In this hybrid first person account, a Greek islander opens up to his filmmaker granddaughter about his violent coming-of-age as refugee, warrior and political prisoner in North Africa during WWII. Young Nikolaos Plakas fled starvation from the Greek island of Ikaria. He survived from refugee camps and a deadly shipwreck, in order to fight against the Germans in North Africa and to be later imprisoned for his antiroyalist political views in military concentration camps. A first-person narrative, in Ikaria’s local dialect, interrupted by fragments of war footage and home movie imagery.
During the German occupation of Greece in WWII, many residents of the North Aegean islands fled to the neighboring “neutral” Turkey, due to hunger or retaliations. Women and children ended up in refugee camps in the Middle East and most men headed to Egypt, where the proclaimed Greek government-in- exile, recognised by the British, created the Greek Army of the Middle East. Parts of this army fought against the German forces in the decisive for the Allies, battle of El Alamein.
When the final outcome of the war was decided, this Greek army became a pre-mature theatre of the ideological conflicts that preceded the Greek civil war between monarchist and anti-monarchist forces. These internal conflicts ended with the request of the British to imprison almost 8000 Greek anti-monarchist officers and soldiers in harsh conditions, in concentration camps deep in the Sahara desert (the so-called “wires”). Their release and return to Greece was allowed only after a pro-monarchist government was established in Greece.
Back when I was a student filmmaker, I had a cheap handycam to experiment with the very act of filming. During family summer vacation, in Ikaria island (my mother’s birthplace), I recorded this interview with my grandfather Nikos. The day was special: It was the holiday of August 15th (celebration of the “Falling Asleep” of the Virgin Mary, a big religious holiday for Christian Greeks) , the family had just gotten up from the family table and it was one of the few days that my grandfather was not in a hurry to return to his fields. He was 88 years old, but he worked his land every day, from dawn to dusk.
My initial thought was that I needed to rescue and unite in one narrative, the small fragments I heard from him before. His story was something between a story of survival and a coming of age. The second thought was an approach of “domestic ethnography”: I wanted to understand a familiar, yet “foreign” person, a loving, but stubborn and tough father and grandfather. What shaped him? And why is his story important to me? The experience of war is the dominant experience for people who lived the biggest part of their lives in the 20th century. These people were warriors, who travelled to hell and back, however they rarely shared or “analyzed” their traumas as we do today.
In this discussion – flashback to the past, I persistently try to extract answers from him. He shared experiences of intense violence or danger, without emotion or shock. As if the past had been completely digested by the present. The most intense moment in the interview is when he describes his homecoming after years of absence, the way his mother could not believe he was alive and back to her arms.
My directorial intention was to enlarge these narrative “cracks” with archival footage , with fragments of military announcements and with images I had recorded before and after the interview on the very same tape: The most intense image in there was the stormy seaside from which my grandfather started his journey. This is the same seaside I spent most of my carefree summers as a kid.
We recorded this conversation the last summer of his life and it was important for me to keep it and share it. I wanted to make out of it, a film that feels like the Kunderian “thin thread of what we remember, stretched over an ocean of what we forget, until it breaks and disappears.”
2022, Honorable mention, Festival del Cinema di Cefalù, Italy
2022, Infinity Film Festival, United Kingdom
2022, 8 & Ηalf film awards, Italy
2021, Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival, Greece
2021, Κalamata Short Docs Film Festival, Greece
2020, DocFest Chalkida, Greece
2020, Αegean Docs, Ιkaria, Greece