Margins of Europe

in 18th Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival

by Melis Behlil

Being able to peruse the yearly cinematic output of a particular country, especially when the films in question are documentaries, provides one with a snapshot of the most pressing issues of the nation at that particular time. The Greek selection this year at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival had a number of issues and themes that conspicuously stuck out. One could, of course, expect to see stories on the ongoing refugee crisis, such as Morteza Jafari’s very topical Dreaming of Life or Marianna Economou’s touching The Longest Run. Similarly, the economic meltdown of Greece over the last few years was in the background of many films, and very much a part of the narrative in Apostolos Karakasis’ Next Stop: Utopia about a bankrupt factory now run by its workers.

But two other tropes that appeared in a number of films, while appearing to be not directly related to these topics, provided a glimpse at what it feels to be living in Greece circa 2015 AD. Several films told stories of, and from, jailhouses old and new. In addition to The Longest Run, which follows two young Kurdish men awaiting trial under arrest, Menelaos Karamaghiolis’ A Second Chance looked at a Lithuanian juvenile prisoner trying to build a new life for himself in Greece, and Dimitris Koutsiabasakos’ Silent Witness focused on the history of a now abandoned prison. At the same time, an odd subgenre seemed to emerge at this festival: documentaries about elderly Greeks living on Aegean islands. These films included True Blue by Haris Raftogiannis (with a very old couple on Icaria), “Morning Neighbor!” by Tania Chatzigeorgiou (about the only couple on the tiny island of Kinaros) and the FIPRESCI national selection winner, Whispers of the Sky by Maro Anastopoulou. The latter focused on the lives of two men who have spent their entire lives on the same small island without ever meeting one another: a farmer and a sailor, living their lives quietly, yet intensely, on the island of Amorgos. In fact, the sailor is the one providing weekly rations for the old couple in “Morning Neighbor!”, who appear briefly in this film as well.

The sense of isolation and being helpless in the face of a quickly changing world permeates all these films, much like the feeling one gets when walking among bankrupt and shuttered storefronts in Thessaloniki. In addition to the continuing financial crisis, Greece is burdened with thousands of refugees fleeing their countries to start a new life for themselves, now no longer accepted into other European countries and stuck in refugee camps along the Macedonian border not too far from Thessaloniki itself. For now, there seems to be no clear solution to either of these issues. In the meantime, the only silver lining is the surge in documentaries, trying to make sense of this mad new world.

Edited by Carmen Gray