As part of the 17th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, the directors Stavros Psillakis (Olympia), Angelos Tsaousis and Myrto Papadopoulou (The New Plastic Road) and Kalliopi Legaki (Psy) attended a press conference on Friday March 20, 2015.
Stavros Psillakis was the first to speak. His film Olympia tells the story of his main protagonist, of the same name. At the age of 33, she is diagnosed with lung cancer, while three months preganant. Her doctors advise her not to keep the baby, but the situation of her health doesn’t permit her to have an operation. “Olympia continued to have light chemotherapy treatments and against the odds gave birth to a healthy child”, the director explained. He heard about the story when the child was already four months old. “I stayed with the family for four days, with the baby, its parents, their nieces and nephews. What the film shows is how a normal family deals with this kind of situation. Without pompous expressions, with simple words, with integrity and love”, Psillakis said.
In the film, on one hand we hear the desperate cries of the protagonist, who wants to stay alive for her baby, as long as possible, and on the other hand we hear the cries of her father, who understands how critical the situation is, from a medical standpoint, and also understands his wife’s faith in God.
Usually, doctors treat patients as cases, but in Olympia’s case “her doctor broke down, as did everyone that was involved in the film. For me, people’s pain shouldn’t be used to make a profit. This poses an ethical issue and it’s why the film moves on a very thin line. The dilemma was to what extent it would dramatize pain.” When asked how he interpreted the fact that a healthy child was born to a mother suffering from cancer, if he considered it an act of God or not, he replied: “Personally, I am very rational, but I respect other people's faith. Faith is a matter of internal necessity, not something that needs proof. Olympia’s circle believes that the baby is a godsend, a miracle. What I believe isn’t important. I owed it to myself to respect the faith of my heroes”, Psillakis concluded.
Kalliopi Legaki’s film Psy deals with delicate human dynamics by focusing on mental illness. She met the protagonists of her film at the Franco Basaglia Day Centre in Marousi and at The Observatory for Rights in the Field of Mental Health in Thessaloniki. Referring to the work of the psychiatrist Franco Basaglia, Legaki said that even though deinstitutionalization has been discussed in Europe since the 60s, in Greece we only began talking about it in the 90s. “We have taken small steps. Deinstitutionalization continues to hang in the balance and reforms remain incomplete”, the filmmaker observed, and added: “We think that for people that are suffering from mental health problems, the psychiatric ward is the only solution. We believe that if we lock up a person who is sick, he will find some kind of peace and so will we”. Legaki noted that during the crisis the larger public hospitals have come under threat, at a time when “we are experiencing situations that create mental anguish and pain, and anyone of us can find themselves in this kind of situation”.
The director said that she was moved by the protagonists of her film and their struggles and also by the personnel at the mental health centers. Regarding her protagonists, she said that she wasn’t expecting to encounter such spiritual depth and richness. “There was no discomfort and we had a good time. I continue to visit them. They are all noteworthy individuals and I hope they will be motivated to turn their dreams into reality”.
With regards to prejudices and stereotypes that are aimed at these people, Legaki said they are mostly due to lack of information and education. “Every person that is different is dealt with with some prejudice. Just look at what happened recently in Ioannina, how society treated this different child. When will we understand that being different isn’t something that needs to be casted out, confined and locked away, and when are we going to realize that these differences make society richer and are the foundation of civilization? We have to learn how to accept people’s differences.”
Angelos Tsaousis’ and Myrto Papadopoulou’s documentary The New Plastic Road examines the gradual economic and social change of the remote communities in the mountainous area of the Pamirs in Tajikistan. Inspiration for the film came from an article in Time magazine about the area that was titled “The New Silk Road”. “We wanted to talk about an international subject that not many people have dealt with. The article talked about a country which was being reborn, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and after a seven-year Civil War in the 90s. The country remains the poorest in Central Asia, but has been attracting many big investors from around the world”, Papadopoulou said and noted: “We actually experienced these changes firsthand. We liked the fact that the area was completely unknown and that it was being reborn after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. There, on the old Silk Road, people are trying to rebuild their future. There’s also a lot of corruption there, because the area is very rich in natural resources”. Tsaousis added: “There’s a lot of nepotism and a lot of corruption. On the other hand there are also very positive aspects about the area and that is what we wanted to show.” Papadopoulou explained that: “This road has created job opportunities and has breathed life into the area. Another important subject is that of education. The percentage of educated people in Tajikistan is the highest in Central Asia and it's no coincidence that they are building the area’s only university there”. Tsaousis also talked about the local community: people of Persian ancestry that consider themselves descendants of Alexander The Great. This acted as a bridge of sorts, between the two different cultures of Greece and Tajikistan. The film shows how the community is dealing with these changes by focusing on a local merchant called Davlat. “We found ourselves in very dangerous circumstances, but with the help of Davlat, we felt safe. He's a very strong person, just like everyone else that works on this road, driving trucks and putting their lives at risk”, Papadopoulou said and concluded: “We felt very moved when we were leaving Tajikistan. We feel like we have a second home there now.”