Written by Justine Frangouli-Argyris
With the title “Freedom Besieged,” the young Greek-Canadian director from Vancouver, Panayiotis Yiannitsos, attempts to complete his documentary about the post-crisis era in Greece.
Using captivating interviews with international personalities and the youth of Greece who have been trying to overcome the difficult times through innovative ideas, the Greek Canadian director carries out a dialogue beyond the criticisms of the crisis, seeking to open a new chapter with the hope of renewing the functionality of the state and its institutions.
A child of immigrants with an experiential relationship with Greece, Gianitisis attempts to balance the past and the future with his documentary, recounting stories with messages of optimism with an eye towards a vision of liberation from the crisis!
Why Freedom Besieged?
I titled the movie Freedom Besieged inspired by the famous Dionysios Solomos' poem, "The Free Besieged", which was inspired by the third siege of Missolonghi, an important battle during the Greek War of Independence. One of Solomos' themes in the poem is the Greek fighters "freedom of the will", that is, the spiritual and psychological advantage they carried over their oppressors. It was in fact this strength of mind and soul, not sheer brute of force, that thrusted the Greeks to victory. Such is the focus of my film: the psychological path to freedom.
What is the film about?
Freedom Besieged is a feature-length documentary concerning the current economic and political climate of Greece and specifically how it has impacted the psychology of the nation's youth. The film follows the stories of several young Greeks and community leaders in their journey to re-discovering their identity as Greeks and the actions needed to re-ignite an era of innovation and prosperity in the country moving forward. In addition, the film includes the perspectives of several world-renowned intellectuals, politicians, and experts of various fields to offer insight and re-build a bridge of communication between young Greeks and the world around them.
What is your perception of the crisis in Greece?
My perception is that Greece will feel the effects of this economic crisis for years to come and the country will have to swallow the pill that is we will be under economic supervision for decades. That does not mean the country's youth are shackled to the floor, especially in this era of information and endless technological achievement. As a side effect of the crisis, many young entrepreneurs in the country today have a heightened sense of creativity and resilience that we have already seen produce groundbreaking and world-renowned work with limited resources. The conversation has shifted from taking place only in this stagnant era of crisis. One of my favourite phrases is, "Η άλλη Ελλάδα" (The other Greece). For the first time in many years, a foreshadowing of life after the crisis has begun for many young Greeks and what I am waiting for now is a Greek state that modernizes itself to catch up to them. Although I don't expect a complete overhaul of the Greek political system or way of governance, I do sense that the next party in power will have no choice but to find tangible ways of enacting change to engage the young population.
Have you experienced it through family, friends etc?
One of the moments that convinced me to create this documentary was while I was sitting around the dinner table with some of my friends in central Athens. We were all in our very early 20s in 2014 and I asked my friends what their goals and dreams were after graduating from University. Some in political science, agriculture, and micro-biology. I had mentioned that I was aspiring to open a new film production company. A good friend of mine turned to me, laughed, and said "What's wrong with you? We don't talk about our future, anymore. Ask me what I'm doing tomorrow." It was the laugh that struck me the most, that the notion of goal-setting for the future had become a futile exercise for this table of young, talented Greeks whilst for myself it was an expectation and a norm in provided by my home country of Canada. The difference was stark and worrisome. This tiny moment shook me to my core.
But I have also witnessed the resilience of the Greek people in many ways. Look no further than John Karkalatos who, for the past sixteen years, has run a youth development camp in the village of Kiveri, often self-financed, despite the fact that he is a modest farmer struggling to get by. That is the definition of self-sacrifice for the future and after coming to know his story I realized a film had to be made. There is also the unique fact that I participated in John's basketball camp when I was ten years old and have seen many young Greeks, including myself, benefit from his methods of empowerment over the years.
What elements make your documentary different from the other documentaries on the Greek crisis?
Because, frankly, this isn't a documentary about the Greek crisis. It mentions the past for ten minutes and then moves on to the future and into a conversation we've been needing to have with our nation's youth for decades. That is, one of hope and promise for a new Greece. The next version of this country and finally, one that includes a firm hold of the modern Greek identity. This is about a place where we challenge our children to come up with the next great transformative idea that will ignite the nation. This is a film in which Greek eco-villagers in the mountains of Evia island building Mongolian-style yurts are in the same film as Noam Chomsky, the European Commission in Brussels, and a basketball coach from a Peloponnese village of 1000 people. This is an unprecedented gathering of not only Greek minds, but minds from all over the world to talk not about the past, but about the path towards a new era of prosperity and innovation.
What is your message?
As Peter Economides' says in the film: "This economic crisis is a social crisis. And that social crisis stems from an identity crisis." Adding to that, in order to enact systematic change we must first heal the Greek individual. And in many instances, that is by enacting local change and empowering our communities with leaders whom children can build a sense of neighbourhood around and exist in a social environment that promotes self-respect, self-governance, discipline, teamwork, and pride in investing their future back home.
Where do you stand when you say there is innovation in Greece?
Young Greeks have withstood an incredible amount of pain to build their businesses and innovate over the course of the crisis. Working within such harsh conditions has made them increasingly resilient and creative, which has shown through in their world-renowned work. But, we should not take their innovative spirit for granted because I can tell you as someone who has been on the front lines that many Greeks who have fought for over a decade in the country to realize their dreams have grown tired. As we all know, many have left to succeed abroad. This attitude of innovating in spite of and against the inefficiencies of the state can only last so long. At some point, some support must be given to convince young Greeks to invest their future in the country again because these are some of the brightest and most creative minds Europe has to offer.
Why did you interview Mr. Kyriakos Mitsotakis and not the prime minister Mr. Alexis Tsipras?
For close to three years, I have made over a dozen attempts to organize an interview with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to speak about the identity , psychology, and future of Greek youth in the nation. Unfortunately, I have not been granted this request. Kyriakos Mitsotakis agreed to interview, as have dozens of prominent figures from around the world, and for that I am grateful. The first step is communication. If Prime Minister Tsipras has a change of heart, and as he is the youngest Prime Minister since 1865, I would gladly hop on a plane to receive his perspective.
Do you think that the whole crisis was a financial conspiracy?
I believe that Greece is to fault for many things that led up to this collapse. Not only corruption within the political field but also individual corruption among its citizens that became a social norm. Having said that, Greece was aided and abetted by foreign conglomerates along the way to hide its debt so that others could cash in. But, again, this entire crisis, if you want to call it a financial conspiracy, was made possible because of the social and identity crisis that has existed in Greece since it regained its independence from the Ottoman Empire. To understand the "whole crisis", I really believe one must have a full view of the historical context that has taken Greece to where it is today.
Do you think that Greece can get out of the crisis with wishful thinking or with a few innovation projects here and there?
Greece needs much more than wishful thinking and a few bright ideas in the long term, but it is through the actions of a few major individuals that can start the fire needed to inspire a new vision throughout the country. That, for me, is without any doubt. It starts there, whether in an eco-village, a basketball court, a small bedroom. Greece needs a transformative idea.
How do you foresee the future of this young generation of Greeks?
Today, Greece is like a pot full of fertile soil. Its youth are among the most innovative and promising around the entire planet. But the truth is, if you do not supply fertile soil with light and water, sustainable growth is difficult.
Do you believe there is a lost generation from the crisis in Greece?
There are estimates from some experts that nearly 600,000 Greeks have left the country over the last decade. To put that into perspective, I've been told that is like 20 million people getting up and leaving from the United States. A statistic like this cannot be ignored. Having said that, I feel this label is a generalization that fits nicely into a headline but is not a reflection of reality once you spend significant time on the ground. The fact is, the many brilliant young Greeks who has stayed and fought for their future deserve more respect than to be labeled as fat left on the bone of this exodus. Young Greeks are tired of being caricatures of this crisis. In addition, many within the generation of youth who left during the crisis have gone on to accomplish extraordinary things in their education and within the workforce. What must be understood is that, frankly, many of them want to come back. The key is that they come back not for nostalgia's sake but with a plan. This generation is not yet lost.
How can your film offer a cure to the spread desease that has been called the debt crisis?
I'm often asked if my film contains the solutions to Greece's economic inefficiencies or the magic button to solving decades of political unrest. The fact is, this film will provide some answers with real testimony as to what type of social environment we need to create as citizens and community leaders in order to inspire our youth to want to look for the step-by-step reforms needed to turn this country around. This film is about the bridge between these two steps.
What would you like to shout out to the world about your homeland?
Greece is a country in which has a proud and rich history, the cradle of western civilization, one of the food capitals of the world, and unparalleled natural beauty. Its people are among the most hospitable and caring on the planet. Make no mistake, much of what exists and survives in Greece today already is sought after by many hence the country welcomes tens of millions of visitors per year. The resources and the talent exist in hoards. Having said that, it is also a country in which has over the years squandered the opportunity to formulate an identity as a modern state. This is due to a lack of vision and the Greek people have paid dearly for this. But from within the ashes of this despair have risen a new generation for the world to see with the gusto, resilience, and creativity that would make the ancient innovators of the past proud. They have taken back their freedom from the death grip of the crisis and with or without the state, will move on, but I ask a bridge of communication be rebuilt. I hope my film helps start that conversation.