Dannis Koromilas subtitles his film Greece Year Zero as A Cinematic Essay Exploring Greece’s Untold Century. In fact this moving and brilliant documentary touches on almost two centuries of Greek history from the outbreak of The Greek War of Independence to the current financial crisis that has brought Greeks to their knees.
In the eighty minutes of the film Koromilas zeroes in on a judiciously selected number of events in Greek history, provides narrative descriptions and some extraordinary footage that has rarely or never been seen before.
There are paintings and photographs from the nineteenth century and film clips and still photographs from World War I and the following decades right up to the current financial debacle. Some of the footage is fascinating as an illustration of Greek history such as clips of the short and pudgy General Ioannis Metaxas, the dictator who gained heroic status when Greece was attacked by Mussolini and Churchill’s visit to Greece on Christmas Day 1944. We get heart-wrenching scenes of children and adults dying of hunger after the Nazi occupation, of mass graves and of executions and an astounding collection of archival material.
The film deserves immense kudos for its collection of illustrative material alone but it has a lot more than that. It gives a brief but synoptic view of Greece as it stumbled from crisis to crisis and survived successive governments that were all too frequently corrupt or inept.
A connecting theme is the borrowing of money abroad and the mounting national debt. From excessive borrowing in the 19th century that led to the national bankruptcy of 1893 to the borrowing binge of the last few decades, Greek politicians seem to have learned nothing from their history. In fact things got even worse than grotesque economic mismanagement. The Greek government simply cooked the books in order to get into the Eurozone. The word for that is fraud.
Koromilas tries to be scrupulously even-handed in his presentation of facts but there is no way he can avoid strident disagreements with his approach. Communist-led EAM/ELAS gets considerable coverage but there is hardly a mention of the right-wing EDES. He avoids mentioning that the resistance groups fought among each other as much if not more than they fought the enemy and his sympathies are clearly with the people as opposed to their leaders.
The film is narrated in English by Alex Karzis and it is easily transported to other countries by providing a voice-over in different languages.
I will not try to argue about Koromilas’s approach or the events that he selected. When the film is generally distributed, there will no doubt be a storm of arguments about his choices. So be it. I will however comment about the visit of Winston Churchill after Greece’s liberation from the Nazis in 1944.. By mentioning the December Events (Dekemvriana) after covering the visit, the film gives the impression that Churchill visited Greece before the December 3, 1944 eruption of violence in Syntagma Square. In fact Churchill dropped in on Christmas Day 1944 because of the eruption of violence that resulted into war in the streets of Athens.
Almost every scene in the film is worth a one-hour documentary. It is a signal indictment of where Greece has been brought to that there is no moony in Greece for Greek filmmakers to produce well-researched, even-handed and brilliant documentaries like Greece Year Zero. It is supremely ironic that this film was made by a man who was born and lives in Canada.
And if you want a quick, vociferous but pleasant argument note the date given for the start of The Greek War of Independence as stated at the beginning of the film. When do you think that War began?
The film is a major accomplishment.
Greece Year Zero, a film by Dannis Koromilas, was shown on December 4, 2016 at The Royal Theatre, 608 College Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.greeceyearzero.com.