How could one present the Greek phrase “All the kilos, all the money,” a mantra of Greek farmers, to Californians and make it relevant? Fortunately, it’s not necessary. “Farming on Crisis?” – a short documentary produced by Pavlos Georgiadis which grabbed first place at the ArcLight Cinemas Documentary Film Festival in Hollywood this November – features Greek agriculturists who manage to cultivate their produce with minimal support from the government, no government subsidies and a deep recession howling behind them. They represent the new generation of Greek farmers.
Take 30-year-old Vasilis Gounaris, who, unlike the majority of farmers in this country that grow conventional products such as cotton, beets, corn, wheat and tomatoes, believes that quality is key. “I want quality, not mass production. But they took it away from us,” he says in the film. “Previously, for example, we were growing soft wheat, then we returned to tough wheat and now we’re importing soft wheat and exporting hard.”
Georgiadis wanted to illustrate the change in the mentality of young farmers today. “Reality strays from the stereotype of a grandfather with antique equipment,” he told Kathimerini. “A large percentage of Greek farmers are educated, with degrees, and often with postgraduate degrees. They speak foreign languages and with the help of social media they can write their own success stories. There are people who thrive on agriculture in almost every village in this country.”
For example, after completing his studies in biology and a long research project in ethnobotany abroad, Georgiadis returned to his village, Makri, near Alexandroupoli in northern Greece, and at the age of 31 became an olive oil producer. With persistance, patience and a good dose of ingenuity, he managed to convert his family grove into an forward-looking olive oil plant. However, it was his role as Greek coordinator of the Slow Food Youth Network that lead to the making of the documentary.
“I was in Amsterdam working with SFYN when I saw a video blog about Dutch farmers. It was then that I thought it would be interesting for a similar documentary to be made in Greece, so we could highlight our situation, which drawing international attention is at the moment, and make a comparison between the northern and southern systems.”
The proposal was not only accepted, but it was subsidized by Greece’s Agricultural Development Ministry, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Young Farmers Association of the Netherlands, within the framework of the European Union’s Foodpolitics.eu webcampaign.
The filming took place last June in locations ranging from Mesti (near Alexandroupoli), Paranesti (Drama) and Thessaloniki to Farsala (Thessaly), Corinth, Crete, Santorini and Athens. Georgiadis’s fellow travelers were director Haris Donias, director of photography Giorgos Tantos and sound engineer Victor Zazopoulos. “With the interviews and images of our country we wanted to send a message to Europeans that there is another picture emerging from Greece – not of corruption, inconsistency and amateurism – but one of hard work, of companionship,” said Georgiadis. There is an ongoing conflict: “The old against the new: the model of subsidies with the rampant use of chemicals and a waste of resources against the mentality of producers striving for quality, to protect the environment and boost the local economy.”
The material was distributed over four video blog episodes (you can watch them at www.vimeo.com/foodpolitics), which were then used to produce the final documentary. The aesthetic departs from the stereotype we’ve become accustomed to, which exhibits slightly decadent images of the countryside. “Our goal was to take the story of Greek farmers all over the world. I believe that agriculture is one of the areas that will help pull us out of the crisis. The Greek earth remains relatively untouched, our fate is hereditary, we have a personal relationship with the land of our ancestors. Our generation’s challenge is to reconnect with the Greek earth,” said Georgiadis.