By Penelope Karageorge
Author Franz Kafka wrote “I think we ought only to read the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for…A book must be an axe for the frozen sea within us.” Substitute the word film for book and you have described Greece Year Zero, an epic documentary that compresses 200 years of Greek history into 77 fascinating minutes. It is frequently painful to watch, but you cannot look away as right-wingers, left-wingers, foreign governments, 17-year-old monarchs and politicians of all ilk command the destiny of the Hellenes.
Why this film? Why now? Says producer/director/writer Dannis Koromilas: “I wanted to show a circle of history, that Greece now is exactly where they were in 1832. Whether it’s putting in a monarch or a political party, it’s the European superpowers that rule. Most people know perhaps 20 minutes of the 77 minutes of this film. The peak moments. There’s a lot of information that’s being disseminated for the first time to the Greek Diaspora.
“It’s not cheerful. You know the masks we have of comedy and tragedy. Greeks do tragedy well. It’s a dark film. Greeks have had the misfortune of being swindled by politicians and foreign governments, but they were always optimistic. This regime is going to help us, or that leader. I wanted to put the last couple of centuries into context, to show what Greeks have endured. And you can see how it ends. Despite their situation, the Greeks did not turn their backs on those less fortunate, the emigrants who fled to Greece. They have benevolence and love in their hearts. Most people walk away from the film with a sense of pride.”
Koromilas devoted six years to researching his film, and discovered some stunning and revelatory new film footage. “ERT was shut down for eighteen months when I started working on the film and it housed most of the archival footage. I had to go to the back streets and private collectors to discover who had footage, who had photographs. I didn’t want to do a retread.
“For instance, in 1941 unknown cinematographer Angelos Papanastassiou walked around Athens with a camera hidden in a coffee can. His film was used in the Nuremburg trials on genocide and atrocity against the Greeks. One sees the skeletal remains of those who starved to death in Athens. I had to go to the photographer’s daughter, who was 77 years old. She gave me carte blanche to use the film as long as I did not hurt Greece. For the first two or three years before I solidified the script, I went through hundreds of texts and books. Between 2011 and 2012, I believe I went through 100,000 images from a variety of sources before I selected 250.”
Viewing this kaleidoscope of bad moves leaves one dismayed as a succession of foreign powers attempts to kill or cure Greece. Even more heartbreaking: Greeks fight off the enemy but then turn around to destroy Greece from within. The Civil War, a ghastly occurrence, is brutally dramatized in Greece Year Zero.
ERT has secured the rights to Greece Year Zero and will be showing it over the next 18 months. It will be going to the International TV Market at Cannes, and made its successful U.S. debut at the Palace Theatre in Canton, Ohio, on Greek Independence Day. More than 1,000 attended this special screening sponsored by AHEPA and the “Greek network.” AHEPA plans to screen the film at their national convention in Orlando and also for the 131 Greek Caucus members in Washington, DC.
Koromilas grew up in Toronto, Canada, son of parents who came from a small village near Kalamata. His name Dannis was a derivation of Dennis – English for Dionysios. His mother’s typo on the birth certificate was responsible for the distinctive name. Koromilas studied at York University in Canada, and at New York Film Academy. “For about nine years, I went back and forth between New York and Los Angeles and finally got a TV series going, The Bridge, and sold 13 episodes to CBS. I did the math and realized that I had spent 5 years bringing a police drama to fruition. In 2010 I said, if I’m going to spend that much time on a project, it has to be something that I author myself, and that it’s a legacy project, for me to show my love of Greece. And that’s where we are now.
“It’s the film I wanted to make since I was a 22-year-old kid and I went with my mother back to the village to exhume my uncle’s bones. It was rainy, damp, and cold and I heard stories of famine, struggle and survival. That story has been gestating ever since, and now it’s Greece Year Zero.”
More information is available online at http://greeceyearzero.com/.