Words by

Marina Ashioti

Uncovering a new wave of innovative Greek documentaries

The 23th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival showcases a selection of top homegrown talent.

With the pandemic having refashioned our everyday reality into something ever so fragile, a sense of something lost looms over us. This overarching sense of loss features prominently in the dynamic and versatile collection of 151 short and feature length documentaries that comprise the line-up of the 23rd Thessaloniki Documentary Festival. Applying the question of what has been lost to the process of cinematic creation, the line-up contains individual innovations but, like all good festivals, comes with a satisfying sense of cohesion.

After a migration to online screenings for 2020, this year the festival adopts a hybrid format of screenings in open-air cinemas and terraces, as well as an online component that runs between June 24 and July 4, while also presenting a new podcast section to explore the affinities between the genres. Of the massive line-up, we’ve decided to focus on five Greek documentaries, each with diverse subject matters and that dwell in raw methods of storytelling and craft to explore new forms of care, humanity and community.

First up is Christos Barbas’ Through the Window Glass, Three Acts which offers a cinematic imprint of intimacy – a testament to the forgings of family and community that arise in the face of struggle. Documenting three weeks in a voluntary enclosure from the POV of staff of a care home in the Athenian suburb of Agios Stefanos, we’re met with a compelling endeavour of unconditional support for the needs of the elderly in a time of unprecedented isolation. We are then confronted with people who long for life, beauty and excitement, despite the confines of old age and societal neglect.

Speaking of societal neglect, the threat to democracy posed by Golden Dawn, the most notorious far-right populist party in Greece (and Europe at large), is chronicled through the tragic murder of the young anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in Angélique Kourounis’ Golden Dawn: a Public Affair. The backbone of the documentary consists of a six-year long trial against the criminal organisation, while tracing forms of resistance against the ideological plague posed by neo-nazism within contemporary Greek society. With social and political tensions running rife, does regular justice suffice? How can we collectively resist the rise of a new wave of fascism that co-opts left-wing tactics to appear ‘for the people’?

The thread of personal and marginal stories told through a broad political canvas also becomes the thematic essence of Marianna Kakaounaki’s Invisible. The filmmaker stages a direct and intimate inquiry into the lives of migrants, their feelings of immeasurable loss and their practices of preservation. Fleeing from a wave of persecution by the Turkish government due to their support of the Gülen movement, Ebubekir and Gonza Kara, along with their three children are pushed towards exile. As well as the Kara family, the documentary follows Ahmet, a former doctor who in an attempt to fight for migrant visibility, has begun to feel more at home in Athens. This inherently political narrative of vulnerability, precarity and disenfranchisement, shows that home is not somewhere you leave behind. When in exile, home is a place in which you’re always arriving.

An image of Athens is similarly depicted through the marginal perspective within Eva Stefani’s Days and Nights of Demetra K. The camera acts as an active witness that delineates a portrait of Demetra, an Athenian sex worker and president of her union. Within a participatory and non-narrative character study, Demetra’s magnetic and distinctive personality is charted throughout a period of twelve years, in tandem with a portrait of a city that changes form due to the devastating effects of a financial crisis. Wounds that cannot heal even with the passage of time, as well as discourse surrounding sex work, exploitation and desire are portrayed through the way time acts as a structural element within the film, with Demetra watching older footage as if she were reading the pages of an old diary.

Offering a profile of his mother Gabriela, director Domenikos Ignatiadis engages in the particularities and peculiarities of personal experience, crafted through its synthesis with archival material. Gabriela: The German with the Bicycle sees Ignatiadis as an autobiographical essayist; an effort to reconcile with his mother’s desire to flee out of despair from suffocating and unsustainable environments, in a double move of self-destruction and perseverance. A journey from the German metropolis of Stuttgart to the Greek agricultural village of Alexandreia in Imathia traces the life of someone always in motion, always running towards the unknown; a woman of grit who had the expectation of building a real family, something she’d been deprived of since childhood.

For more info on the 23rd Thessaloniki Documentary Festival visit filmfestival.gr/en/documentary-festival

Published 24 Jun 2021

Tags: Greek Cinema Thessaloniki Documentary Festival Thessaloniki International Film Festival

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