Golden Alexander to Panayotis Evangelidis and universally accessible screening: Tilos Weddings

Within the framework of the 26th Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival, the universally accessible screening of Panayotis Evangelidis’ acutely timely documentary, Tilos Weddings, took place on Friday, March 15th, at the packed Olympion theater. The screening was realized with the support of Alpha Bank, the Festival’s accessibility sponsor. Before the start of the film, an honorary Golden Alexander was bestowed to the filmmaker, scriptwriter, author, and translator for his entire contribution to cinema and culture, by his close collaborator and filmmaker, Panos H. Koutras.

The 26h TiDF is hosting a tribute to the fearless and pioneering cinema of Panayotis Evangelidis, which places the issues of the visibility of the LGBTQI+ community under the spotlight, intertwining the personal element with social reality and the necessity of change. His films, featuring both timely and timeless messages, always find the way to extract the most complex meanings and the tenderness through the most profoundly humane stories that break free from the conventions and stereotypes.

The documentary Tilos Weddings (2022) focuses on the first gay and lesbian weddings that took place in Greece, in 2008, in the island of Tilos. Being of crucial importance to the history of the LGBTQI+ rights in our country, this documentary is both a historical documentation, and a testimony for the generations to come. The film follows the story of two civil marriages through visual material that was shot ad hoc, but also through footage from the Gay Pride of the same year, discussions and demonstrations regarding the same topic.

Before the start of the screening, the Festival’s artistic director, Orestis Andreadakis took the floor:We welcome you to a universally accessible screening. This year we have once again ensured accessibility terms for both of our festivals, in November and March, with the support of Alpha Bank. But, this is a special screening, as well, within the framework of the tribute we are hosting to the great filmmaker, documentarian, scriptwriter, author, and translator, Panayotis Evangelidis. I want to invite to the stage a very good friend of the Festival, one of the closest collaborators of the remarkable artist, the director Panos H. Koutras.”

Taking the floor, Panos H. Koutras mentioned: “I should add that aside from being a translator and a filmmaker, Panayotis is also a scriptwriter and actor. It was many years ago, it seems like a century ago, I was 15 years old, and it was an afternoon at the Dexamenis Square in Kolonaki, where the good kids were gathering. So, I had gotten myself into a scuffle, which now would be called bullying, and I had left, I was upset and I wanted to avoid the worst. I was wandering the streets without purpose until I encountered a young man, a bit older than me, of striking beauty. He asked where I was going, I told him I didn’t know, in a very upset manner. I had seen him before, we had met before, and he told me he's going home and we walked together to the bus stop. The bus arrived, he entered, and before the doors closed, he reached out, asked me again where I was going and said ‘come on, I'll take care of you.’ We went to his house; he reheated a meal his father had cooked and we stayed up late into the night, talking. Since then, we never stopped talking, many, many years passed, we lent a helping hand to each other numerous times, we nursed each other many times, we exchanged ideas, joys, sorrows, we went to countless parties, we did many, many crazy things, we immersed ourselves in pleasures, in pains, we walked together in marches, took part in activism, tried to change things. Some we changed, I realize now, some we didn't. As you can see, we also created a lot of things, in the midst of it all. Today, I'm honored that the Festival has given me the opportunity to bestow upon him the Golden Alexander Award for his outstanding work as a director, translator, actor, writer. For me, however, he is so much more, as you may have understood.”

Orestis Andreadakis took the floor again: "Let us welcome, then, this man with the ever precise and penetrating gaze. When we watch his films, we feel they are sometimes brimming with tears of emotion and other times penetrating straight to the heart of things. Let us welcome to the stage Panayotis Evangelidis.” After receiving the honorary Golden Alexander, Panayotis Evangelidis thanked the audience, stating: "I would like to say a few words, in order to situate ourselves in space, in time and in today's current reality. Because everything is a chain and all of us are just another link. June 2024, Thessaloniki is the city hosting EuroPride. March 2024, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival honors the occasion by paying tribute to queer documentary cinema. June 2008, the first marriages of same-sex couples took place in Tilos, by the then mayor, Tasos Aliferis. A lesbian and a gay couple marry. February 2024, the law on marriage and adoption for same-sex couples is passed, however flawed, with no presumption of parenthood, no access to medically assisted reproduction, taking trans parents out of the equation. Nevertheless, the main thing is that it is finally being passed, an expected and self-evident achievement for a modern European state. Well done and a pity at the same time, it was an opportunity for more inclusive solutions. March 2024 in Thessaloniki, in the most central square of the city, on a Saturday night, two young trans-queer people are beaten, attacked, subdued and their physical integrity is threatened. I'm not discussing their mental one, that's already been ripped to shreds. The original small crowd is getting bigger and bigger, becoming a mob, a mass that can even resort to lynching. At the same time, we have protests and demonstrations by the Church and its followers against the poster of the Elina Psykou’s film, Stray Bodies.”

Immediately afterwards, he added: "I grew up in a time of intense politicization, dictatorship, the battle of '68, the individual is political, art is political and all these slogans of the time. I don't have an activist's temperament by nature, that is to say a confrontational, assertive, dynamic temperament. I consider myself rather low-key and accommodating. I would like us all to be a happy family and deal with issues of happiness and beauty. However, reality calls for us to take a stand before evil knocks on our own door. I've never had the certainty of what the truth with a capital T is. But I have chosen to believe in principles such as justice, fraternity, equality, solidarity, human rights. I was born into a family that believed, on both sides, in communism. And I don't mean that in the sense of a party, quite the opposite. I say it in the sense of a bible of principles, moral and political, a book that for me became the political and emotional background for ideas, behavior and actions in defense of principles such as those I have just mentioned. At the same time, I have been conquered by cinema, literature and art. In that order. That space where one can swim alone, without having to belong to an organized class of thought and ideology. There, where one can simultaneously appeal to the heart and mind of each of us. To create eclectic affinities, to find and transmute everything into beauty and thereby offer in their own way understanding, inclusion, love and forgiveness. Through a high vibration of words, images, sounds, colors and other frequencies than those of everyday life".

"Later in my life I lived in the Far East. And of all the branches of Buddhism, I was attracted to Tibetan, the so-called compassionate Buddhism. This is what we would today label as empathy, a word much used in our time. Compassion and empathy for all that happens in the public sphere, but also in the individual space of each of us," he stressed. "I am very preoccupied with the issue of forgetfulness. Everything is forgotten, everything becomes a habit. This is what regimes also want in order to continue their operations as undisturbed as possible. There must be a constant struggle against forgetting, silencing, covering up, distorting, and intolerance. We must remember the lessons of history, so that we may one day learn as a collective consciousness and subjects of history how to move to another level of understanding and stance", he noted. 

"I have forgotten that I too cannot walk without one of my steps sooner or later encountering the mine that will tear me to pieces. Have compassion, empathy and visibility for the community to which I myself belong, LGBTQI+ and queer people around the world, and in countries where they are tortured, killed and imprisoned. For the trans brothers and sisters who are lynched every day across the globe. Compassion, empathy and visibility for refugees, for the imprisoned, the persecuted of all kinds and by all kinds of regimes, whatever name they want to hide behind. Have compassion and empathy for those hidden in homophobic schemes that destroy life and enjoyment. May we all find enlightenment. Today, 67 countries have laws that penalize same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults. And at least nine with laws penalizing forms of gender expression targeting trans people." He went on to say: "I am not a believer in any religion or any God. Except for the wonderful goddesses of art and poetry. Of kindness, love, humanity and solidarity. But I do believe, as do all religions, each in its own way, in the component of their moral teachings, that people should love each other, help each other, have empathy, solidarity and compassion for every fellow creature." 

“Let’s open our ears, our eyes, our senses, our hearts and our awareness. It is common for one to dedicate his award to someone. The people I constantly speak to inside me and accompany me every day are my departed. From those very dear to me, through blood and heart, to others who have passed on and left something inextinguishable within me. A huge celebration of people, that as I grow older, grows with me. A celebration greater than that of the living. A quiet celebration that smiles at me without stopping. And with them is the mayor of Tilos, and the two brides that got married that summer. But mainly I want to dedicate this award to the people I literally owe it to, most of whom are still alive. To the heroes of my films. The ones who trusted me so much and opened their homes and their souls to me, to a greater or lesser extent each and every one of them. So, thank you very much, my little universe of unsung heroes, thank you to the Festival from the bottom of my heart for seeing you all and recognizing you, and thank you for coming tonight. Let us all now look at an act of activism that took place in the distant 2008. Thank you very much."

The screening of the films was followed by a discussion with the audience. When asked if they realized then how important and revolutionary all that they were doing was, Panayotis Evangelidis stated: "We were fully aware of what we were doing, yes.  Especially at the time, because everyone was against us," he said. "There had been a lot of slip-ups, as there always are, so we were totally conscious and we were also kind of inebriated with joy. Finally, someone is with us and allowing us to do it, we were saying." As to whether it was in his mind from the beginning to turn this story into a film, he replied:”It was not filmed with the intention of turning it into a film. From the Gay and Lesbian Community of Greece, I was also in the organization at the time, they asked for someone who knows about cameras, who makes films and they came to me. This was filmed as archive material. The reason why I made the film was primarily sentimental and largely due to the passing of Evangelia Vlami, a very dear, personal friend.”

In response to a question about how the marriages were annulled since they had legal validity, Panayotis Evangelidis answered: “More and more is being annulled here, won't same-sex marriages be annulled? The procedures for a civil marriage were followed, which are still in force. There was just nothing that said anything about same-sex people, it was a matter of interpretation of the law, there was no mention of gender, so that's what they relied on for the annulment. They made an appeal, they lost it, they went to Areios Pagos (Supreme Court of Greece), they had no luck over there either, then took the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union, where the case is still pending. Now that same-sex marriage has been passed, I don't know if there is any point in the Court of Justice of the European Union issuing a ruling.”

On how he thinks Tilos Weddings is interpreted currently, and the message he wants to pass on as a creator, Mr. Evangelidis said: “I think the answer to the second part will also answer the first part. If we don't start things from somewhere, if we keep waiting for the State, it is most probable that on some issues nothing will ever get done. At the time, everyone thought we were all banging our heads against the wall, it was all too far away, removed from Greece. So, the film’s activist message shall exist forever. That sometimes you have to bang your head against the wall. To be insubordinate, daring to do the things that will make your life better, even if they are prohibited. It's a historical documentation of ten people who went there and we experienced a utopia for a few days.”

Finally, when asked if he believes this film and the whole process with the weddings of Tilos affected the institutionalization of marriage for same-sex couples that was passed recently, he replied: “I would very much like to romanticize my answer and say that we contributed as well, but I don’t think that the film led to today. I want to be both a realist and a pragmatist. If there were no political circumstances, as well as purposes in Europe, I don’t think that anything would have been achieved. We did what we were eager to do, as far as activism is concerned, which left a historical imprint. However, I am not certain if anybody was affected. That is, how did it affect them now and not five years ago? Personally speaking, I have a cynical and pessimistic view of politics and the way things move forward.”