Film Revisits Guerilla Groups Past, But Is Greece Ready?

Reporting from Athens — Mindful of any suspicious movements, a lanky man emerges from obscurity toting a bulky black bag. He crosses the four lanes of a busy boulevard, enters Greeces biggest port and briskly proceeds to a whitewashed ticket office, planting his bag beneath a rubbish bin. Five steps into his getaway, though, something seems wrong. He stops, looks back, and a powerful explosion from the bag throws his body 30 feet, leaving him maimed, mangled and nearly dead.

The botched terrorist attack is just the curtain-raiser.

For about two hours, the political cinematic thriller *quot;17*quot; intends to remind Greeks of the raw mayhem that the November 17 terrorist group caused in a wave of politically motivated assassinations, bombings and banks heists that lasted nearly 30 years.

Named for the date that a 1973 student protest was crushed by the tanks of the ruling junta at the time, November 17 grew out of a popular struggle against the United States and its support of a military dictatorship that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974. The group, also known as 17N, killed 23 men, beginning with Athens CIA station chief Richard Welch in 1975. Its members eluded arrest for 27 years, and the group attained mythical status in a land where myths were born.

But debate over *quot;17,*quot; even before the film is finished, illustrates just how raw that era of terror remains and how terrorism is still a touchy topic long after militant Marxist revolutionary movements fizzled out across Europe and a series of arrests in Athens shut down 17N in 2002.

The controversy also raises the question: Is Greece ready for such a film?

Security experts are concerned that the movie may confuse crowds and agitate sympathizers. Relatives of the victims of 17N are wary of how their kin may be portrayed and troubled about seeing the group gaining prominence once more.

The movie, with a $1-million budget, marks the first big-screen depiction of the notorious gang. But its fact-based fiction, not a documentary, and the storyline counters the official theory that 17N was a band of brutal criminals.

Yet even with that kind of treatment, the sharpest response to the film has come from the relatives and sympathizers of the groups members.

Producers have dealt with legal threats from the wife of 17Ns chief assassin, who was a beekeeper by day, killer by night, and is now serving life in prison.

Amid the tense atmosphere, in September director George Papatheodorous arm was broken by a hit-and-run motorcyclist, and a key producer from Cyprus quit the film because he feared reprisals by militant youths.

*quot;There is a looming sense of unease and trepidation [over the production] because the theme is so sensitive,*quot; said actress Natalia Dragoumi, who plays the wife of the lead terrorist. *quot;Terrorism still thrives in Greece. Its not over. We live it daily.*quot;

As actors returned to the set last week after a monthlong break, details of the shoot were being kept secret.

*quot;Its like a covert operation,*quot; Papatheodorou said. *quot;We notify the actors of the shooting location a day or so before filming. They have been asked not to divulge any details.*quot;

Rather than wallow in the butchery committed by the militants, Papatheodorou said, his movie humanizes the killers, *quot;carefully and calculatingly*quot; expunging the view that 17N terrorists were common criminals.

*quot;Many of these guys were fathers and family men; others were simpletons who had no idea what they were getting into, but then … remained trapped in the 17N enterprise,*quot; said the chain-smoking filmmaker who grew up in Greeces turbulent 1970s and based his movie on years of research and accounts from people who knew 17N members or associated with Greek revolutionaries.

The open-access news website Indymedia, among other critics, have already targeted the film, chiding Papatheodorou for *quot;serving the interest of police*quot; and making an *quot;indignant attempt to reap profits*quot; from the *quot;heroic*quot; group, according to Tweets and comments posted in recent weeks.

*quot;There is no better time for this film,*quot; the director responds. *quot;Art is obliged to prepare society for new, emerging realities.*quot;

When police arrested 17 terrorists after a botched bomb attack in 2002 — slated as the movies opening scene — Greeks were stunned: Rather than chillingly invincible revolutionaries, the group was a surprisingly boring bunch.

Most important, though, Greeks thought that the arrests would render their country terrorist-free.

But a new vintage of extremism has developed, with a rash of groups claiming to be bigger, better and nastier than 17N. Many of the new cells have been feeding on popular resentment against the government for implementing brutal austerity measures to stave off bankruptcy.

Whatever their reasoning or cause, the film isnt shy about stating the obvious: Nothing can be achieved through fanatical, cold-blooded killings.


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