NEW YORK – Sometimes it takes an artist to bring clarity or a greater sense of urgency to the burning issues of the times. In the 19th Century people like Eugene Delacroix through paintings such as “Greece on the ruins of Missolonghi” helped shift elite and mass perceptions; today, filmmakers like Minos Papas weigh on war from a different perspective.
Living in New York, it began to concern Papas that in the City one could hardly tell that America has been at war for more than a decade.
Those who felt the brunt of the wars were the returning veterans, and he wants to tell their story.
Papas has been researching veterans and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for three years and is preparing for the production of a 15-minute short subject, Tango on the Balcony, which he plans to turn into a feature film.
He believes people are not aware of the full cost of war, not only in terms of deaths, but of lives damaged and families shattered. Papas, however, doesn’t want to rehash the causes but to shine a light on hope and moving forward.
“For the generation that has come back,” he said, and for the Iraqi people, “it is a process of healing, and it should not be politicized.” Nor does he seek to glorify the soldiers. “It should purely be about what they have been through.”
He worked very closely with veterans and began to understand the challenges they face from PTSD when he was an instructor in a film making workshop run by Benjamin Patton called “I Was There.”
The project was for veterans and family members coping with the stress related to military service and the transition back to civilian life.
Veterans are invited to make short films about their experiences and how they feel today. “It encourages them to collaborate, communicate, and empower themselves through a story,” Papas said.
“In the short film I touch upon things like the job search, which is very challenging for veterans, and displaying the symptoms of PTSD such as insomnia, hypervigilance and hyper arousal,” he said.
It is still a mystery to scientists, and Papas hope his film will stimulate funding for more research.
“PTSD is often caused by a single trauma that happens in one instant that goes by in a flash, but which can scar you…and change your life, and dictate how you will be for the rest of your life,” said Papas.
The movie tells the story of Johnny, “a veteran who while in the service, took down a target on a balcony” – hence title of the film. “But that target comes back,” Papas said.
“Johnny sees him again and the target engages Johnny in a discussion, almost in a Shakespearean, Macbeth-like way…It’s very much about memory, how we deal with it and how it continues to haunt us, and how we have to live with our memories.”
Papas doesn’t believe these issues have been properly addressed for the current generation of soldiers, and in the film he will go into the gray areas that films like American Sniper do not touch.
Pappas is now in the midst of an internet fundraising campaign and more information is available at www.tangoonthebalcony.com. The RocketHub video can be viewed and donations can made be at: http://rkthb.co/57550.
Papas, an only child, recalls wanting to make films since childhood. It came with the territory – his father Michael Papas is a feature film maker who worked in England from the 1960s to the 1980s and Minos was constantly in the production office and on the sets.
He mother Susan met Michael Papas in London in the 1960s. “She worked on my father’s first film and since then they have been working together since.”
The parents appear to have influenced both the form and content of the son’s art. A number of the formers’ films deal with social and political issues. “Private Right” was about Cyprus’ struggle for independence from the British.
When he was 16, Papas made a short film that won first prize in an international film completion, and it encouraged him to come to New York in 1999 to study film at the School of Visual Arts.
After graduation he freelanced as a director and cinematographer and has been making his own films and videos ever since he established Cyprian Films NY in 2005 as a daughter company of his father’s firm in Cyprus.
“I feel I have a huge responsibility to make films that are socially relevant,” he said, but not only due to family influence. The adolescent fantasies his colleagues were expressing in the vanity films they were creating caused him to want do something different.
“We have to look beyond ourselves…and the best stories are found by looking at the human condition as a whole,” he said.
And at one’s people.
“All artists have the responsibility to tell the story of the tribe which leads the tribe to understand itself…We understand ourselves through our stories,” Pappas said, which reminded that his father directed a second narrative feature film about Cyprus called Tomorrow’s Warrior.
One wonders if Papas is fated – he certainly has nature, nurture and the times pushing him – to tell the story of Greece’s and Cyprus’ recent painful stumbles, their tangos with tragedy.