Agora Talks: The Invisible Visible with Menelaos Karamaghiolis
Every year Agora invites film specialists to share their practices and expertise with the Festival audience. On Thursday July 1st, Menelaos Karamaghiolis delivered a talk under the title “The Invisible Visible: An Innovative Way of Narrating Films and Creatively Engaging with Audiences”, in the context of the Agora Talks.
Menelaos Karamaghiolis talked about the interactive platform “Meetings with Remarkable People” that draws a multimedia map of the Greek crisis with 12 films shedding light on the lives of the protagonists that have been invisible, with a supplementary material of 180 new films, texts and photos. Menelaos Karamaghiolis, with the support of the Onassis Foundation, sees the protagonists’ stories in a different perspective.
“Over the last few years, we have set up a group of people searching - through filming and art events - solutions and answers in social issues, trying to turn the invisible into visible. Today, I am going to present to you a documentary interactive platform. J.A.C.E. Just Another Confused Elephant, a fiction film, based on a real story of a refugee, in the search of a new country and identity, immerses us into the fascinating world of antiheroes. These people live in Athens and are completely invisible. During the ten years of the filming a dynamic universe, full of real heroes that inspired me in the script, has been created. In 2011, there was the need for these heroes to come out of the shadows and not to be portrayed by actors.
According to Menelaos Karamaghiolis: “The first season was comprised of 12 films. These films’ protagonists, unknown to the audience, went viral, in the films’ screenings in Festivals, on TV, in schools and universities, as well as online. There were many talks in film groups. The second season, also consisting of 12 films, dealt thoroughly with the crisis by talking about the homeless, the unemployed and the refugee issue in Greece. It took many years for these movies to be completed, due to their level of difficulty. It was very hard for us to approach the protagonists, because most of them refused to appear on camera. Some of them didn’t wish for the people to consider them homeless, whereas others – who in certain cases were forced to break the law – were afraid of being arrested”.
He went on to add: “Due to these inconveniences we have made a flexible and discreet team that would be able to approach restricted areas. The protagonists, thanks to their bonding with the team, they finally decided to expose themselves on camera without covering their faces. This was a healing and supporting way of communication. They were in front of people who could hear their problems and at the same time they could hear themselves talking. They started considering these films as their means of communication without being invisible. For instance, the homeless football team managed to find sponsors to take part in the homeless world cup in Chile. The film convinced the sponsors to fund such an expensive trip, whereas for the homeless football was a platform of socialisation”.
Menelaos Karamaghiolis continued by referring to another example: “A young prisoner, protagonist in a film, managed to learn Greek, in three years, in prison, through Greek courses and to study in a Technical School. He managed to make a new start and he inspired all the other inmates. Today, he is about to finish his studies, and take the Greek nationality. In this case, the camera was far from dangerous and intrusive; it became in a way the tool of communication for the invisible and the marginalised. In some cases, these people began seeking the camera in the critical moments of their lives in order to find solutions to their problems. Shooting kept going even in cases where the initial film was competed and screened in festivals, cinema theatres, schools, universities and prisons in Greece and abroad. The interest displayed by the audience fuelled vibrant talks after the screenings. These talks were carried out also online and the protagonists of the films set out an example of how to deal with a social crisis. Stories that seemed hopeless turned out to have a happy ending, written by the heroes, the protagonists, and not by the scriptwriter of a film”.
The director added: “Unfiltered reality was very important to us; the way art can meet invisible heroes and bring them in contact with the wider audience. Our main goal was to eliminate fear and to avoid any pornographic approach, which is very common in social media. We tried not to make any reference to money. These antiheros were protagonists in contemporary art too. In the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens, these heroes, through video installations, welcomed the audience in underdeveloped areas. They helped them witness situations in unknown ghettos that strike out as really dangerous. The audience has witnessed all this without being threatened and they finally erased all stereotypes from their minds. For example, the film trailer for stray dogs hit one million views in a single day and 215 animal shelters got in touch with us after the screening of the film. Thus, we paved the way for a rise in the volunteers’ numbers and the adoption of stray dogs all over Europe”.
The director adds by saying: “Cinema must be close to people, close to life. We have created an interactive platform with talks with the audience. This is about a free online platform keeping track of the heroes’ life, and giving the opportunity to everyone to get in touch with these heroes – whether he/she is an artist, an antihero or just a citizen who wishes to participate and support other people. Our goal is to give answers to questions such as to whether art is able to break the chains of isolation and provide the answers”.
Renia Papathanasiou, the person who designed the platform, took the floor: “With the support of Pausilypøn Films – Døcumatism and Onassis Foundation we have been able to create a very progressive idea, not only as far as the technology is concerned, but also in terms of content. For the first time the heroes of these movies have the opportunity to cross the borders and share their experiences with the audience. At the same time, this platform is a mean of supporting the protagonists, as well as the audience. As for the technical part of this platform, our aim was to be accessible from many different devises. We offer the audience a brand-new interactive experience. Through a special designed interactive media player tool, the user can move creatively and autonomously in the protagonists’ stories, but also get acquainted with the organisations that support each film subject matter. Thanks to the platform, the protagonists of the films can find a new way of expression and connection with the audiences both in Greece and abroad, while expanding their stories in space and time”.
Menelaos Karamaghiolis continued with some other examples: “We have met Maradona in Avlona prison. He was 20-21 years old. He could not count; he didn’t know his age. He was married three times and he had five children. He got arrested for stealing, he went to prison and while in prison he went for the first time in his life to school and learned reading and writing. In prison, he participated in a theatre performance that later turned out to be the main story of the film The return. The audience can watch in an interactive way, his life after prison. There is a very moving scene where the police destroy the camp where he was living in. He tries to stop the demolition and save his belongings.
The director said: “In the film Greek animal rescue, two extra videos with supplementary material are available to the audience. In the first video a hundred of adopted stray dogs are running free and happy in the UK. During the shooting of the film, most of the dogs were found in Aspropyrgos and they weren’t expected to live for more than a year. The film makes a leap five years later, when these dogs have been adopted and living with their new families. In the second video a plumber decided to change his occupation. He is against euthanasia of injured animals and he is making wheel chairs. He offers these wheelchairs to people who cannot afford a wheelchair due to the crisis. He is currently running a company that ships wheelchairs all over Greece.”
Menelaos Karamaghiolis concluded by saying: “Is this platform user’s friendly? Let me say that I can barely use my laptop on my own. We spent a lot of year in preparing a user-friendly platform. Internet is low cost. This platform is like a game and really friendly”.