The 25th Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival bestowed an honorary Golden Alexander to director Stavros Psillakis for his entire body of work, at an event held on Thursday, March 9th, at Pavlos Zannas. First, the artistic director of the Festival, Orestis Andreadakis, took the floor. "Images of tortured people capture what a relationship of trust means. They compose a unique portrait of modern Greece. The verse of Argyris Hionis, 'what I describe, describes me,' expresses perfectly Stavros Psillakis' work. However, I would add another verse from Axion Esti by Odysseas Elytis because in his stories, even when tears overflow and despair covers everything, he seeks the white up to the ultimate intensity of black, hope up to tears, joy up to extreme despair. His people dwell on the outskirts of our prosperity, in the safe nowhere. In the graveyard where utopia and memory are forgotten. They were lonely even when interacting with other people and experiencing a universal crisis. He himself, however, knows well that this crisis is simply called life, and therefore he digs it up, bringing it to the most imperceptible human movements. In the most beautiful shades of white. Welcome Stavros Psillakis," he stated.
The president of the board of directors of the Greek Film Centre, Markos Holevas, spoke about the filmmaker immediately afterwards: "I would like to thank Stavros Psillakis for the films he has contributed to Greek cinema. In the Film Centre what interests us is for films to increase not only in quantity but also in quality, in the heartbeat of Greek cinema."
Orestis Andreadakis then bestowed the Golden Alexander to the filmmaker for his entire contribution to Greek cinema. Receiving his award, Stavros Psillakis said: "With so many friends and such emotion, you can't get by. Fortunately I took the liberty of writing a few words beforehand. First of all, it is a happy day under the shadow of great grief, multiplied by the loss of Lakis Papastathis, a friend and a great director, a man who has contributed much. Paraskinio was a great school for all of us documentary filmmakers. I'll start with a phrase I read in the early '70s in an iconic book at the time, The Chance and Necessity of Jacques Monod, a biologist and Nobel laureate. ‘Modesty benefits the scientist, but not the ideas that inhabit him and which he is under the obligation of upholding’. I believe that the Festival's initiative to host this tribute and to honor me with this award is about our work as a whole and all those who contributed to its creation. I would like to thank the Festival for this honor and add that initiatives like this, although they are named each time, come from the people of the Festival as a whole. Such is our relationship and such is the love I have received. There is between us a long-lasting relationship of respect, appreciation, friendship and love. I think it is a decision that Dimitri Eipides would have liked as well.”
Psillakis continued by saying: "I would like to thank all of you who are present in this room and honor us, as well as the people who participated in the films and illuminated them with their presence. I want to thank the collaborators and contributors of the films, each of whom added their work and talent to what you see. The editor, Giorgos Triantafyllou, and the director of photography, Kostas Palmas, are no longer with us. However, we have with us Vangelis Fampas, colleague and friend, editor Spyros Kokas, Nikos Moutselos and Sakis Bouzanis, fine collaborators who helped us greatly in the latest films, and our graphic designer, Dimitris Arvanitis, who created all the posters, as well as the trailer of the film. I would like to thank the Film Center and ERT for the films we collaborated on, which are not few. I also want to thank the Chania Film Festival. The critics, both positive and negative, who wrote about these films. The same goes for my colleagues for our joint effort in the documentary. Friends who were by my side, especially in difficult times. Finally, I want to thank my family, who is always by my side despite my quirks. To the family let me include Dolly, my camera. She is 42 years old now. Our son, Konstantinos, once asked me when we were stopped at a traffic light very innocently: ‘Dad, if you die, will the camera die with you?’ I dedicate the Golden Alexander to my father, whom I didn't have a chance to show my films to, but who had the opportunity to educate me with his ethos."
After the award ceremony, the film The Man Who Disturbed the Universe was screened and a Q&A followed. When asked by Mr. Andreadakis whether documentary filmmakers should ‘disturb the universe’, Psillakis replied: "The phrase belongs to Giorgos Kokkinidis, the protagonist of the film, and he says it with a poetic sentiment that I accepted more easily. If it were more militant, I would have a problem, because I don't know what is good and bad, and what we need to do to make our world a better place."
In response to why he's drawn to characters who are marginalized: "I don't know what to answer. There's no specific line I follow. For example, I don't aim to fight injustice or record how our society treats these people. All these issues are presented in my films, but above all, I was drawn to the relationship that was created with Giorgos. He is a very enlightened and charming person. Something very strong was formed between us from the first five minutes of our meeting. One's heritage and experience are the best tools. I can answer the question with a new question. What makes you fall in love? Who can say with certainty? Just as I communicate with a person without a camera, I approach the protagonists of my films. I never go with a script because I don't know what will happen. Also, I never work with large crews. Everything can change along the way and in the editing process, 'I dig and it will show me the way,' as one of the actors in the film says.”
Psillakis immediately added: "I was born into a poor family. Looking at the people I choose for my films, I don't think I ever escaped my class position. I carry my heroes inside me all the time. All of my films are deeply political. This particular film has been shown in many psychiatric facilities. It was filmed in 1996-97, at a time when I had a great love for psychoanalysis. I happened to see the psychiatrist Antonis Liodakis in Rethymno and he told me about the trip he was going to take with the inmates to Denmark. I liked the idea and followed them. That's how everything started in order to record the rehabilitation program that was running at that time. Then Giorgos Kokkinidis appeared and invited us to his kingdom."
In response to a question from the audience about how he processes material in editing and the role of ethics in it, Psillakis answered the following: "I don't deal with people who don't fascinate me. My protagonists have a lot of contradictions. I am not a prosecutor. I don't condemn them no matter what they say to me. In the process of editing, I want to captivate the audience so that they love them too." Regarding why he considers documentaries to be fiction, Psillakis explained: "As long as you film a subject or your protagonist with the camera, you film yourself. The only dimension of truth is the distraction from oblivion. I use real people and this confuses the audience, but for me, documentaries are fiction," he concluded.