NEW YORK – If reality or humanity is not holographic, as some thinkers believe, a community’s memory is. Knowledge of events and epochs is all not stored in one place, and every little piece illuminates the whole. Film maker Maria Iliou has journeyed far and wide to gather the images – still photos and precious film clips – that constitute the national memory of Greece which are scattered all over their world.
She he feels very fortunate to have found them, and the latest product of her devotion and artistry, from Both Sides of the Aegean, will be screened at Manhattan’s Quad Cinema March 21-April 3.
The new movie is a continuation of Iliou’s SMYRNA: The Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City, and presents the aftermath of the age-old Greek city’s heinous burning. It focuses on the violent expulsion of 1.2 million Greeks from the Ottoman Empire and the forcible relocation of 400,000 Muslims from Greece.
Iliou and historical consultant Alexander Kitroeff, associate professor of history of Haverford College, “once again gather a remarkable library of archival film and photographs as background to individual testimonies of Greek Orthodox and Muslim refugees across generations.
Iliou said exactly the same team she has been working with for 15 years created the film. “The theme could be from both sides of the Atlantic because it is a Greek, European and American team.” Allen Moore and John Zecca, the photographer and sound engineer, respectively, who are well known in the U.S. Editor, Editor Aliki Panagi and Nikos Platyrachos, who was responsible for the music, helped give the first film its haunting quality.
The second begins with of a boat crossing the sea at sunrise. The lovely and tranquil scene is succeeded by images of chaotic docks and desperate refugees.
The film’s probing interviews reveal the painful similarities of the experiences and inspire hope that the grandchildren of the refugees from both sides of the Aegean can begin to understand and reach out to each other,” according to the fim’s website, www.aegeandocumentary.org.
Both Greeks and Turks tell of family members being abused and called “foreigners” by their own people after their heart-wrenching journeys across the Aegean.
When Iliou began to work on the story of Smyrna, she intended to make one film, but as she travelled around the world – not only selecting but discovering and, most importantly, restoring images about the city, she found photos related what happened after its destruction
She looked at the scenes of the expulsion of the population and the refugee camps and she could not just set them aside. She started collecting those and then contacted the Bodossakis Foundation’s archive preservation project, which was already helping with the Smyrna pictures, and its officials agreed to preserve post-burning photos as well.
Even then she did not think about making an additional film, but when she and Kitroeff met at Princeton with Angelos Delivorias of the Benaki Museum, with which she has worked closely for 10 years, the latter was fascinated by the images. After viewing the trailer for the first film Delivorias exclaimed “this is two films!”
And they realized he was right. It was only logical. “But hidden behind,” the logical decision, Iliou said, there was an unconscious motivation “because my personal story was very much connected with both films.”
Her father was from Smyrna, and after he passed away, she gained a step-father who was also dear to her, and he was from Kerasous on the Black Sea coast.
“He told me the story of the expulsions and the exchange of populations, so I grew up with both stories,” she told The National Herald.
Iliou began her fruitful collaboration with Kitroeff on The Journey: The Greek American Dream (2007).
As she prepared for the Smyrna film she thought about finding a Smyrna expert, but soon she realized Kitroeff was more than a specialist even though he hadn’t written a book about it.
Both films, which were produced by Proteas & Proteas, were presented at the Benaki Museum in Athens in 2012.
After waves of nationalism in both Greece and Turkey have left their distorting marks on the history books, Iliou set her mind to the task believing “it is very important that we be able to tell our stories by being really objective… we are trying to speak about the terrible things that happened to the Greeks, openly and objectively.”
Viewers have told TNH that the second one is a more personal and heartfelt t film because of the testimonies, declaring that the uprooting are heartbreaking.
Iliou noted that it is not only a film about an exchange of populations. “Its subtitle is Expulsion and Exchange of Population – we are showing that Greek were expelled, and they were killed and lost their homes.”
“With the Moslems, it was not the same – they lost their homes – but pain is something universal, she said.
The burning of Smyrna and the Pontian genocides are recounted in the first half of the film, and Sana Halo is featured. She is the protagonist in the story Not Even My Name, the powerful book about the Asia Minor genocides of the Ottoman state that was written by her daughter, Thea Halo.
The film then focuses on the expulsion and exchange, and the Greeks who lost their homes, “but we incorporate stories from the other side of the Aegean.
Caglar Keyder, one of the main historians who appear in the film, “is not a nationalist, he is a serious historian who teaches in Turkey and the U.S. You immediately see he is an open-minded man,” Iliou said.
There are testimonies from both Greek and Moslem refugees. “It’s important to narrate our stories in an objective way… to really know what happened in your past…it is the only way to move forward into the future.”
She said there are particularly moving moments when Kalliope Georgiadou, who grew up in northern Greece but whose family roots are in Cappadocia, slipped into speaking Turkish and used the words for “the old country” in referring to Cappadocia, and in another scene, Husnu Karaman, who lives in Cesme but whose grandfather was from Iraklion, Crete, began to speak Greek and referred to the “palia patrida – the old country,” when he told about going there to find his home.
“It’s very touching how the people of the second and third generations are trying to bridge that gap and create new networks and rediscover lost identities,” though new friendships, Iliou said. “This is people, not politics.”
Iliou’s next project, which will also be undertaken in collaboration with the Benaki, is a complicated one she told TNH. “It’s called Athens Metamorphoses, nine documentaries about Athens from the moment it became the capital of the new Greek state to the present.” The project will again entail travelling around the world and preserving “lost” photos.
She explained that images of the Acropolis will recur over and over again through the series “because as the city is transformed, so is the Acropolis,” she said.
She is very grateful to the institutions which have funded her work through the years, including Bodossakis Foundation, Hellenic Parliament TV and the Nicholas and Anna Bouras Foundation, which helped fund the new film. She also thanks the New York City Greek Film Festival and the Hellenic American chamber of Commerce for their support and their help in arranging the screening at the QuadCinema.