The Risk of Change

in 15th Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival

by Nikos Tsagarakis

Nikos Dayandas is one of the core creative members of Anemon Productions, one of the most prolific Greek production companies based in Athens, with a systematic production of documentaries that stand out for their sensitive issues, spruce filming and multiple distinctions, with Sugartown: The Bridegrooms (Sugartown: Oi gabroi) (Kimon Tsakiris, 2006), The Call of the Mountain (To kalesma tou vounou) (Stelios Apostolopoulos, 2009) and The Game Must Go On (Angeliki Andrikopoulou & Argyris Tsepelikas, 2009) being among notable examples. In the 14th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, Dayandas won the FIPRESCI prize for his fascinating Sayome. This year he returned with Little Land and won two prizes from the WWF and ET3 (Macedonia branch of Greek state television).

The movie talks about one of the millions of victims of the financial crisis in Greece, 35-year-old unemployed computer programmer Thodoris, who decides to move from Athens to the island of Ikaria, in order to support himself by cultivating the land, and to follow a purer and more relaxed way of life, far from the anxiety and career deadlock of the metropolis. On the island, he becomes acquainted with the open-hearted inhabitants, who are world-famous for their high life expectancy, but also with young people of his own age that are in the same situation as his, trying to create the circumstances that will allow them to live autonomously, by providing for themselves. The film talks about two generations of people, one of which has lived a difficult but happy life beyond the average life expectancy limit, and the other which desires the same but for the time being is trying to find the means to achieve it.

The film attempts to offer a hopeful vision of the Greek economic crisis, by travelling to the island of Ikaria, where it studies the everyday routine of its inhabitants who are famous for their longevity, while it also follows the struggle of young people to win their autonomy and self-subsistence, far from a system that has ‘thrown them out’ as a programmer like Thodoris might see it. As in his previous film, also a co-production between Greek ERT and French ARTE, Dayandas presents a very well-made piece of work that approaches its subject with lucidity and sensitivity, exuding a genuine feeling of optimism, without naivete.

The narration begins with Thodoris, who remains the central figure until the end, but it gradually introduces more people who at the same time multiply the issues. From Thodoris and the economic crisis, we go to the Ikarians and their longevity, which the film examines from the inhabitants’ perspective but also from that of the French PhD student who is doing his field research on the subject. Also, we see the attempts at self-organisation of the younger immigrants to the island, which begin with their proposal to the city council and result in them taking the matter into their own hands without any state help. Finally we meet Thodoris’ girlfriend, who initially comes to live with him on the island, but they eventually split up and she ends up a character on her own in the plot.

Just like the multi-faceted Sayome, Little Land disappoints perhaps in only one aspect, in that its duration restricts the variety of issues that emerge in the story, as there is not enough time for them to develop in more complete relation, leaving the ending looking hurried and forced.

However, the open ending matches perfectly the ‘grounded’ approach of the director, who is not interested in creating a naive utopian vision, but in exploring the possibility of hope in desperate circumstances. The film achieves this exactly because it recognizes the difficulties of the situation and is smart and brave enough to admit that it doesn’t have some magic potion with which to fix everything, nor is the success of its heroes’ efforts made certain. Despite the wellbeing and the constant smile of the Ikarians, the film is sure to remind us that their day-to-day life is not exactly idyllic. The island goes through harsh seasons within a year, while the inhabitants must rely on their own means and effort to overcome hardship. The film does not walk in the clouds, nor does it try to make an easy promise, but follows the youthful spirit of its heroes — young and old — and shows strong self-esteem and belief in the risk of change.

Methodical framing and editing, clear sound, calm and concise voice-over by the director himself, and mainly the smile and vigor of the Ikarians, along with the serene cinematography, make for a positive, realistic portrayal, and a message of hope and solidarity that urges collaborative action as an antidote to the marginalization of Greek youth.

Edited by Carmen Gray