The Manaki brothers (or Manakia) were leading photographers and filmmakers in the Balkans. Greeks in origin, originate from Abdela Grevena, a big village of Pindos, but Serbians, Skopians, Turks and Romanians still claim their nationality. They acted in the Balkans like the Lymir brothers in Paris and Edison in America at about the same time: they promoted the New Art of Cinema, opening the way to the great creators of the next decades and leaving behind their unique historical photographic and cinematic documents of the early 20th century century in the Balkans.
Their life and their early work
The Manaki brothers, Giannakis and Miltos, were born in Abdela, Grevena on 18.05.1878 and 09.09.1882, respectively. Giannakis was interested in painting from a young age and attended the high school in Monastir to obtain a diploma of a teacher and a painter with special skills in "painting" and "calligraphy". Miltos, four years shorter than Giannakis, unlike his brother, was particularly interested in nature and natural life and spent many years in Abdela. He succeeded in becoming a good photographer and then a film-maker with the help of his brother Giannakis. They initially acted in Ioannina by opening a photograph, but after persecution suffered by the Ottoman authorities they transferred their atelier to the Monastery.
The first major city they visited was Constantinople in the summer of 1905. In the same year they went to Bucharest. They were given the opportunity to attend a film and, in this way, be enchanted by cinema. Several years later, Miltos will tell: "In the capital of Romania we understood that in England and France they are selling machines for shooting" live pictures ". This news for us, at that time, was incredible and shook us, even though it did not leave us room for suspicion, since we even saw with our own eyes the projection of a short film. The people in these films reminded of a puppet type, because their movements were interrupted. And they reminded, I would say, those scenes that the hands and feet (puppets) were pulling with the rope! This, however, was not an obstacle for the film to absorb us, to fill us with feelings and to make us mock. Giannakis could no longer dispose of the desire he had made of him ... He did not want to return to Bitola without this movie engine. Even in his sleep he was talking about her. And by the time I got back home, he started for London, where he brought the Bioscop movie engine. "
In 1905, Manakis returned to their village and filmed the famous "weavers", the first film in the Balkans. The protagonist of their first and short-lasting film was their grandmother, Mrs. Lucia Manaki, aged 117. The second in-line documentary "The Pindos Outdoor School" starts with a kind of procession where on one slope clergy and locals walk along with children carrying a religious image. On next screams the outdoor Greek school of Avdella is being immersed during the lesson. This material is a unique presumption for the Greek Orthodox education in the Turkish-occupied Macedonia and complements the rich photographic material. Two other classical documentaries by Manakis brothers, rich in material from the economic and social life of Macedonia during the Ottoman domination, are the "Vlach marriage" and "merchant fair".
With their "Bioscop 300" camera, purchased from London in 1905 by Yannis Manakis, they died out many of the most mportant events (around 40) of the late 19th century and early 20th in the Balkans, among which the New Turks in 1908 and the Balkan Wars 1912-1913. We know that in 1908 they photographed andthey filmed military exercises of the Young Turks, under the guidance of Niazi Bey. In 1909 they filmed the visit of Romanian personalities who visited Goshei, Resen, Ohrid and Smirndes. In 1911, however, they made the most complete account of the visit of Sultan Mehmet Reyes, his arrival in Thessaloniki, his trip and his stay in Bitolia.
It was easy to photograph and film even in the areas where there were rebels (Young Turks) because they had very good relations with the Ottoman Empire and, consequently, similar papers and firmanes. It is said that they also filmed the Liberation of the city on 26 October 1912, although there are reservations about it. In the period 1916-1919, Giannakis Manakias was exiled in Plovdiv, because weapons and ammunition had been found in his photographic studio and was therefore accused as a spy by the Bulgarians.
After the end of the First World War, the Manakia brothers re-energized themselves in the Monastery, deciding to create their own cinema. On July 7, 1921, they took the leave and rented a generator from Vlachos Christos Kirgios or Kyratzis, who had a printing house, so as to be able to operate their cinema. They signed the agreement on 9 August 1921 and borrowed a projection machine from Kostas Tsimomos, one of the main film distributors in Macedonia. A year later, in 1922, in the autumn, they acquired their own room, which built it on a plot of land that was bought by Thessaloniki's Loukas Brettas. They bought their own machines, they co-operated with other compatriots, but because their activity did not work well, in 1927 the others left the business and only the Manakia cinema stayed in them. In this way they founded their own business. Unfortunately, their cinema was completely destroyed by a fire in 1939.
After the destruction of their cinema, the two brothers split. Giannakis returned to Thessaloniki, where he taught at the Romanian Commercial School and worked as a photographer on the beach. By the end of his life he remained a clever but lonely artist, with artistic anxieties and love. Yannis Manakias died at the age of 76 in Thessaloniki on 19/5/1954, after being struck down by the death of his son Dimitrios at the age of 22. At the end of his life he was deserted and abominable.
Miltos Manakias lived the remaining years of his life in Yugoslavia, working as a photographer and filmmaker. He was even thrilled to see his face in a stamp issued in his honor. For the Yugoslavs, he was a national filmmaker, honored by Marshal Tito himself, whom he had photographed. He spent the last few years of his life classifying the thousands of photographs and the dozens of films created by the him and his brother. Miltos until the end of his life longed to return to Greece but eventually did not. He died in the Monastery on March 5, 1964 at the age of 82, where he was buried with honors given by the Tito regime.
During their creative years, the Manakia brothers made a record of more than 12,000 photos and 67 short films with a total length of 1,500 measures. This record was sold in two installments - and after many adventures - to the Macedonian Archives, an institution of the Republic of Skopje, and then transferred to the ownership of the Bitolia Historical Archive. These invaluable recordings of an era and some conditions that have gone unswervingly remained largely unknown in Greece until recently.
Undoubtedly the work of Manakis brothers is original, and has a great ethnological, historical and artistic value. The first film was shot in 1906 by French opera Leon, who belonged to the Egyptian company. He had come to Greece for the Olympic Games and filmed the stadium. But pioneers in the Balkan area were undoubtedly the Manakia brothers, since without interruption, they filmed what they were doing, making films that we would call them today as documentaries. First photographers, then filmmakers, did not cease to serve art, cinematic or photographic, with great dedication, the result of their love for art and more specifically for their photography and their will to use new technologies, with the ultimate goal of serve their artistic interests.
Fotos Lamprinos, My power the love of the lens (cinematically up-to-date as a presumption of History), Kastaniotis publications