An acclaimed and multi-awarded film director who dominated the Greek art film industry from 1975 on, Angelopoulos was one of the most influential and widely respected filmmakers in the world. He started making films in 1967. In the 1970s he made a series of political films about modern Greece.
Angelopoulos' work, described by Martin Scorsese as that of "a masterful filmmaker", is characterized by slightest movement, slightest change in distance, long takes, and complex yet carefully composed scenes; his cinematic method, as a result, is often described as "sweeping" and "hypnotic."
In 1998 his film Eternity and a Day went on to win the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 51st edition of the Cannes Film Festival, and his films have been shown at many of the world's most esteemed film festivals.
Theodoros Angelopoulos was born in Athens on 27 April 1935. During the Greek Civil War, his father was taken hostage and returned when Angelopoulos was 9 years old; according to the director, the absence of his father and looking for him among the dead bodies (during the "Dekemvriana" in Athens) had a great impact on his cinematography. He studied law at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, but after his military service went to Paris to attend the Sorbonne. He soon dropped out to study film at the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC) before returning to Greece. There, he worked as a journalist and film critic. Angelopoulos began making films after the 1967 coup that began the Greek military dictatorship known as the Regime of the Colonels. He made his first short film in 1968 and in the 1970s he began making a series of political feature films about modern Greece: Days of '36 (Meres Tou 36, 1972), The Travelling Players (O Thiassos, 1975) and The Hunters (I Kynighoi, 1977). In 1978, he was a member of the jury at the 28th Berlin International Film Festival.
He quickly established a characteristic style, marked by slow, episodic and ambiguous narrative structures as well as long takes (The Travelling Players, for example, consists of only 80 shots in about four hours of film). These takes often include meticulously choreographed and complicated scenes involving many actors.
His regular collaborators include the cinematographer Giorgos Arvanitis, the screenwriter Tonino Guerra and the composer Eleni Karaindrou. One of the recurring themes of his work is immigration, the flight from homeland and the return, as well as the history of 20th century Greece. Angelopoulos was considered by British film critics Derek Malcolm and David Thomson as one of the world's greatest directors.
While critics have speculated on how he developed his style, Angelopoulos made clear in one interview that "The only specific influences I acknowledge are Orson Welles for his use of plan-sequence and deep focus, and Mizoguchi, for his use of time and off-camera space."
Angelopoulos was awarded honorary doctorates by the Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium in 1995, by Paris West University Nanterre La Défense, France, by the University of Essex, UK in July 2001, by the University of Western Macedonia, Greece in December 2008, and by the University of the Aegean, Greece in December 2009.
Angelopoulos died late on Tuesday, 24 January 2012, several hours after being involved in an accident while shooting his latest film, The Other Sea in Athens. The filmmaker had been with his crew in the area of Drapetsona, near Piraeus when he was hit by a motorcycle driven by an off-duty police officer, on Tuesday evening. The accident occurred when Angelopoulos, 76, attempted to cross a busy road. He was taken to the hospital, where he was treated in an intensive care unit but succumbed to his serious injuries several hours later. Before passing away, Angelopoulos suffered at least one heart attack.
Angelopoulos won numerous awards, including the Palme d'Or at the 51st edition of the Cannes Film Festival in 1998 for Eternity and a Day (Mia aioniotita kai mia mera). His films have been shown at the most important film festivals around the world.
Theodoros Angelopoulos was also the recipient of many awards for his long standing career.