NEW YORK – If nobody knows the truth, is it still the truth? Beneath the Olive Tree, the remarkable documentary about the concentration camps for women during and after the Greek Civil War, is provoking thought and tears across America.
Narrated by Olympia Dukakis, who was the Executive Producer, and directed by Stavroula Toska, the movie, decades after the fall of the Greek junta, is shattering some taboos about “the junta before the junta” – the repression under post WWII rightwing governments which used the Cold War as cover to crack down on their non-communist opposition.
The Truth, which is healing and liberating for societies and individuals, is often inaccessible and buried, sometimes literally.
Seven journals found beneath an olive tree on the island of Trikiri, near Volos, became the basis for Eleni Fourtouni ‘s book Greek Women in Resistance.
Trikiri was a concentration camp for women and children who were relatives of members of the EAM-ELAS, the communist WWII resistance movement, and Toska told TNH the notebooks were kept by young women under the guidance of educator Rosa Imbrioti.
“They did not know if they were going to get out there alive or not…their hope was at some point someone would discover them and learn what happened on those islands – the torture, the executions, everything,” she said.
Toska was inspired to turn the stories into a movie, and Dukakis opened the door to the hearts and memories the women who have been conditioned by their life experiences to distrust.
“Oh, if Olympia Dukakis is involved, we’ll talk to you,” they told her.
Their stories are not merely political; they have humanitarian power.
“I will never forget the story of the 60-year-old woman who in the mountains finally learned to read,” Dukakis said.
Once Toska gets the distribution deal her dream is for her team to go to Greece for a screening with the women and their families. In the meantime, she is thrilled to convey to them how people are inspired by their lives.
“It all started the moment Olympia handed a book to me in 2010.”
Toska came into Dukakis’ apartment brimming with excitement about a project that just wasn’t appetizing to Olympia.
We had an honest, tough conversation,” Toska said, “I was writing scripts I thought I could sell to television and get me to the next level of success, but I was not expressing myself…Olympia changed my life with two simple questions: why are you writing this and whom are you trying to please?”
The Oscar-winning actress who loves the role of mentor, told her “Forget everybody. Whatever you do, do it for yourself, do it because you have no other choice…If you are going to write, write what you know, or stories that strike a chord with you.”
Toska said “I could tell her anything without be afraid of being judged and I know she has my best interests in mind…whatever she says to me, whether I want to hear it or not, it’s always for the best.”
But on that day the disappointment was too great, and Toska was in tears as she walked out of the light and plant-filled home of the renowned actress and teacher.
Dukakis ran out to her and shouted “wait!” – and handed her the book.
“Something compelled me…To find the book and give it to her…I wanted her to have something she could be passionate about…I did not spend my career looking for success. I was searching for things that grabbed me,” Dukakis told TNH.
After Toska read the book, she came back “a different person” Dukakis said.
“Olympia, who are these women? I went to school in Greece but I never heard of them.”
Dukakis, impressed with the response, told her “If you want to do something about this, even if you don’t know yet was it is, I will support you any way I can.”
Greeks say everything happens for a reason, but there are also accidents.
“I think I may have just stumbled onto the book, and I wanted to do what Stavroula did, but I ended up running a theater and I always felt bad because I dissuaded someone from doing it.”
It was obviously meant to come to life through Toska, but her connection Greek Women in Resistance ran deeper than the two women could imagine.
After pressuring her mother about, “I discovered that my maternal grandmother was one of those women…She was imprisoned for 3 ½ years.”
Dukakis became excited , pounded her fist as exclaimed “Can you believe that!”
IF THEY CRY IN DUBUQUE…
The film was completed in April “after five years of incredible patience…but Olympia kept me going and she has been the biggest cheerleader.”
Dukakis praised Toska’s fortitude – “And she is not even from Mani” – where Dukakis’ mother is from – she said.
The movie had its world premiere at the prestigious Sarasota Film Festival. At the International Film Festival in Dubuque, IA Toska said she had an amazing experience “It didn’t think that people in Iowa of all places… would come to us with tears in their eyes.”
Their first award came from The First Time Film Festival in New York in March and at the Los Angelos Greek Film Festival she won the inaugural Van Vlahakis award for the Most Innovative Film Maker.”
The East Coast premiere is coming up, which her team is very excited about.
“I was blessed with talented people willing to work hard for little or no money. They said I want to be a part of it.”
Sophia Antonini, Toska’s business partner with Orama Pictures, produced and co-wrote it, and Greek-American film maker Nick Efteriades also co-produced. Lauren Jackson made a significant contribution as editor, Tao Zervas wrote the haunting score, Paulina Zaitseva did the animation sequences, and Eleni Drivas was the historical consultant.
Toska has just launched Living the Dream, a web series about film makers trying to make it in New York – which Toska plans to turn in a network comedy series, and she is developing projects dealing with domestic violence, which Dukakis is also passionate about.
“It’s very exciting stuff,” Dukakis said.
They are also looking forward to the documentary Olympia Dukakis Undefined, directed by Harry Mavromichalis.
He filmed her with her family and at work, including arts and social activism projects, but part of the movies magic is scenes from a special trip.
“I had the feeling take the female members of my family, my daughter and my two granddaughters – the matrilineal line – to my mother’s village in Mani.”
She is deeply grateful that a prominent Greek-American producer who admires her work made it happen. “He paid for the transportation – plane fare, helicopters to the village and places like Mycenae and Epidaurus, which is so moving to me – and my granddaughters could not get enough.”
All of Dukakis’ children – she has been married to Serbian-American actor Lou Zorich for 53 years – have a touch of the artist, if not the teacher in them. Among the family treasures in her Manhattan apartment – the Lowell native loves New York – are framed drawings made by her children and grandchildren.
Without even mentioning politics, one learns of genes for many talents in the Dukakis family – Dukakis is also a remarkable athlete and her brother Apollo is also an actor – but their source is beloved Hellas, and the Greek crisis came up often in the discussion.
It was noted that societies, like individuals, are damaged by repressed truths, and they are pleased the movie illuminates the current crisis. They pointed to the rise of the far left despite the decades of suppression, and also to the fascist elements in Greece, and interference from outside powers, the timing is amazing.
It can be argued that there was a double taboo, in Greece, first against talking about rightwing persecution of the left, and also the resistance within the left, perhaps because they provoked persecution, to a reexamination of treasured principles and policies. Across the spectrum parties must “Adapt or die,” Toska said, but sclerosis in Greece comes in all political colors.
Dukakis pointed out the far left should be supporting reforms that fight corruption and tax evasion among the rich, but in Greece, the supposedly progressive far left seems opposed to change of any kind.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras they agreed, however, is showing signs he can distinguish the necessary structural reforms necessary to build a New Greece from the Troika’s other demands.
For more information about the film and Stavroula Toska, visit oramapictures.info.