also nominated for the ‘Palme d’Or’ at the 1977 ‘Cannes Film Festival.’

He’s worked with some of the most well-known and successful performers in the Greek, Hollywood, and European film industries over the years. ‘Attilas ’74’ (1975), ‘Sweet Country’ (‘Glykeia patrida’) (1986), and ‘The Cherry Orchard’ (1999), among others, were among his other important films.

He was a recognized stage and opera director who had successfully presented multiple highly praised theatrical performances in the United States, Greece, France, and other European countries, in addition to being an internationally renowned filmmaker. He wrote numerous scripts and translated Euripides’ drama ‘The Bacchae’ into English, as well as Shakespearean classics such as ‘Hamlet,’ ‘Coriolanus,’ and ‘Antony and Cleopatra.’ He also wrote the lyrics to a number of well-known Greek songs, which are still popular today.

He was a key figure in the Acropolis’ spectacular new lighting. In order to accomplish this, he inducted renowned French Engineer Pierre Bideau into the Athens Friends Union in 2001. A study for the illumination of the Acropolis, as well as the Hellenic Parliament, Lycabettus Hill, Hadrian’s Arch, and the Olympian Zeus Columns, was conducted thanks to a grant from the union and some help from the financial group UBS.

The Ministry of Culture and the City of Athens later supported the concept, and the new Acropolis illumination was installed by 2004. In Dallas, Montpellier, and Limassol, he was named an Honorary Citizen. Honorary Doctorates were also bestowed on him by the ‘Aristotelio University of Salonica,’ ‘Cyprus University,’ ‘Athens University,’ and ‘Columbia College,’ among others (Chicago).

Life and Legacy of an Individual

From 1959 through somewhere about 1967, Cacoyannis had a romantic relationship with Yael Dayan, an Israeli politician and author. He died at the age of 90 on July 25, 2011 in Athens.

Estimated Net Worth

The estimated net worth of Michael Cacoyannis is not available.