In Greece, it has already been more than two years since we started waking up, day after day, to find ourselves in a situation that more and more resembled a nightmare.

Apostolos Karakakis
Karakasis is a documentary filmmaker and a lecturer at the School of Film Studies at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

The economic fall of the country might have been foreseen (local and foreign political leaders, bankers and other “experts” didn’t need any supernatural foresight to see it coming) but for different reasons no one pressed the alarm button until the ship had already hit the iceberg.

However the crash came and everyday life as we knew it would change. Our expectations, our hopes, dreams and plans, our “wants and needs” are now all subject to change. Our individual lives would cross with history and – as the chinese proverb says – we would be unfortunate enough “to live in interesting times”.

The present time in Greece is a time of opportunities for documentary filmmakers. On the one hand, the state of the country’s economy and society has attracted global attention and often appears in the headlines of foreign media, while on the other, the middle class narratives of “boring” normality have now been replaced by narratives of dramatic insecurity and struggle.

DOX presents here a brief overview of Greek docs of the past two years addressing the subject of the crisis, to explore the main tendencies and finally express some concern on the balance between current affairs films against a more “creative portrayal of actuality” in the documentary production so far. A good source for research into today’s cinema is the annual Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival that just had its 14th anniversary this March. As the festival’s market indicated, commissioning editors, distributors and all kinds of documentary film professionals from around the world visited Thessaloniki this year with an expectation to watch first-hand accounts of a small country’s economic collapse that is affecting the prospects of Europe and those of the global economy.an intensifying war conducted by a handful of bankers and politicians against democracy

Most of the films were argumentative documentaries that were trying to make sense of how this happened, why, who is to blame and what could be a way out of the crisis. Addressing international audiences to a large extent, these films would fit in the generic description of “current affairs” documentaries. Different experts exchanging arguments, exploring the historical causes, the systemic problems of 21st century capitalism, the role of politicians and bankers, a generous use of archives, images of public demonstrations and homeless people on the streets of Athens, those are the main visual ingredients of many of these films.
Much like Charles H.Ferguson’s Oscar-winning Inside job or Michael Winterbottom’s The Shock Doctrine based on Naomi Klein’s famous book, some films pursued an activistic role, supported by extensive research in order to raise awareness on the catastrophic neo-liberal policies and the dominance of the financial industry’s profits over people’s well-being:

Debtocracy by Katerina Kitidi and Aris Hatzistefanou has been a groundbreaking case in Greek documentary, funded through crowd sourcing and distributed online under Creative Commons license to more than two million viewers! The film that has stirred much discussion in Greece explores the causes of the current debt crisis by studying similar cases in Latin America and points to a possible solution of declaring the debt “odious”.

Oligarchy by Stelios Kouloglou, an experienced journalist-filmmaker whose work in current affairs documentaries has been internationally well received. He shares the view that despite the responsibility of the Greek political system for this crisis, what is evident in this case is an intensifying war conducted by a handful of bankers and politicians against democracy. In the EU he aims his arrows at the “Frankfurt group”, presenting it as capitalism’s equivalent to the Soviet Union’s Politburo. This well-paced film was shot all around the world and includes interviews with prominent economists, analysts, politicians etc.

Departing from world politics and focusing more on the representation of Greek society in turmoil, one can find more documentaries still within the current affairs genre, aimed principally at foreign audiences.

Children of the riots by Christos Georgiou focuses on the effects of the crisis on the young generation that took to the streets three years ago when the police killed a 15-year-old boy in the centre of Athens causing unprecedented demonstrations and riots. We get to know four of these young people (two of them still teenagers) and their dreams and fears through indepth interviews as they recall the days that defined their identity and their opposition to an establishment that had already failed before its actual collapse. This film, produced for Al Jazeera’s documentary slot “witness”, gives a human face to the newsreel images of protests in Athens and is available online at the channel’s website.

Krisis by Nikos Katsaounis and Nina Maria Pashalidou is a visually exciting film derived from a collective web documentary project (www.theprism.tv). 14 photojournalists with no previous filmmaking experience shot a collective documentation of Greece during 2010-2011 highlighting various themes – not necessarily related to the crisis – and producing high quality audiovisual reportage pieces addressed to an international audience. Some of these miniature films were eventually woven together in a “prismatic” feature documentary that presents diverse characters reacting to these harsh times intercut with Greek analysts offering the viewer a sociopolitical introduction to the failures of the Greek modern state. In political terms this film presents a more moderate approach and has already found its way to important festivals and markets.

Message from Greece by Mosjkan Ehrari and Vassili Vougiatzis, both journalists based in Germany, focuses on employment problems and the option of emigration through three characters: a building contractor on an island, an Athenian waitress earning very little and about to emigrate – and the leader of Locomondo, a popular band in Germany that fuses reggae with traditional Greek music and that acts as a moderator between the two cultures.

If one adds to this selection some other documentaries (on the Argentinian crisis for example, or the case of Ireland made by filmmaker Yorgos Avgeropoulos for ERT’s series “exandas”) it becomes evident that current affairs documentaries in the past two years have been doing rather well in addressing the public’s need to make some sense out of this crisis, to be informed adequately and form political judgements. Greek audiences in particular can “use” these films in a process of re-examining past and future, and perhaps question one’s values regarding his/her individual responsibility or even to decide how to vote in the forthcoming elections.

Documentary however has many fronts and the crisis is not only a good subject for debates and political analysis but also for the ancient art of storytelling. Apart from passing on information, documentary has unique potential to recreate an experience, shifting the viewer’s point of view to that of other people’s – at the very moment those individual lives intersect with society. Whether we acknowledge it or not, personal narratives and family narratives are now emerging that will shape our personal and collective identities for many years to come. Repeating the much quoted motto by Patricio Guzman “a nation without documentaries is like a family without a photo album”. Well these family photos are out there now and some documentary filmmakers feel it is their social responsibility to record them.

Greek documentary has made impressive progress in the last 15 years. The tradition of the expository mode of narration, in informative or “poetic” documentaries, has benefited by the delayed introduction of the observational mode in our film language, the recording of the present. Today, in a time of sparse funding, while people with any professional background seem to be “blocked”, our new generation of filmmakers is facing a challenge. Unfortunately, it seems that challenge is here to stay.


© EDN/ModernTimes (previously published in DOX Magazine).
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