MEET PAUL LAMBIS
Telling the Story of 1974
Paul Lambis is an award-winning author, playwright, director and screenwriter. His play, “74”, is about to be made into a film and is arguably the most important film to have come out of Cyprus for many years. Lambis is an established playwright, having written over six plays and has also written three books. He holds the position of Marketing Director for an international Cypriot company. He lives in Paphos with his wife, Niki and his son is studying at university in the UK.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND.
Both of my parents are Cypriot but I was born in South Africa. I was educated at a British School there and this was where my fascination and love for all things British, began. At school I loved drama and theatre studies. It was an academic school and I particularly enjoyed languages and art. My great joy at school was debating and public speaking in which I eventually majored.
After school, I wanted to study media and journalism, but in the South African era of Apartheid, this was difficult to get into as a career. In the end, for my degree, I studied Graphic Design. I then went on to teach History of Art and Graphic Design.
A turning point for me occurred when I was teaching Art History to a group of students. The subject was the origins of pornography. We were looking at the painting by the French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard, entitled “The Swing”. It is a very famous work and shows men looking up the skirt of a lady on a swing, but it can be open to many interpretations. Everyone can interpret paintings in their own way and I found this fascinating.
WHEN DID YOU START WRITING/BROADCASTING AND REALISE YOU HAD A TALENT FOR THIS?
I wrote my first novel in 1991. It was called “The Turkish Princess”, and was about the conflict between the Greeks and the Turks. This was because, as I grew up, I was constantly reminded about my Greek culture and heritage. I was very much a part of the Greek community in Johannesburg and wanted to represent Greek interests. I felt very honoured to win the South African Sunday Times award for my book, “Best Newcomer”, at such a young age.
I was a radio presenter on a Greek radio station and my show became very popular. I was on every day from 4pm – 6pm. This led me to study Journalism, Media and Drama as a post graduate at the Johannesburg Arts Foundation. This was exactly what I had wanted to study and I felt that I had found my niche.
Later, I was on a community TV station and a weekly music show. This led me to set up a PR company and I was lucky enough to work with international stars from all over the world. After organising some important fashion shows, I purchased the rights to hold the beauty pageant, Miss Greece of South Africa.
I got more and more into PR and advertising and managed to run everything successfully together.
WHY DID YOU RELOCATE TO CYPRUS?
After meeting my wife, Niki, in South Africa and the birth of our son in 2000, I became more and more aware of the crime in South Africa. There was a massive escalation and people were being killed around us. I felt very strongly that the levels of rape and murder were getting out of control and I wanted a safer life for my family. In South Africa, we were bolted up in our home and afraid to go out. After a holiday in Cyprus, we knew this was where we wanted to be. In 2002 we came to Cyprus and have been here ever since. We came at a time before the European Union and I liked the British influences on the island. I worked in an ad agency and also enjoyed being part of the local radio station, hosting the evening slot from 7 – 9pm. In 2005, with my background in marketing, I was very happy to start employment with my current employer as head of their Creative Department. I am using all my skills at an international level.
HOW HAS LIFE BEEN IN CYPRUS?
Life was great, until I suffered a near fatal car accident in 2008. I suffered a severe pelvic break and was confined to bed for six months which, as an active and busy person, I found very, very difficult. I had to totally learn how to walk again. I understand that stumbling blocks change your path in life but this was hard. I do, however, feel that it strengthened my character.
Whilst I was recovering, I had the time to write my autobiography entitled, “Where is Home? – A Journey of Hilarious Contrasts”. The doctors said that, at this point, I would never walk again but I was determined to get back on my feet. It was when I could hear my son suffering upstairs from an asthma attack that something just happened. I knew I had to get to him, and found myself walking up the stairs.
I see life as a game of chess. Sometimes pieces in front of you challenge you. It is about taking one step back and looking at the bigger picture and then strategising a way forward. This applies to all areas of my life. Whilst as a person I am an extrovert, sometimes it is easier to pause, reflect, assess and then act. This is how I live my life now.
I turned my book into a stand-up comedy show (SOLD OUT), which I hope inspires others and makes a difference to people. If I can help one person look back at dark moments and make it easier for them, then I am happy that my words have made a difference. I use my books to communicate messages. I say it how it is, but in a diplomatic way. People can either love it or hate it.
After the success of the comedy shows, I was asked by one of the local networks to write for Greek television.
TELL US ABOUT OTHER PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON.
The last few years have been very busy for me. My book “Odd One Out”, was published in 2018. I wrote this book wanting to go against the social norms and believe that I have broken down some social barriers. On the front cover, I have the headline – “I am who I am. Just deal with it.”, which I like, but my favourite quote from this book, – “I prefer not to think before speaking. I like being just as surprised as everyone else by what comes out of my mouth”. This is very me. I was also very involved as the writer and director of the award-winning production of “Melina”, based on the life of Melina Mercouri. I saw her photo in a subway in Athens and was drawn to her as a subject. I was mesmerised. I wanted to pay tribute to Melina. My production enjoyed great international success, and was awarded “Best International Show” in New York’s United Solo Theatre Festival.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE YOUR FILM “74”?
I feel strongly that it is inexcusable to have Cyprus as a divided country. I want to raise awareness on an international level about the conflict of 1974, and show the real story through the eyes of people who were there.
As part of my research, I approached many refugees and interviewed them. They were keen to take part and gain the opportunity to get their stories across to the world. It was, however, a real emotional rollercoaster for me hearing so many extraordinarily sad stories, especially from the female perspective.
The women had no weapons and they felt that the men had abandoned them, who were forced to go off to war and defend their country. I really consider that the women of Cyprus, at that time, were the real soldiers of the war, as they were left to defend their families whilst suffering mental and physical anguish.
I have taken their real stories and written the film basing it on characters that come from Morphou, Kyrenia and Varosha. I have merged these stories into four leading figures who represent each town as a female character. The fourth character is called Girne who represents the Turkish Cypriot women during the conflict.
I want the film to be a tribute to Cypriot women, who fought tirelessly throughout the war and experienced the horrendous brutalities of torture and rape. No words can ever truly describe what they went through.
We have just finished auditions for the lead roles. We had almost 5000 applications and filming begins next year, in Cyprus, with an international and local film studio. It will be filmed at various locations all over Cyprus. Primarily, we will use authentic villages and I hope that Paphos will play a part in it. The film will show stories from 1974 to the present day. My main focus in the film will be on the stories of the women whom I have interviewed.
I hope to get the messages across about the true human sufferings of war. I hope that through hearing stories of previous wars, it will help us to think much more carefully, in the future, about firing the first shot.
We should never forget what has happened in the past and should always learn from it. The reality and consequences of war are very destructive.
To update our readers on the progress of the film “74”, we look forward to returning to Paul Lambis next year, and visiting him on his film set in Cyprus.
Written by Sarah Coyne