We returned to City Plaza for a few hours shooting. Here are some scenes from the kitchen.
After that, we went for an in-depth interview with George Moschos, Greek Ombudsman for Children’s Rights. He was one of the first people Zaphiris contacted at the beginning of the project and we had been looking forward to meeting with him.
He proved to be all we had hoped for and more. We discussed the special needs of unaccompanied minors, the responsibilities of the state towards children and how his office independently reviews the conditions and measures taken and advocates for the rights of all children, Greek and refugees. He will be featured prominently in the final film. In this short clip you can see what a warm and caring advocate he is.
In the next few days we will see him in action as he visits refugee facilities.
Right after our interview, we left for Rovies in Northern Evia where in our contact with many people, we gained a broader and deeper understanding of our endeavor.
After a bit of a regroup on Sunday in Athens, when we finally met Vicky Leontou (a journalist who has opened so many doors for us and is our Associate Producer) at a wonderful dinner at her home, we were back at it on Monday, at Hotel City Plaza. We will be going into much more detail about Hotel City Plaza, one of our primary locations in the coming days, as we continue to film there and speak to more of the residents. This was our second visit, our first one filming there. (Zaphiri had visited a number of times before we arrived.)
We filmed one interview with a 16 year-old Afghan refugee living there, who goes by the name Abbas. Although he gave us his permission to film him, we seeking to get permission from his mother, as he is underage. Once we have that, we will talk more about him and show some video.
We also spoke with several volunteers, here Maria Karagouni, who works in the storeroom where residents can come for food, coffee, pampers, etc. tells us about why she volunteers and what is different about City Plaza.
We filmed in the kitchen as refugees and volunteers (many of whom live at the hotel, along with the refugees) prepared meals. We also filmed at lunchtime the following day and to say that it was lively is a great understatement. We are hoping to post videos of the common spaces, but are still in discussion with everyone at City Plaza as to what they are comfortable for us to show. Many residents are in legal limbo, they also have fears about retributions to their families back home. We are walking a fine line to show their lives while still protecting them.
As moving as our first day’s shoot was at Tavros, it was just a foreshadowing of the amazing time we spent in Thermopyles, our first camp visit. Thermopyles is outside the city of Lamia, several hours north of Athens. It was well known as a hot spring resort, but had fallen into disrepair several years back and had been shut down. When the crisis hit, the borders were closed and it was clear that many refugees would be staying in Greece for longer periods. Journalist Yiorgos Palamiotis proposed that it be turned into a camp and within 48 hours, Yiorgos Bakoyiannis, head of the local prefecture had approved it and refugees were headed there. Here is a clip from our interview with Mr. Bakoyannis where he describes the local response to the influx of refugees.
I have visited refugee camps in many countries and this is the first one I would ever have wanted to stay in. The natural setting is stunning, under an almost mystical mountain. It’s very easy to imagine the Spartans there in their immortal battle against the forces of Xerxes. The camp itself is filled with pine trees and it’s green and cool, a healing environment. Beyond that there are no fences anywhere! Here, Aris Sohos, co-administrator of the camp, tells how it is different from other camps.
Our time at Thermopyles brought home for me yet again a basic rule of documentary filmmaking and journalism in general: Don’t rush and don’t push too hard. Take your time to get to know people and to let them find their comfort with you. No matter how ambitious your schedule or how pressed for time you might be, just to rush in with your cameras and start shooting will only alienate people. Fortunately, Zaphiri had been to the camp on a scouting trip and spent time to get to know most of the staff, so there was already trust there. As the days went on, more and more refugees came up to us to tell their stories.
Here are short clips from two of our people, Saddam and Omar, both from Syria.
The last morning we were in Thermopyles, I managed to spend an hour alone, as the camp was sleeping. With so much time on their hands and no work outside their contributions to keeping the camp clean and to cooking and cleaning their own rooms, the refugees tend to stay up late and sleep late. At the entrance to the camp is an abandoned and derelict gas station and snack bar.
Built in the early sixties, it took me back to my first trip to Greece with my family, when I was 9 years old. How alien and wonderful Greece and Europe was to me then, how many times I’ve visited it since and the people I’ve known. Standing under that timeless mountain, breathing the gentle pines, thinking of the ancient Greeks, and how time moves on, reflecting on the loss the refugees have suffered in our time, I was very much in the present moment while feeling history rolling out before me. I felt my small but true place in this human unfolding.
Tavros is a working-class neighborhood of Athens that is home to many immigrants from different countries for the past twenty years. It was a natural choice for a school immersion program for refugee children living in the nearby Eleona camp. The program runs every afternoon after the Greek students finish their school day. Refugee children are bussed in from the camp to spend a year learning the Greek language to prepare them for mainstream schooling next year. For many of these children, it is their first school experience and love and hugs are the largest component of the program for these often traumatized children.
The principal is the wonderful Dimitris Fileles, who has been at Tavro for thirty years, most of them as a teacher. We interviewed him as well as a parent volunteer, Geli Vlahopoulou, who had been one of his students years ago. She told us of the efforts the local community has undertaken to make the children feel welcome. We spent time in several classrooms, as well as filming interviews with two teachers, the warm and remarkable Vanessa Livani and Adriana Gkota. We also watched Teti Nikopoulou, a dancer, lead the students in gymnastics.
A week before our shoot, Mr. Fileles sent permission forms home with the students and we filmed those students whose parents returned signed forms. Because we did’t want to take them from their classes, we did not interview any of the students. We are looking forward to our next shoot, when we will talk with refugees, as well as the Greeks who are working with them
We were moved by the special comfort given to all the children by the entire staff of the school.
We prepped today for our first day of shooting tomorrow, which will be in Athens. We met with Katerina Poutou, a woman who founded the NGO Arsis that does excellent work with refugees and has a passionate and very capable young staff. We hope to film some of their projects http://www.arsis.gr. Once you arrive on the page, click for an English version of their site. (more…)