Each time I entered the Jerusalem Cinematheque this week for a screening at the Jerusalem Film Festival, my Greek friend Alexia came to mind. Alexia who was home schooling her daughters and worked at an animal shelter on the island we lived, would take her teenage daughters to the Thessaloniki film festival for a week as part of their home schooling curriculum. And this week I indeed realized the immense contribution good films can have in shaping characters and awakening us to becoming involved and engaged citizens.
Good films make us think, and expose us to issues we were not aware of. They are capsules of art, knowledge and critical thinking.
We went to see the Greek film Park in the framework of the 34th film festival. Park, was not a walk in the park, even though its focus is on a group of teenagers who spend their time in the premises of the deserted Olympic Village facilities in Athens.
Although an ex Athenian myself, at the time of the Olympics in Greece in 2004, I lived on Alexia's island and remember how the whole country had come on board for the Olympics. All of a sudden there was a mass movement of volunteers who contributed of their time and skills towards the success of the Olympic Games, a volunteerism and synergistic spirit unprecedented in Modern Greek culture. In the papers there was a countdown to the games reporting on the progress of the different buildings and metro stations that had to be ready for the show. And the Greeks pulled it together, and the stadium was ready on time as were the hundreds of other venues that hosted competitions.
And masters in the art of theatre and presentation, music and sculpture that Greeks are, Dimitiris Papaioannou and his team managed to glue us on our television screens as we watched from the island the unparalleled aesthetics, beauty and sophistication that the opening ceremony of Athens 2004 Olympic Games offered the world. The best of Greek performers, musicians, actors, choreographers, dancers, stage experts and others worked in synergy under the visionary orchestration of Papaioannou to bring forth a masterpiece showing the world what modern Greece is capable of, if it wills and works in a team spirit.
The focal point of global humanity's attention while they happen, the Olympic Games also serve to bring from each city a global message and vision for the world. And in 2004 the vision for the world brought out by Athens was a world that has not lost the sense of community, the sense of humanism and solidarity. A world were man holds these games in celebration of the human spirit, a human spirit that seeks beauty, brotherhood and peace.
Director Sophia Exarchou born in Athens in 1979, must have experienced the high of the Olympics in Athens 2004. Exarchou was in my mind showing us an image of the downfall of Greece through Park. An image of the deserted Olympic village, juxtaposed in our collective memory with the Olympic Games "high" Athenians communally experienced back in 2004. But no, Exarchou in an interview says that she did not want to relate to the Greek crisis in particular in her film but rather wanted the film to depict a no man's land; A place that could be found anywhere. And a no man's land it is, and audiences can relate to the film whether they live in Athens, Tel Aviv, London or Berlin.
We all relate to teenagers. And the boys depicted are mostly second generation of immigrants who come together to spend their time and blend in with fellow Athenian teenagers. In the film they spend their days, in the decaying surroundings that could be anywhere anytime. Dimitris, the protagonist is shown to work from time to time in a marble business to be released to his home out of lack of enough work. Decay and decadence are prevalent, and we witness a generation that wakes up and goes to sleep without a ray of hope for a better life ahead.
We the audience, look at these youngsters and see them as trapped in a condition of no exit.
Alcohol and cheap entertainment, is what we see on screen as temporary exits from their condition. These kids are alone, deserted by both their families and the state's authorities and try to find ways to channel their youth's awakening. And we constantly feel how exposed these kids are to danger, to violence, to aggression, to being taken advantage of and mistreated, sort of like young animals in need of a shelter.
And as the parents that we are, the film was not an easy one to stomach, and our minds could not stop thinking of what could be done today differently in Greece and elsewhere.
When we walked home and breathed some crisp Jerusalem air we brainstormed as to what would be possible to offer these kids. Venues to become the potential athletes they could be, the potential dancers, actors and mechanics and the potentially fulfilled and contributing adults they could become if only somebody would stop, notice, care and provide a grassroots build up of hope and future where abandonment and deserted spirit now reside.
And Alexia who works at the animal shelter and her homeschooled daughters along with us and our daughters came up in my mind's eye again.