16th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival –
Images of the 21st Century
14-23 March 2014
HOPE ON THE LINE / THE OTHER HUMAN/
LOST IN THE BEWILDERNESS / YUSEF’S SONG
Directors Emily Yannoukou and Alexandros Papanikolaou (Hope on the Line), Stathis Galazoulas (The Other Human), Alexandra Anthony (Lost in the Bewildreness) and Costas Pliakos (Yusef’s Song) gave a press conference on Sunday, 16 March 2014, in the context of the 16th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.
Stathis Galazoulas explained how he selected Konstantinos Polychronopoulos as his protagonist. Mr Polychronopoulos is the protagonist in “The Other Human”, a mobile soup kitchen in Athens that provides food and solidarity to those in need. “I first saw Konstantinos Polychronopoulos at Syntagma Square, and his work left me speechless. I then did a little research on him and his work. I finally met him on the occasion of his soup kitchen’s first birthday, when I also started working as a volunteer myself. At the time I was also in my second year of film school, looking for a story to inspire me for a film. He is a very pleasant and friendly man. I completed the shoot in four months.” What was interesting to the director was the theme of solidarity, which is raised by the work of his protagonist. “This was the reason I made this film. I believe this is a new way to react to the crisis. Solidarity is vital today, and it was what motivated me. The soup kitchen is supported by people like us, who offer food and money and with this action raise awareness. I believe that in our era, most of us focus on the wrong things, for example on material possessions, whereas the heroes we see in the film come from a very poor background; this makes you look at things differently,” said Mr Galazoulas.
Hope on the Line is another film inspired by the spirit of our time, but from a very different perspective, since co-directors Alexandros Papanikolaou and Emily Yannoukou focused on a leading Greek politician, Alexis Tsipras. Their documentary follows the SYRIZA leader for about a year, from the summer of 2012 to the summer of 2013. “We decided to make the film shortly before the May 2012 elections, because we could tell things were changing, seeing a young politician emerging from the crisis. We live in Paris, and we met with Mr Tsipras during a press conference by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. We explained we wanted to make a film about him, and he said ‘yes’ in five minutes. His only request was to stay away from his personal life and his family,” Mr Papanikolaou explained. Ms Giannoukou added: “I believe Alexis Tsipras was taken aback when we first approached him, partly because at the time his party’s influence was growing rapidly, dramatically changing the political landscape. Our intention was to show what was happening back then in Greece and abroad.” What most impressed Mr Papanikolaou while making the film, was the chance to witness the inner workings of a political party. As the filmmaker explained: “We got to see how a party makes day-to-day decisions about the campaign. The film captures a frantic rhythm. Suffice to say that at one point we had followed Alexis Tsipras with our camera for 19 consecutive hours. We did not decide beforehand when we would stop shooting. Eventually, we decided to end our film with the shutdown of ERT.” Asked about whether it was their intention to boost the image of Alexis Tsipras, Mr Papanikolaou said: “Our intention was never to manipulate the audience or tell people to vote for Tsipras or not. In fact, SYRIZA had no say over our film — we had agreed from the start that they would not get to see it beforehand.”
Alexandra Anthony’s film Lost in the Bewilderness focuses on a very different subject. The film narrates the story of the filmmaker’ s cousin, Loukas, who was abducted by his mother when he was five years old in Greece and was found, shortly before his 16th birthday, in the United States. “I grew up hearing this story, so when I decided to write a script, reality invaded it. The boy is the son of my cousin. He disappeared when his mother took him to America, leaving no trace behind. The Scotland Yard and Interpol kept looking for him for two years, but to no avail. The event and the fact that no one knew where the boy was had traumatized my family. Then one night, Loukas’ mother called my cousin and told him that his son was in America. I took my camera and joined my cousin for the meeting. I kept following the protagonists, and you can see them in the film getting older and going through a lot. When we found Loukas, he was 16 and did not speak any Greek. He wanted to return to Greece and eventually he came back to his family as a foreigner. “The film took twenty years to complete, and its ending coincided with an important milestone in Loukas' life, his becoming a father. As the filmmaker explained, Lost in the Bewilderness “is a personal film, but everyone can find some elements to identify with. It is a loving film about family and the national character of Greeks. Americans hear many things about the Greek mentality in this time of crisis, and many of them are untrue. It gives me great satisfaction to be able to show a different, more favourable image of Greece and the Greek people.”
Costas Pliakos’ documentary Yusef's Song takes place outside Greece, in post-revolutionary Libya. His protagonist is Yusef, a young man who took part in the Libyan revolution and is the nation’s most famous rapper. “The most important reason for doing this film was that Libya had remained a secluded, isolated country for 42 years, and that regime change was possible only after a foreign military intervention by NATO and France,” said the director.
While following the Arab Spring, the filmmaker came in touch with Greek-born of Libyan descent, Mohamed ben Guzi, who worked with him on the script. “While discussing how to approach our story, Mohamed pointed out Yusef to me, a unique man, who writes songs that combine elements of the Islamic tradition and western music. He is a hero, representative of the average Libyan; he has a vision for his country. We travelled to Libya, found Yusef and followed him with our camera.” Through the adventure of making the film, Mr. Pliakos realized that “in a revolution, what changes first is the consciousness of the people. Everything else follows.” Commenting on the status of women in Libya, an issue he raises in his documentary, the filmmaker said: “Libyan women are puzzled about the direction of things; they are fearful of islamic fundamentalism, they do not want their country to turn into another Afghanistan. They don’t think they had enjoyed great freedoms under Gaddafi, but they now fear the future, the threat of instability, the process of transition.” Mohamed ben Guzi added: “For 42 years, the Libyan people had no education and they are ignorant about ideologies. The young generation is the one that keeps the hope; it was the young Libyans who revolted, not their parents. People in Libya are devout, they fear extremism, but they want to walk a fine line between the western way of life and Islamic culture.”
The parallel events of the 16th TDF are financed by the European Union’s Regional Development Fund for Central Macedonia, 2007-2013