Dr Irini Sarioglou was born in Istanbul in 1972. She is Associate Professor of contemporary history at Istanbul University (Modern Greek Studies) and General Secretary of the Hellenic History Foundation in Athens. She specializes in contemporary Greek and late Ottoman/modern Turkish history (19th -20th century). Her filmography includes: Zappeion High School for Girls (Script-Research-Narration-Translation), The Ten Day Diary (Concept-Research-Script-Narration-Translation), The Exiled (Concept-Research-Script-Narration-Translation), The Silent School (Co-Directing-Script-Research), Imvros and Tenedos islands: A tale of memories (Co-Directing-Script-Research), Mikis Theodorakis’ Nea Smyrna, On the edge of the Aegean, Castellorizo (Co-Directing-ScriptResearch). She is the Director of the “Beyond the Borders’’ International Documentary Festival, Castellorizo.
In an interview published in the October issue of the Newsletter of the Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in London, Sarioglou explains that the idea of establishing the “Beyond Borders” International Documentary Festival on the island of Catellorizo was born upon the completion of a historical documentary about the island. Sarioglou notes that the Hellenic History Foundation in Athens founded the Festival, aiming to establish Castellorizo as a meeting place for makers of historical and socio-political documentaries and to attract important representatives of cinema and culture from around the world, and she elaborates on the steps taken to achieve it.
You are the soul and driving force behind Castellorizo’s International Documentary Festival. How did you come up with the idea of ‘Beyond Borders’?
The Hellenic History Foundation is indeed the organizer and instigator of the International Documentary Festival of Castellorizo ‘’Beyond Borders’’, held annually in the last week of August, under the auspices of the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and the Municipality of Castellorizo/Megisti. It was established in 2016 following the completion of our own production (On the edge of the Aegean, Castellorizo), a history documentary on Castellorizo island which won the First Prize in 2016 at the Greek Documentary Festival of London. We were really very impressed by the rich history as well as the cultural heritage of Castellorizo and we were keen to organize a special screening of our documentary on the island itself. So after a brainstorming session, we came up with the idea to establish this Festival (instead of organizing just one simple documentary screening) and at the same time have the opportunity ‘’to bring the world to the island of Castellorizo and take Castellorizo island to the world’’, as we plan to travel every year with the award winning films.
What other cultural activities are included in the festival apart from the documentary contest, and why did you choose Castellorizo as the venue?
The Festival has several other cultural activities such as book launches, painting and sculpture exhibitions, cinema workshops for children and adults, free diving lessons, theatrical performances, dancing groups etc. Our aim is to establish Castellorizo as a meeting place for the creators of historical and socio-political documentaries and to attract important representatives of cinema and culture from around the world. The usefulness of the Festival is not limited to the local community and its summer visitors. At a nodal point between East and West, very close to the Lycian coast, the Festival anticipates further cultural cooperation between Castellorizo and Kas. We chose Castellorizo mainly because of its uniqueness as a place, its rich history and impressive beauty.
How challenging is it to organise an international festival at a relatively unknown tiny island at the edge of Greece’s borders, with difficult transport, poor infrastructures and restricted resources?
Well it is not the easiest thing in the world… Having said that, I think our secret is our passion, our love and our determination to establish a high quality International Documentary Festival on the edge of the Aegean. It is amagic scenery and I think everyone falls in love with the island once they have a chance to travel to Castellorizo.
How difficult was it to spread the news for an international documentary competition at Castellorizo so as to attract global interest for documentary submissions?
Well, as the Hellenic History Foundation we have partners from around the world. Our newest partnership this year was with the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) of the University of London. This is why in late October we were invited by IHR to screen the award winning films of Beyond Borders at Curzon cinema. The director of Beyond Borders international development, Michel Noll, is a very experienced advisor not just on international productions but also on international documentary festivals. Although he is based in Paris, every year thanks to his invaluable connections we manage to get impressive publicity in Europe.
How have you come to develop cooperation and partnership with the Institute of Historical Research, University of London?
This year the, during the 3rd Beyond Borders - International Documentary Festival of Castellorizo, our honoured academic partner was the Institute of Historical Research. It is a partnership that will develop further in the years to come. During this year’s Festival, we also held an international panel on fake news. We had the honour to have as key speakers the Director of IHR Professor Jo Fox, Razia Iqbal from BBC as well as Markus Nikel from RAI, and Panagiotis Tsolias from ERT (the Hellenic Broadcasting Cooperation) which was this year’s honored media.
You recently held a screening at Curzon Goldsmiths cinema, Huseyin Tabak’s “The Ugly King”. How did the audience respond to this documentary about a Kurdish filmmaker from Turkey? Were they not likely to expect a film relating to Greece, maybe with a Greek historical or cultural personality?
Beyond Borders is an international film festival. Every year we receive more than 190 documentaries from around the world. The jury selects about 20 to compete in the Festival. Approximately 10 of them are Greek productions and 10 are foreign. Beyond Borders awards 2 prizes, courtesy of the Hellenic Parliament. The jury members are also Greek and foreign experts on documentaries. So the decision really depends on the jury members.
How do you plan to “bring Castellorizo to the world”?
We aim to screen all the award winning films, every year around the world. In April 2018, we were invited to Australia to screen Beyond Borders award winners. Last October we travelled to London and we will shortly be traveling to Cyprus and France to screen once again the award winning films from our ‘boutique Festival’.
After three successful festival organizations would you say that the festival has met its aims and fulfilled your expectations?
I don’t think so…We have a long way to go… So many of our dreams have yet to be realised…
How in your opinion has the Festival influenced Castellorizo’s inhabitants’ life?
Well, in the first year we did not have any other side events or cultural activities, only the screenings and I think that was quite boring for the inhabitants, particularly for the children. In the last two Festivals we managed to incorporate so many side events and finally Beyond Borders has, I believe, become something the inhabitants and the children of Castellorizo really look forward to experience …
What is your vision for the future of the International Castellorizo Festival?
I really hope that in the coming years Beyond Borders can grow further and travel worldwide to make the island and its rich history known to the world.
The Castellorizo Documentary Festival constitutes only a part of the Hellenic History Foundation (IDISME)’s activities. Could you please tell us more about the IDISME’s activities and its aims?
The Hellenic History Foundation (H.H.F.) was founded in 2008 by a team of researchers with the aim of preserving, documenting and disseminating Greek and European history. The basic objective of H.H.F. is to collect, archive, and study historical sources and artifacts. Its activities include the publishing of scientific and literary books and the creation of history documentaries, as well as the organization of scholarly meetings.
H.H.F. works with reputable research centres, both in Greece and abroad, to form an ever-expanding network of collaborators. With more than 45,000 members across Greece, the Hellenic History Foundation is trying hard to increase awareness on the importance of history, heritage and culture. There is no membership fee for people who become members of HHF. Our only source of income is through our publications and documentaries. Our aim is to make history the most popular subject in Greek schools.
3rd “Beyond the Border” International Documentary Festival Castellorizo photos by Yorgos Detsis
Dimitra Vassiliadou is a social and cultural historian of modern Greece, and has published on the history of the family and sexuality, the history of emotions, masculinities and autobiographical discourses. Currently, she is a Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Athens, and teaches at the Hellenic Open University.
Her latest book “The Tropic of Writing: Family ties and Emotions in Modern Greece, 1850-1930” (in Greek: Στον τροπικό της γραφής Οικογενειακοί δεσμοί και συναισθήματα στην αστική Ελλάδα, 1850-1930, 2018) based on large collections of private letters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, traces the emotional cultures of middle-class families in Athens. Her ongoing project “Forbidden Emotions: Melancholy and Family at the Turn of a Century” focuses on autobiographical discourses of melancholy, and explores the historical transformation of a disorderly emotion into a disease. As a member of a research team based in the University of Crete that works on the History of Sexuality in twentieth-century Greece, she is researching sexual violence in the Interwar period.
Dimitra Vassiliadou spoke to Rethinking Greece* about love as the prescriptive element of family bliss in turn of the twentieth century Greece, the Western ideal of the "emotional family", how ethnographies of rural families in Greece connect to her work on upper middle class families in Athens, individual and collective emotions as levers for historical change, the idea of "healthy" and rational love as the only path to a successful marriage, as well as the gradual acceptance of the corporality of marital love in early twentieth century. Furthermore, she discusses her latest research on sexual crimes in Interwar Greece and how victims and perpretrators alike navigated the legal system of the time. Finally, she talks about the organization of the recent Histories of Sexuality conference, concluding that the gender perspective is finally gathering momentum in Greece as more young researchers are using the analytical tool of gender in research and projects that can be categorized under the "history of gender" are proliferating.
The subject of your book is the formation of family ties, mainly within the Athenian upper middle classes, from the late 19th to the early 20th century, when the ideal of the ‘emotional family’ becomes dominant. Could you tell us more about this ideal?
In my work, I see the family as one of the emotional communities (an analytical concept introduced by medievalist Barbara Rosenwein) that people inhabit during the course of their lives. The emotional community of the middle-class family at the turn of the twentieth century in Greece fostered and encouraged specific emotional behaviors in its members, while it criticized or rejected others. The central working hypothesis that runs through the book is that "love", as a state of things – that is to say, as emotion, action and affinity – was firmly endorsed by the emerging Greek middle classes of the nineteenth century. Love represented a central metaphor and a symbol, and gradually became the prescriptive element of family bliss.
Nonetheless, the "emotional family" as an ideal is a construction of Western modernity: modern societies saw family as a world of affection and emotion, the idea being that this was not available in the past. The argument was that during the early modern period, parents were not emotionally attached to their children, as infant mortality rates were high. At the same time, marital affection and companionship were thought to have been only a sporadic and random phenomenon, as marriage was in most cases determined by economic criteria.
According to this scheme – that remained dominant among historians until the 1980s – the coming of the modern industrial era set forth the transition from the pragmatic to the emotional family. From this time onwards, free, individual choice of marriage partner prevailed, and family relationships were rife with rich and profound emotions. Positive emotional experiences were recognized as the gratifications and privileges of domestic life and were identified predominantly with women. At the same time, public life, male par excellence, was now perceived as an emotionally bare place of tough competition.
In recent decades however, historians of the early modern period have convincingly demonstrated that the "emotional family" was not new in the Western world. People expressed their emotions in earlier times too, but in distinct ways and means, i.e. using different emotional vocabularies. In addition, it became clear that emotions cannot be attributed exclusively to the private or the public sphere, nor linked solely to one or the other gender.
Rural Greece has been the inspiration for several social anthropology contributions to the analysis of gender and family relations (John K. Campbell, Ernestine Friedl, Juliet Du Bouley, Marie-Elisabeth Handman). How does your research on Greek urban upper middle class families relate to these works?
Ethnographers of kinship and family were the first who recognized the social character of domestic affairs, underlining that family ties are not "natural", a-historic entities with a fixed and universal content, but are constructed socially and culturally, and are therefore subject to change. Although primarily focused on small-scale rural communities in Greece, ethnographic research provided, from the 1950s onwards, an abundance of analytical tools for cultural understandings of kinship. Numerous studies have focused on the Greek family, its kinship systems and the ambiguous ways they operated across gender lines. These early ethnographers analyzed dominant perceptions of masculinity and femininity in kinship relations, identified family as a community of interest, perceived marital strategies as an exchange between groups, and, finally, conceptualized marriage as a reciprocal and complementary, albeit hierarchical, relation.
My conversation with these rich ethnographies has been effortless and productive. Let me elaborate on that, with an example from my research on middle-class Athenian families. Acknowledging the centrality of marriage, I turn to the dominant discourses of the time regarding spouse selection and the ambiguous and inconsistent correlations between "emotions" and "interests". The idea that deep emotions could jeopardize material aspects of human relations, as well as its opposite, the fear that serving material interests could lead to the corruption of moral sentiments, were both common beliefs of the time. In the end, families managed to harmoniously synthesize material interests with emotional needs. This line of thought draws on Bernard Vernier's findings from his ethnographic research on the 1970s island of Karpathos on first-born and last-born daughters. Vernier highlighted the ways in which last-born daughters who were forced to invest their interests in the household of their first-born sister, transmuted their exploitation and unpaid work to a selfless offering to their family: interests and emotions were inextricably linked.
But what can be said of this close affinity of historical research on the family relations of the Greek bourgeoisie in the late nineteenth, and early twentieth century with the ethnographies of rural Greece many decades later, and despite the radically different historical contexts? Does it give us an insight into the diffusion of cultural patterns among different social categories over time?
Your research seems to introduce a history of emotions approach to Greek historiography. What does this approach signify?
Over the last few decades the history of emotions has emerged as a dynamic field of historical research; emotions have ceased to be viewed as the poor relations of reason, as researchers today agree that dualities such as "reason/emotion" or "mind/soul" are culturally constructed, and stress the need to complicate these binaries in order to fully understand people and their societies in the past. The history of emotions leads us to the heart of human existence, recognizing that emotions, both individual and collective, are levers for historical change. In other words, if being human means to experience joy, pleasure, pain, sorrow, anger, etc., it is essential to acknowledge the different meanings attached to these emotions, the social values they reflect, the individual and collective practices they trigger (as emotions are not just something we "feel" but also something we "do"), and finally recognize how all the above, affected social, political and economic life in the past.
Up until now, this approach has been applied only sporadically in Greek histories and historiographies, meaning that a coherent analytical or methodological body of work was not available. However, since I am interested in the cultural formation of family ties in Greece from the mid-nineteenth, up to the first decades of the twentieth century, the history of emotions was the only plausible research path to follow. In my book I illustrate the emotional culture of family relations, reflecting on notions of gender and kinship and exploring the needs, expectations and hierarchies they expressed and/or produced.Furthermore, I query the emotional vocabulary individuals embraced, and, paraphrasing J. L. Austin, I seek how they learned to "do things with emotions" within the family realm. I attempt to answer these questions using the methodology of "history from below": Firmly grounded in five large bodies of family correspondence, I trace the individual voices of men and women, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers, lovers and spouses. The explicit choice of exploring human relationships through the intimate reading of private correspondence, offers rare insights into individuals reflecting on themselves, their relations with specific others, and the world around them.
The use of emotive language in family correspondence is ever-present and varied; however, the word "love", is often used excessively to signify whatever is understood as the essence of family ties. Love, whether conjugal, motherly, paternal or brotherly, constitutes a recurring pattern for people at the time, guiding their actions and forming the bedrock on which the complex and contrasting meanings of the family ideal are developed.
But, what kind of "love" and how much of it, was considered appropriate for a successful marriage? If we problematize the juxtaposition between reason and emotion, arranged marriage and free choice, appreciation and love, utilitarianism and altruism, we see that understanding these dualities as polar opposites obscures the complexities and ambiguities attached to choosing a life partner. It seems that for middle-class couples and their families, the boundaries between arranged marriage and free choice were in constant negotiation.
During that time, rational marriage was considered far superior and preferable than the emotional one, and this pragmatic vision of the bourgeois marriage imposed the total rejection of romantic love (eros) as "noxious”, devastating and uncontrollable. The need to ensure long-lasting and stable marital relationships dictated qualifying moral, logical and "healthy" love as more valuable. Besides, romantic love could break all established hierarchies and prohibitions, bringing together two incompatible people, with different upbringing, characters and social positions. A marriage union not based on socio-economic compatibility was doomed to fail and destabilize the very foundation of society.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, this kind of compatibility finds in Greece, as elsewhere, its absolute expression in the ideal of companionate marriage. This model identified distinct but complementary qualities in the two sexes that were, depending on the context, god-given, natural, or scientifically proven. However, this idealized image of the marital relationship, in practice condemned to obscurity the power relations and the hierarchies behind the moral values of companionship and reciprocity.
How did the gender transformations of the first decades of the 20th century in Greece (massive admission of women to the workplace, enrichment and intensification of women's demands) influence the expression of sexuality and the hegemonic patterns of femininity and manhood?
As mentioned above, during the nineteenth century, marital love was consistently understood as antagonistic to erotic desire and sexual longing, even if the only acceptable sexual activity at the time was conjugal sexuality. This uncomfortable co-existence was the reason for stifling any explicit written reference to corporeal erotic desire. This was especially true of middle-class women, who were described either as unable to control their lascivious nature or as completely impervious to sexual urges. Strongly influenced by the moral imperatives of a theological / ecclesiastical vernacular, the predominant discourses of the time normalized sexual desire by turning it into "love".
These beliefs seem to be shifting considerably in the first decades of the twentieth century, especially in the interwar years. The body is now resolutely present, not only in the letters but also in the lives of couples, as their love expands to include sexual desire. Perhaps, sexual relations are beginning to be perceived as ties that can further strengthen marital affection, where previously they were understood – at best – as its physical consequence.
These changes are of course connected to wider transformations that occurred in Greek society during this period. By way of illustration only, we can note the dynamic presence of women in the public sphere, now compounded by demands for participation in the workforce and politics, in practices of mass consumption and in commercialized entertainment. These phenomena could not leave the private sphere and everything associated with it unaffected.
The changes I observe in marital sexuality, the most common – as well the least divulged – sexual experience of people of the time, could be also associated with the proliferation of public discourses, especially in the field of medical science, advocating openly, perhaps for the first time, the need for some kind of a sexual education for men and women. Undoubtedly, these discourses were strongly tainted by the dominant anti-hedonist ethics of the time. However, no one could control how these texts would be interpreted by their intended readers and what personal practices they could lead to. For some people, instead of numbing their sexuality, these medical texts could instead have encouraged them to explore it.
Is the ideal of the emotional family still alive today in Greece?
I think there is one thing we can be sure of: even a cursory glance at past and present discourses on the family is enough to ascertain that intimate relations in Greece are normatively framed almost exclusively in positive terms. That is why, whenever positive emotions are absent from the family, this is condemned first individually, and then socially and institutionally. I think this dimension emerges very clearly in the proliferation of modern cultural texts on the dysfunctions of the Greek family, as demonstrated in the recent work of Dimitris Papanikolaou, "There is something about the [Greek] family". Reading his interview in Rethinking Greece, I realized that what we call Greek exceptionalism continues to shape the terms of almost every conversation on modern Greece, even when it is identified – as does Papanikolaou – as a cultural construction. I am in agreement with him that this is the most interesting aspect of Greek exceptionalism.
Moreover, for us historians, "Greek exceptionalism" is one of the most common discourses to be found in primary sources, as well as in recent scholarly work. It is, for example, the stereotypical answer to almost every question on individual and collective identities, offered as an explanation of either "Greek greatness" or "Greek misfortune" – depending on the context. In the specific field that I study, the cultural history of middle class families at that time, I was not surprised to find out that family relationships and their emotional economy in Greece were, far from any national exceptionalism, absolutely comparable to the examples of other Western countries of the same period.
But to return to the question of the "emotional family" ideal today. There is no doubt that the community of emotions constituted by the modern Greek family differs significantly from that of the middle-class family at the turn of the twentieth century. Even if we accept that "love" in the family is a pre-existing frame of meaning, we need more specialized research to reveal what kind of emotional economy it produces nowadays.
Your current project focuses on sexual crimes in interwar Greece. Would you like to talk to us about the primary findings of your research and the wider issues they highlight?
Very recently, as part of the research program of the University of Crete, “Towards a History of Sexuality of the Greek Twentieth Century: Practices, Discourses and Identities”, I have focused on the study of sexual violence in Greece from 1914 to 1940 based on court cases from the Aegean islands. Although I am still at the very beginning of what is shaping to be a much wider research project on sexual violence, and to the extent that our historical knowledge of sexual offenses in Greece is still almost non-existent, I posed some quite elementary questions. My main goal is to place the Greek case study within the context of international research on sexual violence, albeit not as a historical exemption but as a historical problem. Under the criminal law in force during the Interwar period, rape fell within a category of offenses against public morals, meaning that it was an offence against the state. We will have to enter the post-war period to recognize rape in Greek criminal law as an offence against the person (today, against sexual freedom).
In any case, rapes are part of what we call the "dark figure" of crime: not only because the incidents that come to be reported are scarce but also because even when rapes become the subject of a historical study, the trauma they caused is not easily revealed. However, if we associate specific court cases with the broader sexual culture of the time, we can see that some common discourses on rape that seem immutable and, therefore, timeless, actually have a history.
During the Interwar period, for example, the boundaries between consensus and coercion, violent sex and sexual violence in Greece were still blurred, which made it even more difficult for a woman´s complaint to be believed; there was no fixed distinction between rape, seduction, kidnapping, assault and misconduct. It is also clear that ethical concerns had a decisive impact on the outcome of a complaint. For example, some rape accusations were considered ploys of women attempting to conceal their supposedly immoral life.
Finally, the court records highlight the strategies pursued by the perpetrators as well as the victims and their families in their effort to make justice fit their needs – they were not merely subjected to it. Behind some rape accusations were "ruined" girls, often pregnant, playing their final and strongest card to be socially "rehabilitated", continuing, through the judicial process, efforts they had begun outside it. Cases like that are numerous in the source material, but the stories they tell are few, almost identical. However, they reveal how a sexual relationship is transformed from a private matter into a public, criminal litigation.
As a member of Historians for Research in Women's and Gender History, the Greek section of the International Federation for Research in Women’s History, you were one of the main organizers of the "Histories of Sexuality" conference. What were the key conference outcomes? What is the level of relevant research in Greece today?
The idea of organizing a scientific conference devoted to the history of sexuality was not new to our team. It kept coming back to our meetings over the last few years, as a desideratum, along with the awkward realization that there exist very few sexuality studies in Greek historiography. It would be worth considering the reasons behind the silence of Greek historians on this very central aspect of the human experience, especially since other fields of social sciences in Greece, notably anthropologists and linguists have already shown keen interest in sexuality, closely following relevant international research developments.
Drawing on a variety of sources, from archives and press cuttings, to travel journals, sexologists' treatises and oral interviews, literature and visual arts, the lecturers examined aspects of medical, legal, political or colonial discourse, referring to matters of contraception, prostitution, rape, venereal diseases and pornography, studied the paths and expressions of love, presented the action and the reaction of the subjects in specific historical and social contexts and identified changes through time. The conference closed with a speech by Professor Joanna Bourke, titled "Melancholic Narratives and Rape Trauma: A History of Psychiatry and Sexual Violence, 1870s to the Present". The difficult beginning was made, and the future of the history of sexuality in Greece now seems more promising.
Post 1974 Greek historiography has been mainly focused on economic history, political institutions and political crises like the civil war period, i.e. “masculine” subjects of research. Would you like to comment?
I am not a supporter of the argument that insists that "masculine" and "feminine" fields of research exist. Modern historians on the contrary redirect our focus onto how men and women have been linked “naturally” to specific and antithetical spheres of human activity, and how these categorizations shaped not only common perceptions on these issues, but also their understandings by contemporary researchers.
Let us also recall that in Greece, as elsewhere, feminist historians during the 1980s focused predominately on women's actions in the public sphere: namely political activity, nationalism, education and paid work.
On the one hand, it is somewhat true that these well-established fields of historical research (war, politics and the state), are still extremely attractive to experienced and younger researchers alike. On the other hand, in Greek historiographies, it can be very difficult to find gendered readings of the (masculine) area of politics, such as analyses of the competing masculinities that dominated the state and the central political scene, or how the masculine ideal was formed by political parties and ideologies.
Equally, we have not studied the interconnection between masculinity, war, nationalism and national ideology; these are fields of research that have known enormous growth in other historiographical traditions. We do not know, for example, anything about what impact WWII and the Civil War had on masculinities, or how gendered conventions and warriors' experiences shaped the perception of these wars, despite the flood of researchers currently studying the 1940s.
On the other hand, I think we are at a time when the social history of modern Greece has already accrued a significant body of work, as is evident in the recent round-table discussion among five historians published in Social History journal (The social history of modern Greece: a roundtable, 2017). In this debate it becomes obvious that there are quite a few Greek historians who use the analytical tool of gender in their research and that projects that can be categorized under the "history of gender" have multiplied (see for example reviews of the field by Efi Avdela, Eleni Fournaraki - Yiannis Yiannitsiotis and Nikos Papadogiannis). At the same time several relevant courses have been introduced to Greek universities. Something is happening with gender in Greece, there is no doubt about it!
Asteris Koutoulas. Photo by Guido Karp
Based on over 600 hours of filmed material starring Mikis Theodorakis in any possible situation, “Dance Fight Love Die: With Mikis on the road“ by Asteris Koutoulas is a hybrid film on the hybrid life of one of Greece’s most prolific figures, composer Mikis Theodorakis. For thirty years (between 1987 and 2017), Asteris Koutoulas organized many major Theodorakis concerts around the world, while he accompanied and occasionally filmed Theodorakis on his travels. This resulted in accumulated film footage of Theodorakis’ travels around the world. Koutoulas complemented this material with "fictional" shootings (filmed by DOP Mike Geranios) adding a subplot inspired by Theodorakis' autobiography "The ways of the Archangel". This docu-fiction film, an experimental portrait of the artist, offers an insight to lesser known aspects of Theodorakis' personality, while it cites the universal influence of his music.
Asteris Koutoulas is a Berlin-based Greek-German music and event producer, publicist, filmmaker and author. Born to Greek political refugees in Romania in 1960, Asteris Kutulas and his family moved to East Germany in 1968. He graduated from Dresden’s Kreuzschule and went on to study German philology and history of philosophy at Leipzig University (1979–1984). Since 1981, he has translated numerous works of notable Greek authors into German. Asteris Kutulas has been working as a producer in the events industry since 1979. In 2014 Kutulas produced “Recycling Medea”, his first feature film, and “Dance Fight Love Die - With Mikis on the Road” in 2018. He has also initiated Hellas Filmbox Berlin, the first Greek film festival in the German capital in 2016
Asteris Koutoulas talked to Greek News Agenda* about his latest film, elaborating how he and his co-screenwriter Ina Koutoulas picked a completely new aesthetic approach that could capture and convey the vast musical and poetic cosmos of Mikis Theodorakis in a modern cinematic form, where diversity and experimentation are focal elements.
Mikis Theodorakis & Asteris Kutulas, East Berlin 1985 Photo © by Privatier Asti Music
Your latest film is the fruit of your collaboration with Mikis Theodorakis since the 80’s. You have been filming a huge volume of footage over these years. How and when did you decide to make a film?
The film was made after my wife and co-screenwriter Ina, had sat day in day out for over 9 months sifting through the 600 hours of film material covering a period of 30 years and documented it in detail. Rather than leaving it at that, she felt, naturally enough, that I should do something with this footage. Ina expected me to come up with something and she convinced me to develop the concept for this film on the basis of her preliminary work. It took me about 2 years. However, you have to know that Klaus Salge and I had already produced a classic documentary about Theodorakis for the television station ARTE in 2010, which has been shown frequently on television and at various film festivals. It is called "Mikis Theodorakis. Composer". Apart from this there are more than 40 documentaries that have been made around the world over the last few decades, mainly on the biographical and political aspects of the extraordinary life of Mikis Theodorakis. So, Ina and I could now pick a completely new aesthetic approach that could capture and convey the vast musical and poetic cosmos of this unique artist in a very modern and meaningful cinematic form. This otherness, this enormous diversity had fascinated us for a long time, and we finally wanted to make it possible to experience it in a film which itself represents otherness.
Mikis Theodorakis 1984 Photo © by Privatier Asti Music
Mikis Theodorakis is one of the most prolific figures in Greece’s cultural and political life. How has the prospect of making a film about a living myth influenced your work?
For me, the film was a concept art project from the very beginning, more of an energy field than a movie. The birth of a film from the spirit of music. "Dance Fight Love Die" is an idiosyncratic portrait of an idiosyncratic artist whom we understand as a composite of poetry, music, philosophy, art, history and politics - or as Joseph Beuys said about Theodorakis: an example of a "social sculpture". The film corresponds to the anarchic spirit of Mikis Theodorakis. Ina and I - as co-authors and co-producers - have created a cinematic poem, a film about the power of the "universal harmony" of music and poetry. This is also the quintessence of what Mikis Theodorakis meant to us: An ocean of music, poetry and spiritual freedom, in order to capture a moment and say: "Stay a while, you are so beautiful" ... And of course, the film is also a sort of time capsule of Greek history, revealing a part of the DNA of Greece. It is an expression of "our" Greece, the spiritual Greek homeland, a place where we can meet many other people.
Johanna Krumin, "Dance Fight Love Die: With Mikis on the road" (2018)
Editing extensive material was a deciding factor in making this film. How did you work on it?
One of the most interesting and exciting experiences during my work on this film resulted from my decision to consciously mix different aesthetic elements during shooting and editing and to make them an important component of the film. The historical material that I had shot was edited by the extremely gifted young artist and musician Cleopatra Dimitriou - it took us more than a year to select and edit the 50 minutes for our film from the 600 hours of available footage, something that would not have been possible without my co-author Ina Kutulas. As I already mentioned, she had carried out the elaborate logging. The movie scenes, on the other hand, were edited by one of the best editors in Europe, Yannis Sakaridis, who is also a fantastic director ("America Square"). The third level of the film, that is, the cover versions of many Theodorakis songs by artists like Francesco Diaz, Alexia, Deerhoof, Dulce Pontes, Air Cushion Finish, Johanna Krumin, Sebastian Schwab, Microphone Mafia & Bejaranos, Melentini, Kaliopi Vetta, Maria Papageorgiou and others, I gave to various young filmmakers to work on or edit, people such as Stella Kalafati, Zoe Chressanthis, Antonia Gogin, Achilleas Gatsopoulos, Dimitris Argyriou etc. Moreover, James Chressanthis agreed to film and edit the Berlin scenes of our film. And let's not forget that it was crucial for the film that my relatively badly shot footage from 1987 to 2017 was counteracted by the professional filming by our DOP Mike Geranios of the scenes in the feature film. This strong qualitative and aesthetic contrast, which results from the contrast between my documentary material and Mike's wonderfully filmed scenes, gives rise to the basic framework of the whole film, so that it does not fall apart, but is held together as all the material is bound together by the spine provided by these scenes in the feature film.
Sandra Von Ruffin, Stathis Papadopoulos, "Dance Fight Love Die: With Mikis on the road" (2018)
What is the function of the marriage subplot?
The 10 feature scenes of the wedding story of Marina and Akar have a kind of multifunction in the film. They give the opportunity to experience the cinema of the 21st century and to bear the poor film quality of the historical material which I had shot with unprofessional cameras in the course of those 30 years. Because this old material, technically speaking, is not only decaying, but was also badly shot by me as an non-professional, the material had to be quickly edited and elaborately reconstructed. However - I could have made at most a 20-minute film out of it; one couldn't have endured more. The feature film scenes, shot magnificently in 4k by Mike Geranios with a RED Epic camera, give the film the necessary cinema format. On the other hand this fictional level allowed me to create epic film scenes (which would have been impossible with the other material) and to use as their musical foundation the great arias from the Theodorakis operas, which otherwise would not have been included in the soundtrack. And thirdly, these ten silent film scenes, played by the two fantastic lead actors Sandra von Ruffin and Stathis Papadopoulos, relate in a very poetic way the story of "love", "dance", "strife" and "death" in the work and in the life of this exceptional artist Mikis Theodorakis. Indeed in an abstractly artistic way, as a counterpart to the documentary shots - that's why it's a docu-fiction film. In terms of content, the story of Marina and Akar's wedding day, in which Panaretos appears as a third party, is inspired by the Rodolino story from Mikis Theodorakis's autobiography, "The Paths of the Archangel".
Sandra Von Ruffin, "Dance Fight Love Die: With Mikis on the road" (2018)
Your documentary is exploring a non - narrative, experimental film, combining genres and forms of art. Would you like to elaborate on your artistic choices?
The film is many things, but overall it is certainly a music film. And as I just mentioned, it's also a docu-fiction, because I combine documentary material with silent film scenes. "But "Dance Fight Love Die" is also an associative essay-film, as well as a road movie. Sixty different musical piecescorrespond to 60 short stories. Additionally, the film is a very distinctive artist's biography that tries to answer the question: What is Art? ... And with "Dance Fight Love Die" I also tried to establish a new music film genre, something I began with "Recycling Medea" (2014), and now want to continue with "Electra", our next film project. As I couldn't find any role models, I had to create something myself.
You have a prolific career in Germany. You are founder of the German-Greek Cultural Association. You also were the initiator of Hellas Filmbox Berlin as an opening for a constructive dialogue between Greece and Germany and as an affirmative artistic response to the wave of negative coverage of news from Greece in Germany. How has the perception of Greece in German society evolved over the last years?
Compared to the period 2010-2015, when Greece was an ongoing topic for Germany, these days one could almost get the impression that Greece is no longer an issue in Germany at all. While on some days the news about Greece used to arrive "almost every second", now it is only very sporadic. For us, however, the Greek-German reality is much more than just what is currently being discussed in the media. Germany, Greece: two terms pushed back and forth; unrealistically, in our opinion. It was unbearable to experience that at that time; Greece was only reported about in a negative way. For us, an unbelievable, an unacceptable process. In the meantime, alarm bells were ringing in Germany on a daily basis, with discussions on the rise of hatred and anger in Germany becoming a serious threat to democracy. It is not clear whether Germany will manage to save what still exists of its democratic conditions. Paradoxically (and tragically, of course), not only both countries, but the whole of Europe has this problem now. However, both countries also have outstanding artistic potential and are generate creative impulses. Art is still a corrective. That's why we went to the workshop together with many others and founded Hellas Filmbox Berlin. The film festival was supposed to be an opportunity to simply see a lot of films from and about Greece. Even if you think you can't change anything, you can still choose between falling asleep and staying awake. You can dance, fall in love, do something completely "different". All of that is necessary. As the title of our film underlines: "Dance Fight Love Die". That's what all the movies in Hellas Filmbox have to offer: Reason and emotion. Action and relaxation. Love and abandonment. Death and life.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi. Special thanks to Nikolaos Vlahakis.
Yiorgos Mylonadis, Adjunct Professor of Strategy & Entrepreneurship at London Business School, is a Strategy expert who specialises on business ecosystems, digital strategy, entrepreneurial communities, social enterprises, and methodologies for strategic thinking. A native of Greece and the UK, he has held appointments on the faculties of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Athens Laboratory of Business Administration (ALBA) before joining LBS in 2000 where he created Developing Strategy for Value Creation - the School’s first Executive Education Strategy Programme. He has also led large, multi-year advisory and teaching programmes for many major firms.
Mylonadis has also served as an advisor to the Reload Greece (RG) founding team since 2012 and as a Trustee of the Reload Greece Foundation until May 2018. RG is a UK based organization aiming to showcase the productive and creative side of the country and, above all, bringing together top professionals, entrepreneurs, economists and investors from around the world to discover ways to harness the power of the Diaspora to an impact in Greece. One of their main programmes is the annual RG Conference, launched in 2012.
RG’s 5th Conference, rebranded RG Connect18, took place on 6 October 2018 in London, under the tagline “Inspire | Learn | Connect”, and focused on the theme “Where Challenges Meet Solvers”: how challenges caused by the recession can be overcome through a ‘solver’ approach. Yiorgos Mylonadis participated in the Conference, at a panel discussion titled “Greece Beyond the Programmes: Investment & Entrepreneurial Prospects”, together with George Chouliarakis, Alternate Minister of Finance and George Houpis, Chairman of RG’s Board of Trustees. On this occasion, the Press & Communications Office at the Embassy of Greece in London spoke with Mylonadis on Greece’s current entrepreneurial potential, the challenges faced and the role of the Greek Disaspora.
RELOAD GREECE recently organised in London a very successful conference titled RG Connect18: Where Challenges Meet Solvers. The aim of the event was to bring together a community of international entrepreneurs, investors, academics, students, policy makers and other key stakeholders to discuss and plan the next big steps in entrepreneurship. How have you collaborated with RELOAD GREECE for the realisation of this conference?
My involvement with Reload Greece started in 2012, when I helped the co-founders of what was then a spontaneous movement organise their first conference. We later joined forces with the founding team to transform the movement into an organisation. We continued to run conferences while we established a governance structure, assembled a Board of Trustees, and recruited the CEO, who, in turn, hired the operating team. Three years ago, I helped establish an advisory board to provide guidance to the CEO about the conference. With Reload firmly established, in May this year I stepped down as a Trustee to make room for new people to contribute to the growth of the organisation. I believe that Reload serves an important role in building a community of entrepreneurs amongst the Greeks of the diaspora. It has been an exhilarating 6 years!
Interest in Greek entrepreneurship from the part of the Greek State, young people, society and other stakeholders has soared, especially after the financial crisis broke out in our country. Why do you think this was not the case before the crisis? Did it have to do with Greek legislation and red tape, with the structure and character of Greek businesses and economy, with the mentality of the Greek society, or with international factors (such as lower technological development).
It is important to remember that successful startups took root in Greece well before the crisis. However, any crisis forces people to question existing practices – such as the State-supported model of business – and look for new solutions. The inflow of JEREMIE funds catalyzed this search and led to the growth of a vibrant ecosystem around startup firms.
Is entrepreneurship the result of talent, mindset, ideas and intuition or is it the result of education, academic performance, hard work and patience? Can just anyone become a startupper or entrepreneur? Finally, among the young entrepreneurs who launch a new business, who are more likely to succeed?
Entrepreneurship starts with spotting a problem that needs a better solution than those currently available. It then proceeds with finding ways to accomplish more than is typically thought possible with the resources at hand. All the qualities you mention are useful but they do not guarantee success. Success in entrepreneurship involves copious amounts of trial and error or, as the saying goes, “you have to kiss many frogs to find a prince(ss)”. This requires a lot of persistence, often amidst adversity: diverse teams with the grit and willingness to seek out and use feedback, resolve conflicts, while also keeping the eye on the prize – which they need to clearly define.
It seems that Greek entrepreneurship has sprung out of the high youth unemployment rates in Greece. Some argue that because entrepreneurship is driven by necessity, the vast majority of new businesses are in the low risk and low innovation HORECA (hotels, restaurants, catering) sector. Would you agree with this perception?
Innovative businesses require more capital investment, which implies more risk. Greece did not use the opportunity of the crisis to reduce the very high levels of institutional uncertainty in the key areas of education, tax regulation, and justice. In addition, HORECA requires a physical presence in Greece while other types of business are more mobile and can be attracted to countries with more favourable institutional environment.
Entrepreneurship has to do with detecting, recognising and discovering opportunities in the environment for which someone creates a solution, or with creating a need they can afterwards fulfills. What new needs/opportunities would you think the crisis has created that Greek startups could build on? How successful are young Greek people in detecting and exploiting these opportunities?
Greece needs to focus its entrepreneurial energies in solutions that can be scaled to global levels. This requires both entrepreneurs and Venture Capitalists to adopt a global mindset and to up their game. The company Beat provides a good example. It started at about the same time as Uber aiming to solve a global problem. However, its limited funding curtailed its growth prospects. It was bought out for 40m Euro while Uber is planning for this year an IPO in the $100B range. This is not to downplay the great achievement of Beat but to illustrate the extent of the challenge Greek startups will have to manage in order to become global players.
Universities undoubtedly play a great role in promoting entrepreneurial ideas. However, Greek Universities are often not very well networked with institutions and big companies abroad to promote students’ innovative ideas, especially in technology. Suppose a Greek startup has a new innovative algorithm similar to Google’s. How is the startup supposed to gain recognition? How can this be tackled?
The short answer is, apply to join RG Challenge - Reload Greece’s accelerator programme. However, your point about Greek Universities is spot-on. Entrepreneurial companies live and thrive within vibrant ecosystems. Large businesses and Universities are key to these ecosystems. The areas around Cambridge University in the UK, Stanford in the USA, or the city of Basel with its pharmaceutical companies are good examples. Greek Universities are hampered by their antiquated governance. This makes them to be inward-looking and to lose sight of the international competition. In the area of technology, recent examples are Imperial College’s White City campus and MIT’s newly established $1B College of Computing. Would Greek Universities even consider these institutions as competitors? Probably not but, then, the competition between a Greek startup and one located in London or Cambridge, MA looks truly unequal!
What would you say is the prevailing profile/features of a young Greek start upper/entrepreneur in Greece and abroad? Are there differences?
A startupper in Greece who has been “trained” in the difficult regulatory and, recently, social and economic environment of Greece has the benefit of being agile and resilient. On the other hand, they are likely to be less exposed to global needs and markets and lack skills for partnering or selling to large corporates. Fortunately, the Greek diaspora is very well rooted in major markets and could provide a good way of addressing these deficiencies.
Greece has been experiencing for the last years a severe Brain Drain. How would you think this could be reversed?
It will be reversed when Greece realises that it is competing in an international arena for talent. It would then seek to compare its performance to that of its competitors and set targets for improvement. For example, in 9 years since the start of the crisis, Greece has yet to establish a target for improving its standing on widely used indices for competitiveness, ease of doing business, corruption, social justice, etc. These targets need to have wide acceptance by Greek society, including a wide spectrum of political parties.
Do you think that Greek society can ever overcome the instinctive fear of open markets to become a business-oriented society or will public sector employment remain the preferred professional option for Greek families and young Greeks?
It is certainly feasible. Israel has many characteristics similar to Greece and – as hard as it is to believe this today – until relatively recently “entrepreneurship” was considered a dirty word in what is now an entrepreneurial hothouse. However, bad habits are hard to die. It will take an amazing success story or two together with a determined effort from the Greek institutions to set establish new role models for today’s youth. We need our Richard Branson and our Steve Jobs. The recent influx of the Equifund capital, if used to establish globally competitive Greek startups, could provide a boost in that direction.
On the whole, do you believe that the crisis has assisted in spurring youth entrepreneurship? Would you think that Greece is currently ideal for innovation to grow? Taking into consideration the existing conditions, what steps and in what order should a young aspiring entrepreneur who wants to start something of his/her own take?
A young aspiring entrepreneur should hook up with a community of like-minded people, such as Reload Greece or the multitude of high quality similar organisations in Greece. In such a fertile environment, they can recruit people to work on their idea or join forces with others who they find inspiring. At best, they will have the time of their life. At worst, they will extract lessons that they can use in their next endeavor. So, go on and try it!
You can access all the videos from the speeches and discussions of RG Connect18 here
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Reload Greece: Enterprising Diasporas – from Brain Drain to Brain Gain; SEESOX Diaspora: New research project and website on Greek Diaspora; Vicky Pryce: “Greece has achieved a remarkable turnaround”; 2nd Athens Innovation Festival; Equifund: a fund-of-funds to support innnovation and SMEs; Funding Greek post-doc researchers: the best antidote to 'brain drain'
Riikka Pulkkinen studied Finnish Literature at the University of Jyväskylä (2005-2010) and has a master degree in Comparative Literature [her thesis is titled ’The experience of urbanization in the short stories of Konstantinos Chatzopoulos’]. In 2007-2008 she studied at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki as part of her Erasmus Program. She also studied at the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon, Monterrey, Mexico (Jyväskylä University scholarship) in 2009 and at the Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic in 2010. She did her practice at the Finnish Institute of Athens, under the supervision of Maria Martzoukou (2012 – Erasmus scholarship, 2016/2017 – CIMO scholarship).
In 2014 she participated in the debate on modern Greek literature at the Helsinki Book Fair. In 2017-2018 she received a scholarship to attend the Education and Vocational Training Program for Young Modern Greek Language Translators (Kostas and Eleni Ourani Foundation – Haris Petrou Foundation). In September 2017 she created www.nykykreikkablog.com, where she publishes Greek literature translations, writes articles and introduces Greek writers to the Finnish audience. Within the framework of promoting young Greek writers she published the short story Ψυγείο [Fridge] by Dionisis Marinos in the literary magazine Nuori Voima in spring 2018.
Riikka Pulkkinen spoke to Reading Greece* about her interest in the Greek language and more specifically in the translation of modern Greek literature. She discusses the profile of Finnish readers that opt for Greek literature, noting that although there are many Finnish books translated in Greek, modern Greek literature is almost unknown in Finland both due to the decline of modern Greek studies and the suspension of the Greek translation funding program. She also comments on the challenges a translator may face when translating literature from Finnish to Greek and vice versa, as well as on the differences between the two societies, which are in turn reflected on culture and literature in specific, concluding that “indeed the two countries are unsettled and in a constant path of change, yet I am not sure where they are heading”.
What motivated you to turn to the Greek language and more specifically to the translation of Greek literature?
I have always been interested in letters and thus started studying Finnish Literature at the University of Jyväskylä. In the meantime, I came in touch with the Greek language and I was really drawn to it, self-taught at first, attending courses afterwards. So I ended up spending a year in Thessaloniki, where I had a crash course in Greek in parallel with my studies in English literature during my Erasmus. At that time I wasn’t able to read a whole novel in Greek. I then decided to continue my studies in Finland, where there were no Greek literature classes available so I petitioned for a free moving excange at the Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Rebublic, where I attended my first modern Greek literature courses. I had my master at the University of Helsinki, where together with comparative literature I also completed the courses corresponding to a modern Greek literature degree, some of them in Athens.
I have always been drawn to translation, so I also took translation courses. Yet, I had difficulty choosing what to read, as well as communicating with publishers. There was no interest whatsoever at the time. So I heard of the Education and Training Program for Young Modern Greek Literature Translators funded by the Petros Haris Foundation and the Kostas and Eleni Ourani Foundation, which has been operating since 2012 under the aegis of the Academy of Athens and I was lucky enough to be accepted. I reckon that this was the opening I needed to get to know the world of Greek books and their writers. I now know I am on the right track and I feel much more confident in what I do. Unfortunately the program didn’t took place this year.
You have recently created www.nykykreikkablog.com, which focuses on Greek literature in Finnish. How did you decide to embark on such a venture? What is its appeal to Finnish readers?
The idea came up last September when I started the aforementioned program of the Academy of Athens. Some other fellow students had started publishing their translations online, which was a good idea for a language like Finnish. At first, I thought it would be a kind of portfolio which would present Greek writers to Finnish publishing houses; yet, just a few months later, the blog attracted readers who were interested in Greece in general and my website was actually their only access to modern Greek literature. I often receive messages asking me where they can find the whole books or when the books will be published. Every proposal I make is accompanied by information on the writers and their works in their entirety so that publishers have access to more options. My aspiration is to cover more literary categories, which is quite a demanding task.
I am currently discussing a few books with some publishers. Some of them are quite interested, yet the difficulty lies in the fact that there are no translations available. I am running a blog fully aware of the challenges, and I try to present Greek writers and part of their work in Finnish so that they are known by Finnish publishers. It’s really interesting that many readers follow the site and express their interest to read more Greek writers and their books. What is actually missing is the publisher. Yet we are on track!
What do you reckon is the profile of the Finnish audience that reads Greek literature? And, in turn, what is that makes Finnish literature appealing to Greek readers? Are the major differences that exist between the North and the South reflected in what readers in both countries opt for?
I can think of three types of readers: those interested in ancient Greece, who are willing to know modern Greece as well, those travelling to Greek islands in the summer and enjoying the Greek landscape, and those, maybe younger ones, who have discovered Athens and are more interested in its urban landscape. Finnish people read a lot of literature from all over the world: in 2014, for instance, the Finnish population of 5.5 millions borrowed 91 million (!) books from public libraries, a figure that corresponds to 16.76 books per citizen.
There is of course a literature that is read because it comes from a specific place or because it focuses on specific issues; but there is also a literature that readers opt for regardless of the author’s origin. Maybe this kind of literature is easier to translate all over the world given that cultural and historical elements are often considered a burden, unless the way of writing is so attractive that the topic of the book is no longer what is advertised!
There are remarkable differences between Greece and Finland in this respect. First of all, there have been more than 10 years since a Greek book was translated in Finnish. In mid-1990s, thanks to the translator Reija Tanninen and the translation funding program of the Greek Ministry of Culture, some Greek books, such as part of Karyotakis’ and Engonopoulos’ works, were actually translated. At the same time the Finnish Institute of Athens supported the publication of a Greek short story anthology. Yet, when the translation funding program was suspended, there were no more publications.
In contrast, there are many Finnish books translated in Greek. Let me quote Aimilios Solomou and his research on the issue: “It’s strange that in a country that loves books, modern Greek literature is completely absent. The respective authorities are mostly to be blamed for the situation. It should be noted that until 1987 there were no translations of modern Greek poetry in Finnish (!) […] as Kimmo Granqvist eloquently put it, till the early 1990s “the majority of translations were based on a mediate language, especially French, English and Swedish”. This rather disappointing situation changed shortly afterwards when modern Greek studies flourished in Finland, with the cooperation of academics, modern Greek teachers and students. In late 1990s translations were finally based on the Finnish text itself. Yet, this considerable effort came to an abrupt end due to the decline of modern Greek studies and the suspension of the translation funding program”.
It is indeed quite difficult to establish a substantial communication between the two countries when such an effort isn’t supported at a university level. In Finland there are no more modern Greek language courses every year (only the basic language course is left, when there are enough students), while in Greece there was never a Finnish Literature department. Thus, there are no culture ambassadors, just scarce personal initiatives, as is the case of Maria Martzoukou, or myself that I am just starting my career on modern Greek literature; and the path is definitely quite a challenging one.
Yet, there are so many reasons for the two countries to establish such a communication. They both have a similar geographical location, no matter how different the weather is. It is exactly this location that has influenced the history and politics of the two countries in a comparable way. They both share similar war experiences, they suffered a civil war and all the divisions that such a war may leave behind, they are both small EU countries with a rich culture, yet a bit isolated from the rest of the world. I also reckon that arts also focus on similar topics – it is often argued that in Greece the current generation of authors writes about the civil war, and the same goes for Finland. The Finnish Institute of Athens is currently organizing an exhibition on the civil wars of both countries, as well as Spain.
I believe that such experiences should be shared through literature, without, however, disregarding the current situation in both countries. Greece is nowadays struggling with the crisis, as did Finland in the 1990s. Such experiences leave their mark and influence lives and families, which is, in turn, reflected on culture. Historical and social novels are quite popular in Finland as well. A case in point is Where Four Roads Meet by Tommi Kinnunen [Το σταυροδρόμι, Εκδόσεις Ουτοπία, translated by Maria Martzoukou] that sold 40.000 copies in Finland and will be published these days, which revolves around the same issues as Gkiak by Dimosthenis Papamarkos, which has also sold 40.000 copies in Greece. In Finland there have always been the classical studies and everybody knows something about ancient Greece; yet modern Greece has not attracted so much attention. Thus, it’s something quite unknown yet. And there are also a lot of people who would like to know more about the crisis and the respective developments.
Most scholars reckon that the content of a book cannot be separated from the particularities of the language that gave it shape. In this context, what are the peculiarities of translating literature from Finnish to Greek and vice versa?
Both languages have a special way of creating puns and I have noticed that their translation requires a deep knowledge of both languages. The text of course has to change a lot. In both languages, dialects are frequently used in literature and rendering their meaning is quite impossible – a soldier from Messolonghi cannot speak the same way as my grandfather on the eastern part of Finland. These elements constitute a major challenge for the translator, and unfortunately the translation often becomes problematic.
What’s also common in both languages is the use of notions that have no equivalent in the other language. In Greek, for instance, there are many traditional objects as well as words related to the orthodox church: τσολιάς, μπρίκι (a kind of coffee pot), the difference between a traditional coffee house (καφενείο) and a café, the tavern and beverages in bulk, traditions related to the Orthodox Easter, the carnival, the junk dealer (παλιατζής), λαχειοπώλης (a person who sells lottery on the street)…In a short story I recently translated I realized that the fact that the main character smoked a hand-rolled cigarette would create a completely different image to the Finnish, so I had to figure out a solution. Nikos Houliaras has written about those twists of luck: “such a strange thing luck is that it’s not at all weird that those who usually sell lotteries out on the streets are, as a rule, people injured by it”. (A story of the long winter, Nefeli, 1990). This image is difficult to be understood by someone who has never seen a Greek lottery seller in person.
In turn, in Finnish, we have many objects that are used for snow: tools to remove ice from cars, others to shovel the snow and clean our yards; there are various games that don’t exist in Greece as well as many references to the Finnish mythology (Τhe Kalevala, translated by Maria Martzoukou), which is less known internationally compared to Greek mythology; there are so many things in forests that have no name in Greek. In addition, the longer day of the year in late June has a completely different meaning to Finnish people. All these elements should be taken into consideration when translating, and not just οn linguistic terms. At a linguistic level, for instance, a thorny issue relates to fish! In Finland there are more freshwater fish, while in Greece some fish that abound in seas, may have no name in Finnish!
There is undoubtedly a stereotyped perception of Greeks abroad. Could literature be used to shake off these stereotypes and help form a new narrative about the country?
I am not sure this is the case anymore. Maybe this stereotyped perception has been related to a Cretan man like Zorbas, but this is not the dominant perception anymore. Greek people travel a lot and I am sure that Finnish people have met someone that proved that such stereotyped perceptions are not prevailing. During the first years of the crisis, Greek people appeared quite a lot in the Finnish media as well, yet even then, no new stereotypes were formed. Instead I personally saw a battle: some wanted to present the Greek people as rich and easy going, while others opposed such arguments by showing the real situation in the capital’s streets. The general perception nowadays is that the Greeks are undergoing harsh times; it becomes evident every time I discuss the Greek issue with a Finnish.
One of the reasons why Greece has attracted so much attention is exactly this battle. And this is where the voice of young Greek writers should be heard. Art has always constituted the most substantial means of communication among civilizations and its counterbalance is more necessary in the last decades than ever – and this is not only the case for Greece and Finland. I believe that the human voice should be heard, and this is exactly what literature does. I cannot say for sure which is the narrative that young writers would want to form about the country – and I am sure that there are major differences of perception among artists – yet what is important that they are heard to counterbalance impersonal statistics and news that just scratch the surface.
It seems that Greek and Finnish society differ in terms of their experience of modernity, their conception of family values and personal mentality. Yet a critic would argue that values are liquid and unsettled in both societies. Would you like to comment?
There are major differences indeed. Finland is considered a pioneer vis-a-vis technology, which is imprinted in cities, schools, houses...Things that don’t yet exist in Greece are considered self-evident to the Finnish. Children have entered the digital world to a greater extent compared to Greece; primary school children have their own smartphones and this is actually commonplace. In Greece, there are still blackboards and chalks. It’s a matter of personal preference which way you think is better, yet I personally feel relieved that things have not yet moved so fast in Greece.
There are also major differences as far as the family is considered and this is much related to the state. Although I cannot refer to official statistics, I reckon that family ties are much tighter in Greece, with grandparents actively participating in children’s lives. The three generations seem to be closer and spend much more time together. Let’s take a square in an Athenian neighborhood for instance. Children are in the same place as adults; a playground, a grandparent’s traditional coffee shop, a mum’s café, a ball-playing screen for dads and uncles, all co-exist in the same square and communicate with each other. Some children may have come with their parents and others with a grandparent. There are no such places in Finland. Already in early adulthood, the Finnish start an independent life, both on financial (state aid) and more general terms. And when they create their own families, grandparents play the role not so much of a basic family member but of a beloved visitor. In Finland the three generations lead quite distinct lives: children play at playgrounds in the presence of their mothers, adults hang out in places where children may not be allowed to enter, while the elderly have their own lives and it’s really unusual to live with their children. The state is organized in such a way so that a grandmother doesn’t need to pick her grandchild from school – and maybe this is why she doesn’t do it even if she wanted to; it’s quite unusual.
Such differences exert a considerable influence both at a personal and interpersonal level. Finnish people are used to be more autonomous, even lonely in family and working issues and they are quite unwilling to ask for help. I’m not sure if Finnish people themselves believe so, but after being in Greece for some years, the difference is quite intense. The same goes for their openness to discuss and share their personal issues.
Indeed the two countries are unsettled and in a constant path of change, yet I am not sure where they are heading.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Nikolaos Vlahakis is a Greek poet whose works have been translated into English, Spanish, French, Bulgarian and German. He has also penned articles on literature, international politics and social theory, which have also been published in newspapers and magazines, in Greece and abroad. He was a guest poet at the 27th International Poetry Festival in Medellin, Colombia; excerpts from his first poem collection have been translated into English and Bulgarian and published in the magazine Literaturni Balkani, while some of his poems were recently published in the Franco-Canadian magazine Le Crachoir de Flaubert and in Variations, the literary journal of the University of Zurich.
Vlahakis was born in Crete in 1967 and studied philosophy at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria. He also studied public administration at the National School of Public Administration in Athens and obtained an MA in foreign relations and strategic studies at the European Center for International and Strategic Research in Brussels. He has served as Press and Communication Counsellor in various Greek embassies. He has released three poem collections: Tractates from a multinational force or Terra incognita (2002), The Bridge of the Eagles (2011), About turbulence and shadow - Idola tribus (2016), all by Gavrielides Editions.
Nikolaos Vlahakis spoke to Greek News Agenda* about his sources of inspiration, the poets that have influenced his work and his thoughts on the poetry in the digital era.
You have already published three poem collections and many of your poems are considered to be influenced by the great Greek poet Cavafy. Do you have other sources of inspiration?
Usually we have different influences, even those who do not write, but are just readers of poetry. It is true that some critics actually, have seen an influence of Cavafy, mainly in my second poetic collection The Bridge of the Eagles. Some others have traced the influence of Odysseas Elytis or, in general, the so-called generation of the 30s. And this is partially correct, although I can say that my concern is to look beyond the eyes of this generation. Several times I turned to the classic writers of Modern Greek poetry, from Solomos to Palamas, Cavafy, Seferis, Elytis, Ritsos, etc. This was inevitable in my effort to create a more personal style. In this effort I also had the desire to talk with these top poets. In the process, however, one should discover his own expression.
The same happens regarding the foreign influences, and especially in the languages you mentioned: Pablo Neruda and Lorca were the ones that attracted me the most in Spanish poetry, while French symbolism is in my opinion an unsurpassed model of poetry. Once I was passionate about Mallarme, Paul-MarieVerlaine as well as Arthur Rimbaud. As for the English speaking poets, I can confess that when I discovered Allen Ginsberg this was the reason to start writing poetry again after a long period I had interrupted. His poetry gave me the incentive to restart by doing some translations exercises. Later, I was also fascinated by William ButlerYeats. But the encounter with many other poets from different countries enriched my poetic course. The point, of course, is to transform all these different influences into your own “poetic idiom”, and this can only be done in your own "poetic workshop".
Odour of death
a small interrupted storm.
like a cleft in a rock
sisterhood of silences
and grasshoppers with instincts of a killer
and abandoned machine gun platforms
evacuation of maimed
and abrupt orders
to hotel girls
that I haven’t had enough of you yet
and now and tomorrow
the grand resignations.
(Translated from the Greek by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke)
What was your first contact with poetry? What internal need prompted you to express yourself poetically and which are the sources of your inspiration?
My flair for writing, especially poetry, was developed at an early age. My family’s tradition is that my uncle, my mother's brother, published some very remarkable poem collections which he offered to us. In the island of Crete, where I was living at that time, I participated in some local literary contests at the age of 16-17, where I was awarded and my work was published. This was a strong motivation that maintained my interest in poetry. I started writing poetry again after a long period, mainly after my student years, but during my student years I was reading a lot of prose and novels. In Crete, however, where I grew up, the live folk tradition that derives from Erotokritos and continues with the rhyming couplets in form of a narrative or dialogue (mantinades), makes us all think like poets!
My inspiration derives from an attempt to express philosophical reflection in poetic form. An attempt to combine philosophy with the condensed form of poetry.
Due to your occupation as a Press and Communication Councellor at the General Secretariat for Media and Communication, you have lived many years abroad. Did you miss Greece all these years?
Yes and no. As my daily routine and my work was directly interwoven with the political and other actuality of the country, but also as a part of the country's public administration abroad, I would not say that I was missing Greece. Greece was constantly present in my mind. What I was missing was perhaps the landscape, my people, and my memories. This nostalgia, however, is a creative motivation for poetry.
What is the focal point of your poetry collections?
I consider my poetic work, published by Gavrielides Publications, as a trilogy, a repetitive reflection in Greek history, within space and time, as well as in Balkans and European history in general. Besides, my books are connected with the cities where I wrote them, when I served as a Press and Communication Counsellor at several embassies of Greece: I started writing my first collection in Tirana and I finished it in Brussels; the second in Sofia and the third in Budapest. They are in some way poetic chronicles of these cities, or that is how I would like to characterise them.
The first collection (Tractates of a Multinational Force or Terra Incognita) is in reference with a conceptualisation of the Balkans as a tough historical terrain which internalises or even imprisons objectivity into the inner sphere of the idea of an unknown land (Terra incognita is the subtitle). The second collection is a metaphor of the eternal returning in Time, through the gates of a bridge guarded by four imaginary eagles (The Bridge of the Eagles), which compose the chorus, whereas in the centre there is digression calendar of everyday life. I can say that it is a metaphysical view of history. In the third attempt, I make a poetic anatomy of our atavistic stereotypes, which is what the English philosopher Francis Bacon called "Idola tribus". Inevitably, this brings me to a self-conscious relationship with Greece and my homeland, Crete. In this sense, I see my work as a kind of political poetry, though not obvious at first glance.
Do you think that the digital revolution has affected poetic creation and, if so, in which direction?
Not so decisively, but I believe that it will influence every aspect of art and expression. And I do not mean only the way of circulation, publication and dissemination of poetic creation. It will impact it structurally. Let me give you an example: the haiku started to become a form of poetry with which more and more poets are engaged all over the world, going farther than the Japanese tradition which created them. This happens due to the fact that nowadays with a simple tweet you can spread your daily haiku. On the other hand this fact determines the way in which poetry is now written, with whatever impact this has, negative or positive. Poetry reverts to the forefront as Internet requires abridged communication and synthesis, as a sort of contemporary art form. Last year, I participated in the 27th International Festival in Medellin, Colombia, where I realised that modern trends in international poetry are combining multi-media, video art and performing arts in general.
Do you think that the recent economic crisis has influenced Greek poetry?
I think yes. The new generation has started to create the art of this period in every field. It is a collective experience that strongly defines the way we now detect our horizons. It is characteristic that when I was leaving Berlin, where I was serving recently, a German poet suggested me to compose together an "Anthology of Greek-German Poetry of the Crisis". Besides, it will be the mark that separates two periods of the recent history of Greece: The period of crisis from the period after it.
*Interview by Marianna Varvarrigou
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Reading Greece | Athens - World Book Capital City of 2018; Zdravka Mihaylova, translator of Greek literature into Bulgarian on literary translation as a platform of communication
Axel Sotiris Walldén (born 1949) studied economics in Sweden and France and was awarded a PhD from the University of Athens. From 1996 to 2014 he was an official at the European Commission, mostly dealing with EU enlargement. Previously, he had served, inter alia, as secretary-general at the Hellenic Ministry of National Economy and as a visiting professor at the Panteion University, Athens. He has also served as an adviser at the Greek Foreign Ministry.
He presently teaches a post-graduate course at the Institut d’Etudes européennes of the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He is the author of a large number of books and articles on EU enlargement, Balkan issues, Greek foreign and domestic policy and recent history. Walldén took an active part in the struggle against the Greek dictatorship (1967-74) and has since held leading posts in parties and organisations of the Greek Left. Being of Greek and Swedish nationalities, he has recently released three books on the issue of Greek-Swedish relations during the Axis Occupation and the Greek military junta (1967-74).
These books are From Lapland to the Acropolis : the European itinerary of a Swede in the 20th century (in Greek by Polis editions), Humanitarian Assistance to Occupied Greece. The Swedish Red Cross Mission 1942-1945 and Dictatorship and Resistance 1967-1974; a Personal Testimony (both by Themelio editions). Thanks to the first two of these publications, Walldén was awarded the 2018 prize of the Association of the Friends of the Swedish Institute in Athens (Föreningen Svenska Atheninstitutets Vänner) for his contribution to cultural exchange between Sweden and Greece. On this occasion, he granted an interview* to Greek Νews Agenda.
You were recently awarded the 2018 prize of the Association of the Friends of the Swedish Institute in Athens (Föreningen Svenska Atheninstitutets Vänner) for your contribution to the promotion of cultural exchange between Sweden and modern Greece. The basis for the Association’s award were your two recent books (From Lapland to the Acropolis and Humanitarian Assistance to Occupied Greece). Both these deal with Swedish-Greek relations during the Axis Occupation of Greece. Could you elaborate?
Greece and Sweden have a long-standing history of friendly relations. Two ‘moments’ of this history were crucial for the shaping of a positive image of Sweden in Greek collective memory: Sweden’s role in alleviating the famine in Greece during the Axis Occupation and its solidarity to the struggle against the Greek military junta in 1967-1974.
Sweden, as a neutral country during World War II, was mandated by the belligerents to lead what proved to be the largest humanitarian operation during that conflict: bringing food from the Americas to the starving people of occupied Greece and managing its distribution in cooperation with the Geneva-based International Red Cross. The two books of mine you mention focus on this operation, still little known, and hence they hopefully contribute to a better knowledge of its extent and details.
The book From Lapland to the Acropolis is a biography of your father. Tell us about it.
My father, Gottfrid Walldén, was a Swede born at the beginning of the 20th century in Swedish Lapland, who came to Greece during World War II with the Red Cross and eventually settled in Athens where he stayed until his death in 1967.
His biography falls under the category of ‘people’s history’, a narrative that attempts to account for historical events from the perspective of common people, rather than political or other leaders. The reader can follow his rather unusual itinerary, which includes early years in northern Sweden, two years at a high school in Normandy just after World War I and life as a bank accountant during the inter-war period in Central Sweden. However, the largest part of the book covers his stay in Greece in the 1940s, first as a neutral delegate of the Swedish Red Cross mission and then as a businessman, having decided to settle in Greece, a country which he comes to adore.
In my book, I try to picture the atmosphere and social environment of the respective periods and places where my father stayed, most crucially of Greece in the 1940s. The perspective of a Swedish national of modest origins who lands in the conservative upper-class Athens society during the Occupation, Liberation, the December 1944 uprising and the ensuing Civil War in 1946-1949 is, I believe, quite revealing.
The book also provides a concise picture of the Swedish Red Cross mission to Greece. In fact, my research on this topic went far beyond the biography of my father and led me to edit another volume, which deals with the humanitarian relief mission itself.
From the award ceremony at the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities (Medelhavsmuseet) in Stockholm
Let us come then to your book on the Swedish Red Cross mission to Greece during World War II. Could you briefly describe this operation?
The relief mission brought to Greece 650,000 tons of food from Canada and Argentina and organised its distribution to millions of people in most of occupied Greece. It was thus instrumental in avoiding a repetition of the deadly famine of the first winter of the Occupation. Sweden provided the ships that transported the food through zones of warfare and the Allied blockade of continental Europe. It also contributed witharound 30 delegates who, together with the Swiss, managed the vast organisation needed to ensure an efficient and neutral distribution of the goods throughout the country.
My book is a comprehensive description of that operation. The first part is a detailed account of the mission, written by Emil Sandström, the head of the Relief Committee (1943-1945). In a second part, I explore, based mostly on archival material, what I call ‘the sensitive issues’ of the operation. These include inter alia the often difficult relations between the Swiss and the Swedes in the mission, the issue of irregularities and corruption, but also a section on ‘the neutrality of the neutrals’, i.e. the attitude of the Swedish delegates towards the belligerents and towards the parties of the internal Greek divisions. Finally, the third part comprises documents, mostly unpublished and translated from Swedish archives, with reports and views of Swedish delegates and diplomats on the situation in Greece and the unfolding of the humanitarian mission.
Your two books rely on research in mostly Swedish archives. How relevant were these for the study of the history of Greece?
Indeed, I relied extensively on a number of Swedish archives, notably those of the Swedish Red Cross, the Swedish Foreign Ministry and the Legation of Sweden in Athens, all of which are deposited at the State Archive (Riksarkivet) in Stockholm. I also worked at the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. All of these sources provide precious information on the Red Cross mission, but also on the situation in Greece during the Occupation through the eyes of Swedish (and Swiss) delegates and diplomats. The Swedish archives, in particular, are not easily accessible to foreign researchers for linguistic reasons.
From the book presentation at the Greek Cultural Centre (Grekiska Kulturhuset) in Stockholm
Let me now come to your book on Dictatorship and Resistance 1967-1974, which is a narrative of how you experienced that period as well as of your participation in the resistance movement against the military junta. Tell us about your activities then, including during your stay in Sweden.
A military dictatorship ruled Greece between 1967 and 1974 in what was the darkest period in the post-war history of the country. At the time, I was a high school and then university student in Greece, Sweden and France and I actively participated in the resistance and solidarity movements from the ranks of the Greek Left. My book is a testimony of that experience which I still consider as my ‘finest hour’.
The book focuses mostly on the resistance in Greece, both underground and ‘legal’, with a key chapter on my role as the liaison between the student organisation ‘Rigas Feraios’ in Greece and the Party leadership abroad, during the student mobilisations that led to the Athens Polytechnic School uprising in November 1973. However, I also deal with the anti-dictatorship activities abroad, including in Sweden, where I was based from 1968 to 1972.
Sweden was probably the country that supported most the fight for democracy against the Greek military regime. The Swedish Government opposed the junta in the Council of Europe and supported the resistance movement. There was a broad and very active solidarity movement in the country, coordinated by a ‘Swedish Committee for Democracy in Greece’ where all parliamentary parties except the Right were represented. A bulletin on Greece, the Grekland-bulletin, was published in Lund and circulated in the whole of Scandinavia. Public opinion was favourable to our struggle and ordinary citizens participated in demonstrations and fund raising for the Resistance. My book provides a taste of all these activities.
I should maybe add that my book illustrates the fact that the struggle against the military dictatorship forged an anti-fascist unity of democratic forces throughout the political spectrum, despite important differences among them. This legacy is very much pertinent today, when we see extreme right and nationalist forces again on the rise just about everywhere in our continent.
*Interview by Nicky Psychari, Head of Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in Stockholm
Read also via Greek News Agenda: “12 October 1944 - Free Athens” The city commemorates the 74th anniversary of its liberation; 12 October 1944 - Free Athens: Interview with historian Yannis Skalidakis; “The Unknown Famine: Athens 1941-1942” Exhibition & Conference; Greece under the Nazis: The German soldiers' perspective; Military Dictatorship (1967-1974) in retrospect: New historical approaches; Military Dictatorship (1967-1974) in retrospect: The Greek visual arts scene
Grammy-winning producer, musicologist and record collector Christopher C. King is one of the world’s most passionate devotees of traditional Greek folk music, especially the idiosyncratic, usually mournful sound distinctive in Northern and Western Greece’s music and songs. His latest book Lament from Epirus: An Odyssey Into Europe’s Oldest Surviving Folk Music is the product of his dedicated research into the music of the region Epirus, in the northwestern part of Greece.
King, who describes himself as an “auricular raconteur and sonic archaeologist”, is a remastering engineer and producer who specialises in pre-war rural American music as well as various Eastern European, Balkan and Mediterranean musical traditions. He discovered the music of Epirus by chance, thanks to a stack of old 78 rpm discs he had bought, and was instantly spellbound by those 1920s and 1930s recordings that made him feel as if he “had been taken apart and rearranged”.
Soon, King contacted the Barounis brothers, avid collectors in Athens, from whom he eventually acquired their entire archive of Epirotic music recordings. Since then, he has released several albums featuring remastered songs from his extensive collection of Greek folk music. He has also traveled to the region, hunting for facts about legendary virtuosos of the past (Kitsos Harisiadis and Alexis Zoumbas, both featured in his album releases) and was amazed to discover that contemporary festivals (panegyria) retain the same spirit that enchanted him in the old recordings he first listened to.
Through these experiences, the self-described “sheltered, misanthropic record collector” fell in love with Epirus, its people and its rituals. In Lament from Epirus, he recounts this “unforgettable journey into a musical obsession, which follows a unique genre back to the roots of song itself” – given that King believes Epirotic music to be the oldest surviving folk tradition in Europe, originating from pre-Homeric cultures. The cover art is by renowned American cartoonist and musician Robert Crumb, who has also created the artwork for some of King’s music album releases.
Christopher C. King’s musical quest has also inspired writer and director Paul Duane to make the documentary While You Live, Shine (2018), filmed during the annual three-day festival for the departed emigrants of Epirus who return to their land of origin. The film is described as “a story of a cynical man escaping his prison of nostalgia & regaining his faith in humanity”.
Lament from Epirus will soon appear in Greek by Doma publications. On the occasion of his book’s presentation in Washington D.C., Christopher C. King gave an interview to Greece in America, the official newsletter of the Embassy of Greece in the U.S.A.
You have described Epirus as a "musical biosphere" and have previously praised the clarinet players of the region. Could you describe the moment that Epirus came to justify this term for you?
The moment that this happened was indeed an epiphany. I was attending my first panigyri (local festival) in the village of Vitsa, drinking Zagorian tsipouro with my Sarakatsanos friend George Charisis, and dancing. George began to explain the ancient pagan roots of the music and dance in Epirus. And that is when I realized that the "musical biosphere" of Epirus was largely intact and sustaining the life force of music here. I mean, I had heard this "musical biosphere" in the old 78 rpm discs but I had no idea that it still thrived in certain parts of Greece, especially in Epirus. But then it came to me... just like that. At that moment I perceived music as an organic entity within its unique environment.
In your book, you set out to discover why we make music and end up discovering how music is a tool meant to help us with therapy and survival. What was a significant time when music played a therapeutic role during your journey?
Once again, this happened during my first visit to Epirus, in Vitsa. During the panigyri, I was encouraged to dance the piece "Samantakas" and at the very end of the dance the clarinet player, Thomas Haliyiannis played his clarinet "into me." That is to say, he left the group of musicians and played the clarinet directly into my ear. I entered into some ineffable emotional and psychological state, probably best understood as "musical healing" or therapy because when I left the dance, I felt as if everything within me had been rearranged in the right way. Every time I return to Epirus, I always ask the musicians to "play into me."
Lament from Epirus constitutes your literary debut. However, you are also a Grammy-winning producer and musicologist. What were you able to draw from your previous experiences in music production while writing the book?
My background in music theory and musicology provided me with tools to help process what I was hearing and how the music relates to the complex history and culture of the Epirotes. However, the book is by no means "technical." It is much more of a narrative travelogue and memoir, where I reflect on how folk music functioned within smaller isolated communities and how I discovered this still viable function in the music of northwestern Greece. That it still lives there.
What does the future hold for you and Lament from Epirus? Perhaps a collaboration with Greek research institutions and another visit to the region?
I have very precise long-term plans regarding the future, this book, and my work. First, I intend to move both myself and my archive of Greek 78 rpm discs and physical collections to Epirus. I have wanted to live there ever since I started researching and writing this book and I travel to Epirus several times a year. Second, I am working on collaborating with the University of Ioaninna through the musicologist George Kokkonis and the Society for Epirotic Studies (ΕΗΜ) to find a suitable building to house the archive and develop a robust Archive of Epirotic Music, which can actively collect recordings and artifacts of this largely intangible cultural heritage. I plan to make this my life's work and I want to give back to Epirus as much as what it has given me. Third, I'm writing a new non-fiction book about murder ballads both in Greece and in the southern United States. I've only scratched the surface of this music with this first book.
Read more about King’s research into Greek folk music: The Otherworldly Sound of Greece’s Rural Folk Music
Is there a private twilight zone where every individual confronts his or her own internal and external conflicts? This appears to be the case in the latest two Thanasis Neofotistos films, “Patision Avenue” and “Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer”. In “Patision Avenue” a single mother enters it when she finds out her six year old son is left home alone as she heads for the audition of her lifetime. Through a series of phone calls, she fights to balance the most important roles of her life, whilst walking in the most controversial area of central Athens, Patision Avenue. In “Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer” Dimitris, a high school student, has to put up with Vassilis, the school bully/ cool guy, while going through his personal maelstrom of puberty and the contradictory feelings brought about by his sexual awakening in a school environment that could very well be in the 90’s.
Christos Karavevas, "Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer" (2014)
Thanasis Neofotistos is a Film Director, Writer & Architect born in Athens. He studied Architecture at the Dimokrition University of Thrace, Film Directing at Queen Margaret University and acting. His latest short film, “Patision Avenue” (13’-2018) premiered in 75th Venice Film Festival 2018 and screens in a series of International Festivals. “Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer’ (20’-2014), his dissertation film, has been screened in several important International Film Festivals (21st Encounters, 26th SaoPaulo, 23rd Raindance, 35th Munich, and 40 more IFF) and won the 1st prize (Golden Dionysus Award) at the 37th Drama ISFF, as well as other significant distinctions (Best Sound, Photography, Nomination at GFA, etc). His documentary “Pogoniskos” (10’-2015) won the Best Documentary Award at the 38th Drama ISFF. Neofotistos currently works on his first feature film, “Peter and the wolf”, a dark, coming-of-age folktale; the film project has already been selected at First Films First SEDA 2017, MFI 2016, Sarajevo Script Station and got a MEDIA development fund.
Interviewed by Greek News Agenda* Neofotistos explains that putting his film characters through Twilight zone situations helps him reveal their core of existence, when they are in the most vulnerable and helpless state. As regards “Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer”, Neofotitos underlines that he wouldn’t like it to be regarded as a film about bullying, because it the issues of homosexuality and puberty are equally important. He also talks about his artistic choice to shoot “Patision Avenue” in a single continuous shot in central Athens, which was characterized by “Sight and Sound” magazine as a technical marvel, explaining why it was a personal challenge for him. Neofotistos concludes that challenges and dilemmas may lead to external and internal explosions, but they may as well prove extremely beneficial in the end.
Marina Symeou, "Patision Avenue" (2018)
In both your films, “Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer” and “Patision Avenue”, you put your characters through extreme situations in which they are alone, testing their limits with no outside help. The two central characters of “School Prayer” won’t talk to anyone, while the protagonist of “Patision Avenue” cannot find anyone to help her. Why do you exert pressure on them? Is it an attempt at a social comment regarding their helplessness?
Putting my heroes in an extreme situation is an attempt to create authentic people and showcase their core characteristics. People in normal, everyday situations have much more control over themselves and their behavior. Although I find this everyday person of Jarmusch movies very tender, when telling a story, I find it more interesting to explore people in situations that test their limits and reveal, what I call, their core when being in the most vulnerable and helpless state. I have a genuine interest and compassion for what is under the human illusion of control.
Christos Karavevas and Stelios Karambinas "Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer" (2014)
“Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer” is a study in human nature during a significant and sensitive period in life, such as puberty. While it accurately depicts bullying, you have underlined that bullying is not the sole focus. What drove you to make a film like “School Prayer” and what was the feedback you got at the schools where it was screened?
I believe that a movie can never be about a phenomenon. “Greek School Prayer” is about a boy that happens to be bullied and his bully; the movie is about Dimitris and Vassilis. When we were writing the story we were thinking about what happened to them, they were our focus. I also believe that if someone focuses on bullying, the star-topic of the film, the other dimensions (puberty, sexual awakening, homosexuality) will be become less important. Of course that is always a trap with star-topics. A very personal interest about these boys made me do the movie and I was extremely happy about the reception of the film. People told me that they identified with my heroes, which is a huge compliment for me. I also received enthusiastic letters from children who saw the film in their schools. That made me as happy as I could be, because it was a movie about them and their age.
Marina Symeou, "Patision Avenue" (2018)
“Patision Avenue” is a one-long-take film shot in a few minutes, the duration of which is called “magic-hour’ in cinema. What were the difficulties posed by this artistic choice?
The one-long-take-shot was my personal Everest till now! Magic-hour only lasts for some minutes and as a result we had a good chance for only one take. So, artistically, there was no room for mistakes. As I told you before, I am really interested in how people react under pressure, including myself. I find the result after such circumstances to be more genuine.
In “Patision Avenue” the protagonist is experiencing both an internal and an external conflict, but she is defeated in the end. What do you think about women’s position in society?
I agree that this woman faced an extreme conflict, but I’m not sure she was defeated. I’m still thinking about it. About what happened afterwards. Such dilemmas in life, where things lead to an explosion, external and internal, may be extremely beneficial in the end. I really admire female qualities and even envy them at times. I believe that we live in an age where women try to earn an equal position in a society which should respect their differences.
Would you like to elaborate on the alternation between imagination and reality in your films?
It’s a game I’m really interested in. I’m quite an imaginative person and I think that imagination often reveals a lot about a person that cannot be seen in his behavior or words. The alternation often highlights the contradiction of these two worlds. My first feature film, “Peter and the Wolf”, a coming-of-age folktale about a young boy called Peter, includes a society where existence is based on a reality that tries to defy imagination and even free will. They do it mainly by being prejudiced and narrow minded and that’s when the problems begin.
How have your architectural studies influenced your film work?
Architecture, for me, was the best influence to begin doing cinema. It formed my sense of space, rhythm, light and made it easy for me to find a method to construct my stories.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
The “Patio House” residence is a striking building hanging off a cliff edge over the sea; it is situated on the island of Karpathos, the second largest of the Greek Dodecanese islands, in the southeastern Aegean Sea. The structure has caught the attention of specialists worldwide due to its unique way of merging with its jagged surroundings, overlooking the sea, and was even nominated at the World Architecture Festival Awards. The firm behind the audacious concept is OOAK architects, a Stockholm-based architecture studio run by Maria Papafigou, Johan Annerhed and Marie Kojzar.
Papafigou was born in Athens and studied architecture in Lund, Barcelona, Athens and Stockholm. In 2004, she founded together with Johan Annerhed the Athens-based architecture firm Paan Architects. Annerhed was born in Uppsala, Sweden, and had studied in Lund, Delft and Athens. One of the Paan Architects’ projects was nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Prize in 2013. That same year the duo founded OOAK in collaboration with Marie Kojzar, born in Stockholm, who studied in London and had previously worked with Alison Brooks Architects in award-winning housing projects and public buildings.
OOAK Architects (from left to right): Johan Annerhed, Maria Papafigou, Marie Kojzar
Maria Papafigou spoke* to Greek News Agenda about OOAK’s past and future projects, their influences from Greek and Nordic architecture, the distinctions they have received so far and the Greek “meraki”.
When I saw the cover of the Plaza Deco magazine (issue June ’18) I couldn’t help but stop and browse through the cover story, which was about a house in Karpathos. Each photo in the article captured the Aegean Sea in the background and I found out that those responsible for this architectural feat are the OOAK architects: you, your husband, Johan Annerhed, and Marie Kojzar. It was also stated that the house was commissioned by a couple who keep visiting Karpathos to enjoy their favorite water sport, surfing, because of the “meltemi” wind -also known as etesian- blowing on the island.
After having travelled to Greece for many years because of windsurfing, a Paris-based French-Swedish couple finally found their dream spot on the windy island of Karpathos. The search for the perfect site was tedious, but the minute they saw this amazing property they knew that they had found their place: a dramatic plot of land with open views of the Aegean Sea and direct views of the windsurfers on the beach of Afiarti. The owners dreamt of a sanctuary in this beautiful yet rough landscape; a place where they could fully experience the magnificent surroundings, a shelter from the strong winds of Karpathos.
How does the Aegean landscape affect the design as well as your aesthetic choices?
Our firm’s work is colored by the strong ties to the locus, both cultural and physical, and is strongly influenced by the Nordic respect for nature. For us every design derives from the particular characteristics of each site. More specifically, this project focused on the sparse, untamed and dramatic landscape which became the starting point for our design. Every manmade alteration would be visible in this unique lot with its jagged, textured cliffs that descend into the grand Aegean Sea. The main issue that needed to be tackled was the ways of introducing a foreign object -a house- into this spectacular landscape, while simultaneously enhancing its qualities without altering its character. Rather than trying to mimic the landscape, the house is gently placed on the site as an object, leaving the surrounding landscape as untouched as possible. Landscape and building are perceived as two distinct elements that together create a new entity – much in the way a perfect shell fuses with a rock over time and gradually becomes part of the rock formation itself. In other words, the result transformed into two contrasting objects, living in symbiosis, enhancing and complementing each other.
Have you undertaken projects in other islands?
Yes, in fact we have worked on various architectural design projects in Samos, Andros, Santorini, Antiparos and Rhodes.
Besides the Aegean islands, in what other landscapes or cities have you had the opportunity to work?
Currently, we are working on several projects abroad. We have taken upon larger residential projects in the Bahamas and Cayman islands. Additionally, we are working on vacation homes in the Greek islands and several projects in Sweden. In the past, we have worked on projects in other countries such as Finland, Norway, Russia.
While conducting my research based on your name, I discovered multiple distinctions regarding your work in a number of architecture magazines. Would you like to elaborate?
OOAK architects is a Greek-Swedish firm founded on a new collaboration between Paan architects (Maria Papafigou and Johan Annerhed) and architect Marie Kojzar. Paan architects was an Athens based firm active for about 10 years. Johan and me, as part of Paan architects, realised and got acclaimed for many of our projects, including “Hill House”, a house in the outskirts of Dionisos that was nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Prize for 2013.
I have the pleasure of interviewing you in your workplace, in a small office in the city of Stockholm from where you depart towards many destinations across the world. Please tell us more on your international work travels.
We follow up the construction on all our projects and we travel frequently to the construction site. We share the travels between the three partners and we try to establish good collaborations on each site in order to secure the quality of the work.
Do you apply some of the features of the Scandinavian architecture in Greece and vice versa? Does it inspire you or do you incorporate features of the Greek architecture on projects that you take up outside of Greece?
As previously mentioned we aim to create unique projects with distinct identities. Characteristics such as strategic planning, physical and cultural context, climate and people are specific attributes that often translate into the driving forces for the design process. We enjoy redefining vernacular elements in to our design and of course we bare with us the traditions of our two native but distinct countries.
The Scandinavian architecture does differ compared to the Greek one. Would you say that in your work there is some sort of connection between them? Do both of them tend to reach a meeting point or even an overlap?
Our work is very much inspired by the Nordic respect for nature and all our projects around the world have the same respect to their surroundings.
"Patio house" (Photo: Yiorgos Kordakis)
What has the Greek traditional architecture taught you? Especially, regarding the houses you are designing in the Aegean or the Greek countryside.
In Greece the most inspiring thing is the “meraki” of all the builders and workers. Meraki in this case can be roughly translated into the amount of labor and effort put into methods and techniques with many different materials. Many things are possible to realise in Greece that would be impossible or very expensive somewhere else and that is mostly thanks to the experienced craftsmen drawing strength from the ongoing mutual communication and understanding.
Would you consider Greeks as daring? Are they ready to embrace something unprecedented that does not fall under the traditional housing design? Do they accept your ideas and suggestions?
We consider Greeks visionaries embracing new ideas. We have never encountered concerns or difficulties while explaining to our clients the concept of a project and we always try to combine innovative thinking with environmentally friendly ideas.
What kind of relationships have you developed with the locals?
The attention that our projects require becomes a positive challenge for the builders and the construction crews. That makes them want to prove to us and themselves their distinct professional skills, feeling very proud of the result at the end.
What are the four short project-books you published in Highlights magazine and to whom are they addressed?
These are small booklets that we produce at the firm after the completion of each project. We always try to put together a booklet for our clients that explain our thoughts and the process that goes into them.
"Patio house" (Photo: Yiorgos Kordakis)
I read that you have been nominated in the “Villa of the year” category at the World Architecture Festival and that you are going to present your project in front of the jury at the end of November. First of all, congratulations! How do you feel about that?
We are indeed very happy that the project has been nominated in the World Architecture Festival and Awards. These international awards showcase the best examples of architecture worldwide in many different categories. In the 'villa of the year' category our project is the only one from Greece. We cannot express how proud we are for the opportunity to show the beautiful Greek settlement where the house is located as well as the Greek craftsmanship that has made the project possible.
*Interview by Nicky Psychari, Head of Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in Stockholm
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N.M. (Intro photo: "Patio house" by Yiorgos Kordakis)