By Harry van Versendaal
The controversial shutdown of Greece's state TV and radio broadcaster last year, the devastating implications of German-inspired austerity policies on Europe's southern periphery, the effect of Turkey's most significant cultural export: soap operas.
These are some of the issues at the focus of local filmmakers taking part in this year's Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (TDF) which gets under way on March 14 with 60 titles – feature as well as shorts – listed in the Greek program.
The thought-provoking lineup includes works dealing with a wide range of subjects such as the environment, history, migration and the arts – although a fair share of filmmakers naturally took an interest in the ongoing financial crisis which has trapped Greece in recession for more than six years.
A year after “Neo-Nazi: The Holocaust of Memory,” TV journalist and documentarist Stelios Kouloglou returns to the TDF with another timely project. This time he documents the social and economic repercussions of the ongoing malaise on Greece and other debt-wracked nations in the euro area. The 100-minute film, titled “The Godmother,” does so while presenting a portrait of one of the key characters in the European debt saga, Angela Merkel, detailing her rise from humble Protestant pastor's daughter to chancellor of European paymaster Germany. The title of the documentary is taken from veteran Christian Democrat Gertrud Hohler's book “The Godmother: How Angela Merkel Is Reconstructing Germany.”
Also related to the crisis is Yorgos Avgeropoulos's “Lost Signal of Democracy,” which chronicles the Greek government's decision in June 2013 to abruptly shut down the country's state broadcaster ERT after 75 years of continuous operation. The highly controversial move, which led to the defection of a junior socialist partner from the power-sharing administration, was portrayed by authorities as a bid to trim state spending as demanded by the terms of an international bailout as an allegedly smaller, cheaper corporation was set up in ERT's place.
ERT's shutdown did nothing to slow the invasion of Turkish soap operas, which have proved a major success in Greece as well as the Arab world. “Kismet,” by Nina Maria Paschalidou, examines the popularity of shows such as “Fatmagul” and “Suleiman” and their cultural impact on Islamic homes as they challenge social norms and taboos in the more hardline nations. Filmed in Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bulgaria and Greece, Paschalidou's documentary features interviews with the stars, directors, and scriptwriters coupled with experts' opinion and portraits of fans.
The TDF, now in its 16th year, runs until March 23.