NEW YORK – Istoria follows Greek-Australian filmmaker Nicolaos Demourtzidis, his father, Peter, grandfather, Elias, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and grandmother Athena as they travel from Australia to Greece to help Elias find closure. The powerful and moving film, directed by David Ockenden, had its New York premiere on October 2 at the 11th Annual New York City Greek Film Festival.
The documentary is an important story not only for the Demourtzidis family, but for all families, and for anyone interested in Greek history and memory, as it highlights the devastating toll of the Greek Civil War even to this day. The film won a Best Documentary award at the 2017 London Greek Film Festival in May and the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Award in 2016.
The audience at the New York premiere was moved to tears by the emotionally-charged journey this family made back to the village in Greece and the struggle with the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s. The return to Pelargos is at first joyful as it seems to bring Elias into more awareness and engagement with the world around him as he recognizes the village.
Meeting with family and locals who also lived through World War II and the Greek Civil War brings back memories and also helps the Demourtzidis family reconnect with their roots, discovering more about Elias’ father Manolis and his fate. An expert on genealogy reveals more details about Manolis and about Panagiotis, Elias’ older brother who was also killed in the Civil War.
The film also uses archival footage and family photographs to shed light on the complicated history of the period, the brutal attacks and reprisals that tore families and the nation apart. The harrowing experiences described by the survivors of the war and devastation are haunting and give the audience a glimpse of that pivotal time in Greek history.
Nicolaos Demourtzidis, Elias’ grandson spoke with The National Herald in June about the film. He said of the decision to share this very personal story, “Before my grandfather was diagnosed with the Alzheimer’s disease, I didn’t understand what the disease meant or what impact it had on families. Even when we were told he had it, it didn’t have the impact of bad news broken to me. Little did I know of what was to come. It came to a turning point that we started seeing the impact on his daily life and what affect it had on his family and especially my Yiayia. My Pappou was drifting away from us, like a log slowly going down stream. Some days you wouldn’t see the difference and other days you would. I was losing my best friend right before my eyes and I couldn’t handle it. This is the part when the ‘bad news’ hit hard on me of his disease. I was going to lose my Pappou like it or not and his story… my story! This was the catalyst that made we want to do it, so many people told me it was too late, and it should have been done earlier, but, of course, the stubborn Greek in me pushed on and made it happen! I do have to add, a lot of prayer was going on at the time; it’s quite hard to get the clearance from a doctor to let a sick, elderly man fly across the other side of the world. I didn’t want to do this story necessarily to share my Pappou’s story, his story is for me and my children. What he went through for me and my family is what needed to be shared. People need to know that their Pappouthes and Yiayiathes went through the same thing so the next generation could be who they are today. You can’t lose this. If we lose our story, our history, then what legacy do we have to pass on? Collectively what culture will we have to share? To answer your question in short, I decided to share the documentary and take it to the next level when I realized that we all need to find our Istoria in life. The world is one beautiful mosaic, but it’s losing its color, if we each can keep our piece colorful and bright, then our culture will exist onto the ages.”
When asked what it was like working on the film, Demourtzidis said, “By far the hardest project we have done, when you are emotionally attached to a project it always makes it that one bit harder. We had to stay professional and let the story unfold and not letting any tears get in the way. There were scenes where my Pappou was crying his soul out and ripping down walls from the pain in confronting his past, we had to stay behind the camera and let it unfold. Very tough. The hardest part of working with my father was seeing him during difficult times, very rarely do you see your father cry as they need to be strong for the family, but him seeing his father go through it all was just too painful to watch.”
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