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17th TDF: Press Conference to Commemorate International Women's Day - European Parliament (3/20/2015)


Women and women’s rights were the focal points of a press conference which took place on Friday March 20, 2015 as part of the 17th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, in collaboration with the office of the European Parliament in Greece, to commemorate International Women's Day, which was celebrated on March 8. Present were SYRIZA’s Member of the European Parliament, Stelios Kouloglou, the head and representative of the office of the European Parliament in Greece, Leonidas Antonakopoulos, and the filmmakers Nadine Salib (Mother of the Unborn), Valerie Kontakos (Mana) and Kimon Tsakiris (The Αrchaeologist), who are participating in the 17th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival with films that showcase the role of women and their struggles, on a personal and professional level.
Stelios Kouloglou started the discussion by noting that “The Thessaloniki Documentary Festival is the primary space for showcasing many subjects, including women's rights. The Festival has become one of the biggest and best of its kind in Europe, and it owes this to the people that work for it, especially under the difficult circumstances of recent years. I trust that it will have the support of the European Union and the European Parliament in its efforts and personally, I will do everything that I can to help.”
Leonidas Antonakopoulos noted that: ”Mr. Kouloglou expresses the political interest of the European Parliament for the protection of women’s rights. International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8, but every year there is a special theme. This year’s theme, Make It Happen, involved effective actions for advancing and recognising women and young girls through education, and this is integrated in the general framework of the 2015 European Year for Development, as it has been designated by the European Union”.
“Even though we have taken important steps, there are still important issues of education, health and survival, that haven’t been dealt with yet. I would also like to mention that we continue to cooperate with the Thessaloniki Film Festival to promote the LUX Awards, which encourage quality cinematic productions across the continent. We are not only interested in financial matters, but also in the arts and culture. There is a strong female presence in the documentary field and many directors have showcased the problems women face today. It is necessary to do away with any kind of discrimination between the sexes, in order to give prominence to a set of common European values, on which the European model of democratic society is based”.
Afterwards, the director Valerie Kontakos talked about her film Mana, which focuses on the treatment of abused children. “The film’s main protagonists are four women that left their homes in 1962, when they were still 18 years old, at a time when there weren’t many prospects available for women. These women decided that they wanted to become nuns. What’s interesting to me is that they didn’t want to lock themselves up in a monastery, but this was their ticket out, to do whatever they wanted to do and make their dreams come true. Ultimately, what they wanted was to become active in society and to be able to offer help. Fifty years later, they continue their work and have helped over 500 children, without receiving funding from state or church. They are supported by common people. For me, the story of these women is something like feminism, but in a different way. These women managed to refute stereotypes and do what they wanted”. Regarding the Festival, Kontakos said: “It is one of few places that offer the chance to filmmakers to tell stories that wouldn’t be shared otherwise and it brings many different stories and experiences to the city”.
The subject of women’s rights is also the focal point of the documentary Mother of the Unborn by Nadine Salib. “The main character is a young woman who has been trying to have a child for 12 years, but who is dealing with fertility issues. For this reason she has been excluded from the local community”, the director said. ”Hanan and I are same age. We met four years ago by chance, when I was lost in Egypt, in an area about seven hours from Cairo, a forgotten place. The people there are villagers and work on farms. For them, children are a sign of power and wealth and are considered a blessing. If you’re a woman, your only goal in life is to get married and have children. So, because I hadn’t done either, I was like an alien to them. They didn’t understand why I hadn’t married. For them to consider me worthy, I had to be wed. Like Hanan, I also had to deal with an issue of identity. Society is willing to help shape your identity, but only if you have children. Women are called by the names of their sons. Hanan – whose name means “tenderness” – has different ideas. She would like to have a child, but for different, existential reasons. Her husband stays with her even though she can’t have children and this is something that is not common for Muslims. In their world, women are second-class citizens, but at the same time they are very strong. In some ways Hanan is lucky. Her ideas about life are philosophical. She wants to have a child because she feels alone.”
A strong female figure, the archaeologist Georgia Karamitrou, stars in the film The Αrchaeologist by Kimon Tsakiris. The director pointed out that he doesn’t really believe in the separation of the sexes, as he does in able and less able people. That’s why he found the protagonist of his film interesting. He explained: ”Georgia Karamitrou is a professional who coordinates a crew of 1,000 people, including workers that had no previous experience working on the site of an archaeological excavation. At the same time, she was in contact with a Government Minister and the director of the national power company.  I think that the qualities I found in my protagonist, could be found in a woman or a man. I understand the importance of celebrating International Women’s Day, but for a woman that has succeeded in being seen as an equal among her peers, this might seem slightly degrading“. In the film, the archaeologist has dedicated her life to protecting the cultural and natural environment of western Macedonia. Georgia has one last “battle” to fight. She has two months to salvage as much as possible from the site of an archaeological excavation which will be flooded due to the construction of a dam.
Tsakiris said: “It’s a case of progress vs. tradition. These two needn’t be antithetical. The dam is supposed to bring progress, but I don’t think these kinds of projects - especially one that involves giving up an archaeological site - should be carried out in a hurry. This woman brings up an important issue, in relation to what development means, and how to move forward. The dam was put into use about a week after we finished filming. We were trying to film our story, while the archaeologists were trying to do their jobs. Because of time constraints, we were all working there simultaneously”.