The Longest Run is one of those films that can’t wait until funding is found before shooting. You either do it now or not at all. And Marianna Oikonomou (Food for Love) did. It is an important story unfolding in a juvenile prison in the city of Volos, in Greece, where the director enjoyed access – which is not a common occurrence at all. The film was already presented at the 10th International Dok Leipzig Co-Production Meeting in October 2014.
Here is an interview that the director, Marianna Oikonomou, gave me at the 17th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in the aftermath of receiving the award for best Doc in Progress in March 2015.
The story follows two teenagers, a Syrian from Kobani and a Yazidi from Northern Iraq, who spend their long days in a juvenile prison in Greece, accused of smuggling illegal immigrants, while their parents experience the war in their home countries. The Longest Run follows their lives before, during, and after their court case and exposes the tragic phenomenon of professional smugglers forcing underage illegal immigrants to transport people across the border from Turkey to Greece, thus making them smugglers themselves. This means that innocent young boys can serve sentences up to 25 years in a foreign country while their parents are equally ‘confined’ in their war-stricken countries.
The project garnered the top prize in Docs in Progress, receiving 17.000 euro in editing and post-production funding, but still needs a distributor, pre-sales, and more funding.
In a perceptive overview of the Greek cultural scene, Dimitra Kouzi talks about the current mix of gloom and hope in a country in a state of deep economic crisis.
Beyond the news and headlines, art reflects the political, economic and everyday-life changes. Hasn’t art in Greece been always in crisis? What’s the difference now? “Art is inconsequential without our insistence. It seems that there is a need for it; this explains its survival,” says artist Alexandros Mistriotis.
Artists work in a stifling atmosphere. “Everybody works more or less for free, yet there is great solidarity for everything,” Art Historian Denys Zacharopoulos, Director of the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, adds.
There is such proliferation of art events that one is hard-pressed for choice. And that means new venues. In addition to the expansion and renovation of the National Gallery in Athens, currently in progress, and the establishment of the National Museum of Contemporary Art, housed in the former Fix brewery, after many years of temporary housing, there are currently in operation about ten new independent art venues in Athens, often under the aegis of the municipality. Run by people who have studied abroad and have an international network of contacts, they provide the infrastructure for an independent art scene to flourish, hosting work by young artists in a variety of genres (theatre, music, visual arts, architecture, graphic and fashion design, workshops). Housed in a historical building, the former headquarters of the extremely popular magazine Romanzo in a central Athens area more reminiscent of a ghetto in recent times, the BIOS – Romanzo creative hotbed provides office space for creative young people and start-ups focusing on technology, art and culture, while also hosting exhibitions, concerts, performances, collective actions, workshops and seminars. The BIOS team managed to turn over the image and population makeup of the whole area. “All young people find it hard to turn their ideas into practice in today’s circumstances. Perhaps people think more in terms of cooperation now; a feeling of collectivity may have become more developed. The need to participate in the commons is more intensely and consciously felt.”
Amidst the crisis, Rosie Diamantaki decided to establish an experimental art venue – Anamesa Art Space. She enables budding artists to take their first steps, irrespective of the commercial appeal of what they do. She also supports upcoming musicians and showcases projects that combine music and the visual arts. “There is a new generation of artists in all genres who make a new proposition in Greece. In the visual arts, there are young artists’ teams which join larger groups or run their own spaces, working on projects featuring public interaction with a view to increasing the participation of art in a public dialogue, rather than being galleries in the strict sense, such as Arbit City Group, or 3137.” She points out that, “Even Art Athina, the largest foire in Greece has introduced Platform Project, an initiative for young artists.”
Halfway between a book and a magazine, the Villa Méditerranée’s The Review is, in its own way, an invitation to a new space to discover and examine the current issues of the Mediterranean world. In addition to the Villa’s missions, the Review seeks to bring together different interpretations of today’s most critical issues. This second issue questions the sustainability of a mobile world, public space, memory and conflicts, youth and identity issues, as well as the challenges facing tourism. It is available in English and in French.
25 years ago, Petr used to be an urban man studying computer science. Then he met Simona, and they decided to pursue their dream of freedom together. Choosing a traditional lifestyle of self-sufficiency, love and togetherness, the couple live in a self-made house in a meadow in the Bohemian Forest, with the bare essentials – and their nine children. Can fatherly love become suffocating for the children? Petr’s frugal, bohemian life choices mean sacrifices for the whole family. Will they be able to fit into modern society. Watch a clip of the movie here
I talked about that with the Czech director Eva Tomanová, whose feature-length documentary Always Together, selected for IDFA 2014 Competition for First Appearance.
What are you looking for in that story?
The truth! And I’m very aware of the kids, of course. Ten years ago, that’s when we met. The kids were much younger. And to me it looked like a little paradise in a way. Getting to know them made me realise how far from paradise their life really is.
The man has built his own kingdom in the middle of nowhere. Both parents are university educated. They have nine children that they don’t send to school. In the beginning you might feel this is like paradise, but then it starts to crack. The eldest daughter gets pregnant by a local farmer. The eldest boy ran away once. The other children can hardly speak. And there were even worse times. For example, for years they were forbidden to use any paper, even toilet paper. To learn the alphabet they used wooden sticks. I felt almost like a missionary because I brought them some stuff. I care about these children. I wanted to know them better. They have had such a different kind of education that I wonder how they fit into society.
Then there is the question of freedom. They are free from school and schedules, but confined to just one meadow. It’s also about him: how can a well-educated person become what he is. How can he make life so hard for his children? He believes the harder, the better. How come his wife is so obedient to him? Is it a crazy social experiment, or has he found some deep family values?
Did you get your answers?
I’m quite satisfied. I could not get more at the moment. But it’s not just about getting answers – it’s also about posing new ones. Which I hope I have done.
How do you feel about their bohemian lifestyle in the Bohemian Forest?
It is a very hard life. They gave up all the comfort we are used to. I have been to many places. I lived with rats in South America. I have visited the poorest parts of Africa doing a documentary about child labour and child trafficking. But then I always felt happy for simple things, such as having a bed of my own or a hot shower. They have never had this.
Is it a problem to lead a different kind of life than the majority, to rely on your own resources, rather than sacrificing your freedom to civilization?
You must be very strong and very convinced to do that. It is not easy. They are in a permanent struggle with authorities. The authorities wanted to take their children and put them into an orphanage. They have conflicts with the police; even Interpol was after them once!
A lot of people dream about choosing a traditional lifestyle of self-sufficiency, love and togetherness in order to live a frugal, bohemian life. How do we know whose lifestyle is the right one?
The countryside is a perfect place to live. It has a different pace, a different sense of time. But Petr decided to go many centuries back.
If you are interested in applying to DOK.Incubator, meet their team at the round table sessions on Saturday and Sunday afternoon at IDFAcademy, or send them an email and meet the team at idfa between Friday 21st and Wednesday 26th.
This is your first film, and it is already feature-length and in competition at IDFA.
Why did you switch from journalism to filmmaking?
Interesting stories have accompanied my entire professional life. I love them. I collect them. It’s not a radical change – rather, it’s an evolutionary step. It’s important to know how to tell the story; minutes don’t count so much. I ‘ve directed many TV projects, documentaries, reporting (comparable to 60 minutes) before.
Journalism is a way of life; to me it is above all about curiosity. I also think I have a nose for interesting topics; I need to look at a subject from many different angles. I know how to make people talk to me. The arts, also, have enriched my whole life – drawing, sculpture, photography.
How did you meet this family?
Another family that I helped as a journalist at the time introduced me. The man was very suspicious about me in the beginning. I remember standing behind the fence, being interviewed by him – he did not even invite me in.
Then, some weeks later, he expressed a wish to meet me again. He needed some help with the social welfare office. They did not like it that his children did not go to school.
DOK.Incubator was a great experience for me. I received very profound feedback from both sides, tutors and participants, which is always needed. The variety of nations and different points of view are another big advantage, and they all were so supportive. I believe it made me look differently at this and any other films that I might possibly make.
To be more specific, Sigrid Dyekjær gave me many dramaturgical ideas even before shooting. I met her through my work at the very first DOK.Incubator workshop. And the editor Per K. Kirkegaard (Armadillo) sort of reshaped my gaze and made it more relaxed, not so informative, and to let the characters speak for themselves.
Another important thing about this workshop is that you actually work with the whole team, the editor and the producer, and you develop the film together. Jiri has turned out to be a great help. Without him and without DOK.Incubator I would hardly have made it to IDFA.
An interview with Marc Bauder, the director of Master of the Universe and creator of the Lichtgrenze (meaning border made out of light), the 8,000 glowing balloons that marked the former route of the Berlin Wall on the 25th anniversary of its Fall on Sunday 9/11/2014. Light artist Christopher Bauder and his filmmaker brother Marc began working on the concept for Lichtgrenze seven years ago, before the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall.
I talked with Marc Bauder about Lichtgrenze in Berlin 25 years after the Berlin Wall fell down and the premiere of his latest documentary Master of the Universe (distributed by CineDoc), which premiers in Greece and four other countries (France, the Netherlands, Poland and Italy) and was recently nominated for the European Film Award 2014.
You can listen to my questions and his replies in the interview below:
1. From Concrete to Baloons, Berlin after 25 years. What’s the difference?
2. What made you think about the Baloons, and what was the challenge about this project?
3. Greece is in a very bad financial situation. Many Greeks feel that it is mainly the Germans who set the rules in their country (financially and in politics). What is your opinion?
4. Do you have a special message for the Greek premiere of Master of the Universe and your Greek audience?
5. You are very interested in financial stories – what is your next project about?
This is the second year running that a Prix Europa award has gone to a Finnish production – last year the documentary The Punk Syndrome scooped the best TV documentary prize for its colorful portrayal of a rock band suffering from learning disabilities.
This year it was a Finnish documentary who has won the Prix Europa award for Best European TV current affairs programme in Berlin!
Syria – Faces of War was chosen for its “serious, crucial and honest” view of real war. The film is based on the photographs of Finnish photographer Niklas Meltio, and is directed by Yle’s Vesa Toijonen and Ari Lehikoinen. Accepting his award, director Ari Lehikoinen dedicated the win to all the journalists killed during the Syrian conflict. And here is the interview with both the directors Vesa Toijonen and Ari Lehikoinen.
How would you describe the world that we live today to someone who does not know anything about it?
The world is a mess. There are an awful lot of things going on that need understanding and explanation. Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.
What was your personal experience in Syria? VESA: It was not as bad as I expected – after following the media coverage. I compared the situation with my experience in Sarajevo during the war. In Aleppo there was electricity and running water even in the front line. We had tea and there was a possibility to use toilet before filming the fighters. In Sarajevo this was out of question!
There seemed to be food and medicine available – unlike, again. in Sarajevo. And of course Aleppo was not besieged like Sarajevo – nobody stopped us from driving into the city. No way in Sarajevo.
The city of Aleppo was destroyed but less than one could expect according to news reports. Buildings in the front lines, yes, but a couple of blocks behind the lines the life continued quite normally. But the life was not normal, that is sure.
ARI: Wars have to be portrayed authentically, although many seem to think it doesn’t really go with your morning coffee. Wars are often sugar-coated in the media. We try to avoid that. Our film was shoot from 2012 to August 2013. The situation is now much worse.
What were the difficulties that you have to overcome while shooting and editing the film? In Aleppo and in Syria we faced the normal difficulties: snipers, risk of shelling and air-bombing. We took a lot of time to avoid the troops that had started kidnapping visiting foreigners. Yet, we managed to have lunch in a same restaurant with al-Nusra fighters.
In the desert between Iraq and Syria the most difficult was to balance between the desperate refugees and your own feelings to help them. And yet you can not – we are there to film their escape, not to distribute water or food. Some people understand, not everyone.
When we start cut the film the editor said; “What a hell, so much stills, don’t you know that we should make a movie!”
Did you try to make an objective film? VESA: We always do, but personally I learned a very important lesson in Sarajevo when I tried to explain the concept of objectivism in Western journalism. “So you mean that we should all be treated equally, also the sniper who is trying to kill me when I carry water buckets and can not escape”, my landlady asked me one cold morning. We waited a “safe” moment to fill the water tanks in her apartment. Since that discussion I think that there is a difference between a sniper and a victim and objectivity is not always the main purpose.
ARI: There is such fine line between the objective documentary and biased one. It’s quite hard to find a documentary which I would consider to be truly objective, but I do think that it’s possible to objectively capture reality in some documentaries.
The only way to give face to this war, was to be on the ground with the men, women and children who are central to it.
Please describe your film in 2-3 lines.
It is a true story.
War is ugly. True faces of the war; raw, grotesque and full of tears and pain.
What can’t we see in the film? The most horrified pictures .
We were also very careful choosing images of patients in a psychiatric hospital in Aleppo. People were left alone in a makeshift hospital, without medication. We wanted to respect these people and left out most of the pictures.
What is your next film about? ARI: My film is “Skeleton in the closet”. It’s totally different film than “Faces of war”. It’s one man’s story. We all have secrets: the ones we keep, and the ones that are kept from us. VESA: One carries working title “Frozen war”. It is about the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. the war has stopped – but only for a moment and there are speculations that Russian politicians would like to freeze the situation as it is now – to control it better.
People living in war torn villages do not care about speculations. They would like to get their houses warm before winter comes. Refugees would like to go back but they can not. They suffer between war and peace. We also show how a real “frozen war” looks like. Refugees in Nagorno-Karabakh have waited 20 years that one way or another the confict could be solved and they could return to their houses. But the houses do not exist any more. Only ruins are left. – so is this also the future for Ukraine?
It seams to me that a lot of people in Europe have forgotten or care less about what is still happening in Syria. Why? We have a nice word for this: we “war-fatigue”. We grow tired when there is no progress. Actually we all grow tired, not only journalists and our audiences, but politicians who try to find solutions, aid workers, even fighters become apathetic or desperate. And local people, both those who decided to stay and refugees in camps all over Middle East.