Some Scattered Thoughts on the Greek Documentaries I Came Across in Thessaloniki…

in 17th Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival

by Gia Giovanni

This year's 17th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival: Images of the 21st Century is now completed. The expected excitement, consisting of surprises, originality, innovation and authenticity, was absent from the general impression given by the Greek documentaries. The Greek selections, like the International ones, were divided into thematic categories. There were Views of the World; Stories to Tell; Recordings of Memory; Portraits, Human Journeys; Human rights; and Habitat, to name just some. With only subtle differences between such categories, some of these films could easily overlap within the summary category Society...

A brilliant example of this is one of the festival's interesting films, which falls into the category Recordings of memory. Following Shira's Journey: A Greek Jewish Odyssey (2014) was made by Carol Gordon and Natalie Kaningam, two Australian filmmakers who explore the history of Greece's Jewish communities, focusing—through personal testimonials—on what happened under the Nazi occupation and offering precious historical information of great importance to a contemporary audience. We are informed that many Greek Jews joined the National Resistance and fought with ELAS (the National People's Liberation Army). What's really impressive is that in the Thessaly region, where ELAS was a strong force, not one single Jew was sent to concentration camps. This film could perfectly fit under most of the categories.

The cinema in general—fiction, non-fiction, documentary—is still the most important of all arts, as a reproducible and widely distributable mass medium, as an ideal tool for suggesting ideas and providing information. The documentary, as a dramatic factual film, stands out from the other types of non-fiction because it provides an opinion and a specific message, along with its facts.

A series of questions are inevitably raised regarding the relationship that the documentary has towards society divided by class, especially in our days of deep capitalist economic crisis, something that constitutes an alibi for the demolition of all labor, civil and insurance rights for the working class. And film itself poses the problem of the relationship between the artist and the classist society in the age of decadent capitalism. Does the documentary give a real image of society? Does the documentary dare to scratch deep into the surface of society? Does the documentary use tools suitable for interpreting reality?

Even if the external "packaging" of a documentary's relationship to reality seems realistic, the mode of realism itself, which is ideological, does not reproduce reality, but merely the dominant sense of reality. On the other hand it is well known that the mode and relations of production determine, to a large extent, the ideological orientation of the film. Given that cinema, both fiction and non-fiction, is a business activity because of the economic constraints on its production, it is obvious that a filmmaker's independence lies somewhere between problematic to nonexistent.

Non Omnis Moriar (2014) is the title of an independent production about a long strike at the privately owned Hellenic Steel factory filmed by Theodosia Grammatikou from its very beginning in November 2011 to its end, nine months later. Grammatikou's class-oriented documentary shows how and why this strike became part of the history of the labor movement and why it was embraced by thousands of workers from around the world. The voiceover, which scientifically supports the facts presented, tying the general concept of the strike to the specific, is priceless.

The political documentary The Fish on the Mountain (2014) by Stratoula Theodoratou could, in a way, have been on the same wavelength. The film refers to the city of Perama, originally built for the needs of the Ship Repair Zone and currently drowning in immeasurable unemployment. Theodoratou puts the problem under the microscope, delving into its aspects and facets. The viewer learns through this documentary that, according to the EU's political choices, there should not be a ship-repairing sector in Greece...

Some Greek filmmakers looked for the subjects outside of Greece. They went to Spain, Chile, Rwanda... Others, like the well known TV journalist—and now member of European Parliament—Stelios Kouloglou, participated in the Festival of Thessaloniki with a standard, fresh TV documentary entitled Escape from Amorgos (2015). The film refers to an international cosmopolitan "conspiracy" organized for a politician named Georgios Mylonas, a former minister and would-be successor of George Papandreou, to escape from the island of Amorgos where the Junta exiled him in 1969. The arbitrary scenes at the beginning and the end, featuring the henchmen of Golden Dawn, act as the connection of the past with the present...

With these scattered thoughts put on paper the conclusion is that, except for the first three documentaries I referred to in this article, there was no real excitement, no surprise, innovation nor authenticity in this year's contributions. The level of most of the films was low with their objects lacking of real research…

Edited by José Teodoro
© FIPRESCI 2015

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