NEW YORK – Panayioti Yannitsos is a Canadian-Greek filmmaker based out of Vancouver, BC. He took time out of his busy schedule to talk to The National Herald about his latest film project, Freedom Besieged: Unshackling the Youth of Greece.
Yannitsos told TNH, “Since August 2016, we have been in production of a feature-length documentary concerning the current economic and political climate of Greece and specifically how such has impacted the psychology and development of the nation’s youth.”
He continued, “We begin by chronicling the story of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a fifteen-year-old boy shot and killed in cold blood by Greek police in 2008. An event that sparked outrage and awoke many youth in the country to analyze their own place in the modern Greek narrative. This is our inciting incident and from there…
“We communicate a hope-based theme by showcasing some of the most unique actions positively impacting the psychology of Greek youth today despite the doom-and-gloom messaging of the economic crisis that our young people are all too familiar with.” The young people whose stories are chronicled in the documentary are:
“John Karkalotos, a local farmer in the village of Kiveri, Argolida who runs a youth basketball camp that instills values of self-belief in the local youth;
Apostolos Sianos, who fled Athens for the mountains of Euboea to create a groundbreaking eco-village where he and other young Greeks seek a fully self-sustainable lifestyle;
Konstantinos Papachristou, a fifteen-year-old from Thessaloniki who created Greece’s first online teen think tank for youth to discuss amongst one another topics concerning the nation;
Eirini Fanarioti, a young director and actress who refused to leave Greece and founded her own theatre company; and
Yannis Diakoumakos, who despite gutting bureaucracy and taxation that threatens his business, continues to build and design analogue synthesizers that have been distributed successfully around the world to bands such as Depeche Mode and Aerosmith.”
Yannitsos told TNH that his grandparents are from a village called Kiveri in Argolida, and his father’s side is from a village in Arcadia. “My love for Greece obviously comes from my relationship with my grandparents all of whom were immigrants and I went there a lot as a kid.”
Of the inspiration for the project, Yannitsos said, “When I was 20, I’m 25 now, it was kind of the heart of the crisis beating down in Greece and I was speaking with some of my friends in central Athens and I was asking them about what was happening in the country, and the answer I got was one of indifference and complacency, basically, they felt like their voice had not been heard and that there was no use anymore in speaking out, and when I heard that it was quite troubling to me because even worse than anarchists throwing Molotov cocktails is young people who feel as if there is no hope or refuse to take any action, it’s a really dangerous thing.”
He continued, “I knew of a youth development camp that was happening in the village where my mother’s father is from, and it’s this really amazing thing where a local farmer for two months out of the year uses the game of basketball to instill values of teamwork and self respect in the local rural youth, there are not many extracurricular activities especially for rural youth, especially for young Greek women, so at first, I thought I might do a film there about the future of Greek youth and how we need to start hearing the Greek individual, but then of course I realized this was a much bigger story the more time I spent in Greece.
“We started filming in August of 2016, and began in this small village with this youth development camp, and then I sent an email to Professor Noam Chomsky at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to tell him about what I was thinking with the project because I wanted him to chime in and to interview him for the project and if he was going to sign on I knew it was going to be a bigger conversation. Prof. Chomsky replied to my email and said that he wanted to see me and appear on camera to talk about the crisis of identity within young generations growing up in Greece, and so we did that interview and later that afternoon I spoke with former U.S. presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, and so things started to build momentum and I knew I had to tell a bigger story and I had to involve a lot of people to have a larger conversation.”
The 70-minute documentary also features interviews with world-renowned intellectuals, scientists, doctors, psychologists, politicians, police officers, teachers, and experts from within Greece and the international community. Yannitsos said, “The idea is to create a sense of connectivity between the voices of Greek youth and the voices of the world around them as we discuss this important topic of youth identity in Greece.”
The participants in this film include:
Noam Chomsky- world-renowned intellectual, Michael Dukakis- Former Massachusetts Governor and U.S. Presidential Nominee, Kyriakos Mitsotakis- New Democracy Party Leader, Pyrros Dimas- four-time Olympic medalist, Giorgos Karagounis- Greek football legend, Eleni Portaliou- stateswoman and professor, Margaritis Schinas- Chief Spokesperson of the European Commission, Dimitri Diamantidis- Greek basketball legend, Peter Economides- brand strategist, Yvette Jarvis- first African-American elected to Greek public office, Dr. Jordan Peterson- clinical psychologist, Peter Diamandis- engineer, physician, entrepreneur, Dr. Gabor Mate- childhood development expert, Dr. George Steiris- Professor of Philosophy, Dr. Antonis Vradis- Professor of Geography, Dr. Vassilis Xeras- physician, Dr. Mary Bossis- Professor of International Affairs, Dr. Anastasios Matsopoulos- Professor of Psychology, University of Crete, and Eleni Antoniadou- scientist, Transplants Without Borders, NASA.
Yannitsos said, “Until now, my company has self-financed this film through production along with a handful of independent donations. To this day, we continue to fundraise the money needed to finish the project.”
“We are currently editing the film in Vancouver and plan to have it finished by April of 2018,” he noted, adding that “a trailer will be released March 1.”
“This is not a film about economic policy or the day to day drama of Greek politics. This film is about communication. How we, as community leaders, engage with our youth in order to provide a social environment that promotes self-belief and allows them to innovate freely and grow. Therefore, the purpose of this film was to communicate a hope-based theme by showcasing some of the most unique actions positively impacting the psychology of Greek youth today. The image of a elderly man weeping outside a Greek bank makes headlines but we forget about the 20-year-olds building an eco village three hours away? We obsess over the trauma and ignore those trying to generate something positive, as if they are aliens, or as some have put it to me, ‘exceptions to the Greek reality.’ The young Greeks I have spoken to do not accept that reality. The message we put out there in the world affects the psychology of our children. To remain ignorant to this fact is reckless.”
“Then, by having the film’s narration driven by the interviews of prominent intellectuals, politicians, police officers, teachers, and experts from in Greece and around the world, there would exist a sense of connectivity between Greek youth and the world around them. The topic of Greek youth identity has now been put in the mouths of some of planet Earth’s most respected voices and community leaders. That means something. Above all, I want to let young Greeks know that there are those of us who will not let the conversation of their future take place without them. This film includes the voices of dozens upon dozens of promising, young Greeks, from actors to theology students to farmers. Although there have been other documentaries done about the negative consequences of the Greek crisis, our film is unique because it focuses on a side to this conversation often ignored. And what many on the global stage forget is that there are those in Greece who have reacted to this crisis with innovation, compassion, and a focus driven on the future. Greek youth today have been positioned as a lost generation and this film is dedicated to the many who are fighting that stigma.”
Yannitsos said, “What has been clear about this documentary from the beginning is that our door remains open to anyone who wishes to answer our call, including the Prime Minister himself. This film is the equivalent to sitting under one roof together, face to face, and having a conversation with the young Greeks we should have been listening to decades ago.”
Official trailer released March 1: https://youtu.be/LyB3okI7pME