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