JUST TALKING 18/3
The Just Talking section of the 13th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival concluded on Friday, March 18, 2011 at the Excelsior Lounge of the Electra Palace Hotel. Participating in the discussion were directors Nikos Megrelis (Shooting vs. Shooting) Chronis Pechlivanidis (South Central Gospel), Athanasios Karanikolas (Khaima), Visa Koiso-Kanttila (Portrait of a Man), Jennifer Arnold (A Small Act), Lea Binzer (Pelican’s Watch), David Andre (Everlasting Sorrow, Life After the Death Penalty) and Lefteris Fylaktos (26.2 The Road To Here).
Nikos Mngrelis’ documentary Shooting vs. Shooting presents shocking stories of journalists against the background of the Iraq war, revealing unknown aspects of the events there. “I am often asked why I made the film. The only thing I can say is that after so many wars, and the union activities I have become involved in which have always been about the protection of journalists, I felt that this was the most logical next step for me. You know, people discuss the things a war correspondent reports everyday, but when he’s killed they forget about him”, Nikos Megrelis pointed out. The director mentioned an unfortunate incident involving his film by saying: “One of the journalists speaking in the film is now missing in Libya, and no one – neither from the establishment nor from the rebel side – will admit to kidnapping him, if this is indeed what has happened.”
According to director Chronis Pechlivanidis, the documentary South Central Gospel is a film which looks at Gospel music in the Los Angeles South Central district, an area plagued by poverty and racial discrimination, but which is very close to the bright lights of Hollywood. “It is truly amazing to see so many people praying, living and hoping in this way”, the director noted. Speaking about the musical side of his film, he stated: “After producing the documentary Traveling Heart, featuring known Greek musician Yiannis Angelakas and directed by Angeliki Aristomenopoulou, with South Central Gospel I found myself in the happy position of making another musical documentary. I am able to do this because of the musical series I have been making for Greek state television for the last few years, with which I travel all over the world, looking for music”.
In his documentary Khaima, director Athanasios Karanikolas wanted to record the truth about a group of immigrants, a project which began because of a television report on the subject. “I saw a much dramatized report on television, full of exaggerations on the Afghani immigrants who have been living in a temporary shelter in Patras for 12 years, and I wanted to go there and find out for myself what exactly is going on. It was a particularly difficult process, because there was no crew or cameraman, only me, and at the same time I was trying to gain the refugees’ trust. You see, these people have lost every trace of respect for the media”, the director stressed. And he added: “For me, this project, aside from any social and political implications it might have, is the embodiment of the idea of the Other, the foreigner. At the same time, it was an opportunity to destroy many prejudices”.
A forty-year-old man in crisis, who is a childhood friend of the director, is the leading character of Visa Koiso-Kanttila’s Portrait of a Man. The protagonist is having a hard time with his relationship to his son and to alcohol, while also trying to defeat the demons of his past through psychoanalysis, as his own father committed suicide. “In Finland there is a big problem with alcoholism, suicide, and depression in general. I believe one of the most important reasons for this is that the social taboo against asking for help or going to therapy still exists”, the director noted. Speaking about his relationship with his subjects, he stressed: “What makes my film unique is the fact that all those appearing are part of my wider circle of friends, so there was never any problem of trust, something we all know is vitally important in a documentary”.
Jennifer Arnold, in her film, A Small Act, tells the story of Chris Mburu, a rural student from Kenya, who thanks to a scholarship provided by the sponsorship of a Holocaust survivor, managed to graduate from Harvard and become a human rights lawyer for the UN. Chris decided to find the unknown woman who changed his life and started his own scholarship program, to which he gave her name. “The relationship I built with everyone in Kenya was very intense, and of course it helped that I went to university in Nairobi, so we all knew each other well. Still, there is always room for misunderstandings… Because my film is screening at various festivals throughout the world, some of the people in the film think that I’ve become a millionaire and they expect their share. I think we need to explain to them what this whole thing really is”, the director explained.
The main subject of Lea Binzer’s documentary Pelican’s Watch is the tradition of winemaking in Santorini, and the invasion of uncontrolled building the island is experiencing. “Greece is a funny place, where time really has changed people. The film tries to describe this problematic society through a narrative”, the director stressed. Her relationship with Nikos Pelekanos, the film’s central character, was a huge wager she had to win. “We had recorded all these personal moments of his and in the film we hear him speaking constantly. But in order to find a balance during shooting I had to give more direction to myself rather than to Pelekanos”.
David Andre, in his film Everlasting Sorrow, Life After the Death Penalty examines vital questions about the death penalty by telling the story of Sean Sellers, who having been sentenced to death at the age of sixteen, was executed in Oklahoma at the age of 29. The director recorded his final moments on death row and ten years after Sellers’ arrest, returned to search for the other characters in the story. “Everyone looks for justice, but the question is if the death penalty can heal wounds or make things worse. Coming back to the same place after all these years I believe that I discovered that the latter is true”, the director commented. Regarding the philosophy of filming, he believes that aesthetics go hand in hand with ethics. As he stated: “The movement of the camera or the choice to do a close-up are ethical matters”. As far as his relationship with the people he filmed, the director noted that it is necessary to have honesty on both sides: “Fooling people is a game that you will eventually lose”.
A deeply human story on the Athens Classic Marathon, featuring 50-year-old Becky who came to Greece from the US in order to take part in the race is the subject of the film 26.2 The Road to Here by Lefteris Fylaktos. The director, who called himself “a cultural immigrant”, since he is now living in Berlin where he is pursuing graduate studies, spoke about his special leading lady. Becky has a PhD. in psychology, is a marathon runner, and a victim of child sexual abuse by her stepfather. “Also, during her adolescence she lost her hearing, so as you can understand, she is a woman who runs a marathon in her own life. Only, as I say in my film, in life there is no finish line…” explained the director. According to him, the camera works as an agent provocateur in a documentary: “The truth, which many people invoke, doesn’t exist, can’t exist. The only thing that truly matters is honesty. This is the key word”.