Dimitra Kouzi’s ‘Passage to Europe’ at the San Francisco Greek Film Festival

ATHENS – Dimitra Kouzi, journalist and documentary filmmaker, was born in Greece but declares herself a citizen of the world. She has always been preoccupied with transforming the reality of the world and studied film and television in Munich. She worked for many years as a journalist and presenter on major channels in Greece and Germany. But her great love is the independent creative documentary that is now one of the most dynamic forms of modern expression. In 2016, she founded the KinderDocs Documentary Festival for children and young people, in collaboration with the Benaki Museum, The Metropolitan Organization of Museums of Visual Arts of Thessaloniki- MOMus, and the Idfa (Amsterdam) and Doxs festivals! (Duisburg, Germany). In the first five years of KinderDocs, 35,000 children and young people participated.

This year, Kouzi’s documentary film Passage to Europe which refers to the always topical issue of immigration, is screening in the San Francisco Greek Film Festival (SFGFF), April 16-24 and in the 15th Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, May 10-30, 2021. Kouzi spoke with The National Herald about the film.

TNH: The documentary Passage to Europe is coming to America for the SFGFF, April 16-24. What does this mean for a Greek filmmaker?

Dimitra Kouzi: The fact that the documentary Passage to Europe is coming to America (and Canada) at the SFGFF is a huge opportunity for my film to interact with such a wide and complex audience as that of America, which I always wanted to visit and get to know. But since the festival will take place online, I hope there will be an opportunity for a lifelong acquaintance. In this context, I hope for interaction and collaboration suggestions from other creators or actors with common goals, who may find inspiration in my work. I have unused material from the shooting of "Good Morning Mr. Fotis" enough for a third film. I also have another movie in development (ARNode – Connecting with Mit Mitropoulos).

TNH: What is Passage to Europe about and what audience is it addressing?

DK: Passage to Europe deals with the issue of immigration in light of integration into society with respect for diversity, not in theory, but in practice.

Fotis Psycharis has been a teacher for 30 years in a public school in the heart of Athens. The majority of his students, as in the wider region, are children of immigrants and refugees from Africa, the former Soviet Union, the Balkans, the Middle East, and Asia, who often see Greece as an inevitable stopover to other European countries. Cultural differences, the lack of a common language, their transcendence, Ramadan, Bollywood, the unpredictability that emerges in the rehearsals for the show they are preparing for their graduation from primary school, dreams and insecurity for the future make up the special everyday life of the class, which consists of 17 students from 7 different countries. The film is aimed at an adult audience and gives a rare opportunity to watch what is happening in a public school in today's Greece, which is a host country for immigrants and refugees.

In my film I notice a reality that makes me think. What happens when you grow up with two cultures in a country other than the one you were born in? What can we learn from previous similar cases in history? To find the present, you must go to the past and from there to the future.

TNH: Who is "Mr. Fotis" and why did you choose to introduce him to us twice?

DK: In this so different, parallel to our, universe, in the same city where I live, a few kilometers beyond my own bubble and my own habits, I met Fotis, a genuine, creative and educated man, and with him a bright corner of the world, what it is like to be what you do, what you say, there is no separation, your job is your life, your work is something important to leave behind. A pioneering man, who at the same time is as if he came from another era, as if he comes from a few generations back, from another Greece, more accessible, slower, wiser, poorer in goods but richer, mature, familiar but also distant.

I saw what it is like to create your daily life and change it, how much power, how many possibilities people have. In a harsh and difficult environment, a breath from Omonia, where at night you are afraid to walk around alone.

TNH: What was the biggest challenge you had to face in creating Passage to Europe?

DK: The issue of immigration is complex and historically relevant. As much as we want to push it away, we are called to face it in its complexity, and, of course, to see the opportunities it offers.

TNH: What was the moment or scene that touched you the most?

DK: What a surprise it was when a little Afghan, Sahem, who did not speak Greek, spontaneously went up to the board in the classroom and drew a portrait of Fotis. How much potential can a person hide! Also, the moments when I saw the children in my material and I was thinking which of them crossed a sea to be in Fotis’ class or, others, in Lesvos. The feeling that these children have come from somewhere far away, each one carrying with them a difficult story, and entering this class they are called upon, but also have the opportunity, to become citizens of a new continent.


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