This film was also a commission. It was late July, 2013. I received a phone call from the Kalavrytans of Athens Association (Enosi Kalavrytinon Athinas), concerning a 45-minute film which was to be screened on December 13 of that year, on the 70th anniversary of the massacre of the male population and the torching of Kalavryta and the neighboring villages.
The film had a breakneck timeframe.
I was told that the film should include two elements. Testimonies by the locals, who had either experienced the affair as children or had lost a father, an uncle or a brother, as well as a narration that would chronicle in detail the events, that had led to the Holocaust.
The massacre of Kalavryta is not just another episode of Nazi atrocity during the Occupation.
It is the event that bridged the German occupation with the subsequent Civil War.
After a hard and grueling fight, the ELAS guerrillas had arrested 81 soldiers of the Nazi occupation army.
Negotiations over an exchange with Greek prisoners were fruitless and on 7 December, the captives were executed.
At that point in time, a retaliation mission was launched, which led to complete destruction.
Since then, many Kalavrytans, who were among the children who had lost their loved ones, that December, damn the guerrillas, on the assumption that the carnage was caused by the execution of the German captives.
On the other hand, the leftists insist that the holocaust was going to happen, in any case.
The division was evident, it had led to extreme situations during the civil strife and it still goes on today.
There are still locals, who view the Germans back then in a better light than the guerrillas.
I became fully aware of that climate, during the brief period of preparations, and I decided that it would be impossible for the film to last 45 minutes, as this was only enough for the mere description of events.
It was necessary for the documentary to extend to feature length, so that it would be possible to focus, apart from the events themselves, on the lead-up, the aftermath and above all on the divide.
That, in my opinion, could be the most interesting part.
The title of the film, ‘People and Shadows’, does not allude to the shadows of the dead, but to the shadows of division.
It can be said that the Greek Civil War was forged within the tragedy of Kalavryta.
Moreover, I was interested in presenting in the film Germans, who represented something other than brutality.
In order for the Germans not to be depicted as soulless monsters, something that would accentuate the drama even more. They were not paper monsters coming from outer space. They were people like us, who, in particular circumstances, acted like monsters. Of course, there had been exceptions to that rule.
That was why the film made references to Germans (Austrians, to be precise), who saved children from execution; of the German woman who visited Kalavryta after the war and managed to carry out a project enabling the children who had survived, to be sent to Germany to study and work; and of course of Eberhard Rondholz, the philhellene journalist, who made the first documentary on the Holocaust of Kalavryta and had it screened on German television, thus putting a taboo subject for the Germans under the spotlight.
The film had to balance between two elements.
One was the shocking, blood-soaked accounts, which took one’s breath away and that inevitably affected me first of all.
On the other hand, I wished to adopt a more distanced approach, which would incorporate many diverse elements, in order to convey the multiple layers of such a sensitive subject.
Watching the film from a distance, I am ambivalent about it.
On the one side, by all means, the goal was achieved. Not only did the film document the events in detail, but it succeeded, on account of its impartiality, to bring to light the dimension of the division in a way, in which the Kalavrytans are presented as characters, who bore (and always will) a tragic destiny.
Above all, the film refrained from adopting a barren anti-German tone, which would echo current events, the debt, Merkel and Schäuble.
The question of reparations is discussed, but not in association with the debt crisis.
The Germans had an obligation to themselves, their children and their grand children to pay generous reparations, in order to distance themselves from their Nazi past. Even if the Greek side had never raised the question, they should have raised it themselves and very persistently so, instead of repudiating their debt, as they have been doing all this time, since 1945.
Overall, the film has been successful to a great extent. It has received awards from international critics, it has screened all over Greece and touched the audience. However, there is another side to things.
Everything happened very quickly and that did not allow for the necessary time distance.
I had made the decision to write the scripts and do the narration myself, so that I could control what was being said, but also avoid emotional overtones.
It turned out that very many people appreciated the texts as well as my voice (!!)
I believe that despite my effort, I did not avoid an exaggerated tone.
All the bleak testimonies and my close contact with the locals had taken their toll on me.
I did not keep as much distance as I should have. I did not refrain from using epithets about the Germans’ brutality and inhumanity, something that might have been absolutely true, but the narration had to be dispassionate and detached, in order to lead to well-founded emotion, without resorting to easy melodrama; without emotional crutches.
What is more, the large number of testimonies, as strong as they might have been, overloaded the film and did not leave sufficient time and space for silence and awe.
I consider the film to be a very valuable record, which will get all the more powerful with time.
However, it lacks cinematic attributes.
In one of our last filming sessions, we met with a 97 year-old woman, one of the very few survivors still alive, at the time the film was shot, who had been saved by jumping off a window of the blazing schoolhouse, while she was also expecting a child.
Next to her, sat her daughter, who on that day, 13 December 1943, was in her womb.
The two women, mother and daughter, had spent their entire life practically glued to each other. Even on the outside, they looked identical.
And they had a joint destiny.
The mother could not hear the questions and the daughter would whisper them in her ear.
During the shooting I thought that should have been the film; just those two women. Not as talking heads, describing the horrible events of the Holocaust. No.
Just for them to be followed by the camera, for several months in their, everyday life, in little things, in semitones, in nothingness. And the tragedy of Kalavryta would emerge only through photographs, unfinished sentences, some eloquent moments of silence and, of course, the daily visits to the cemetery.
The tragedy would be much more powerful if it were set in the present, which still contains the unchanged past.
But when I had the idea, it was already late.
It could have been a great film.
It would not be solely about Kalavryta, but about the human condition, which is destined to go through fire.