I do not believe in the supernatural, nor in miraculous coincidences.
There are, however, some events that keep reemerging and cause an unexpected feeling of bliss.
A little touch of fate.
In October 1993, I rang Pantelis Voulgaris and, without previously having met him, I asked to work at his side on whatever project he was engaged in, at his office in 44 Aristotelous street.
He readily agreed and we started working together. The first thing I asked, on the very first day, was for him to talk to me about the "Happy Day" experience, at a time when he would not be very busy.
“...Of course...”, he said “...sometime in the next few days...”, he added, obviously pleased that I liked that particular film so much.
I had seen the film on TV together with my brother, in the early 1980s, when ERT after the coming of PASOK, started screening films that had been regarded as preposterous until that time.
Although I was 14 and I did not understand much, the images in the film were etched on my mind.
I first heard about Makronisos from my friend Alekos Efremidis, who urged me to read the “History of Makronisos”, by Nikos Margaris, as the best historical book-testimony on the subject.
I read it much later, in late 1994, after my collaboration with Pantelis Voulgaris had ended.
The first time I went to Makronisos was to attend a stage production by Lakis Karalis, in 1997.
That first visit, the screening of “Happy Day” on ERT and my friend’s advice to read Margaris’ book were what bonded me with Makronissos.
And this is where the coincidences begin.
Nikos Margaris was the man Pantelis Voulgaris had consulted before he began the research that lead to “Happy Day”.
After his return from exile, Margaris spent the rest of his life in a flat on 52 Asklipiou street.
In the early 70s, Pantelis Voulgaris himself had lived in the adjacent building, on Asklipiou 50.
I in turn, in 1997, completely unaware of all that, rented an apartment on 46 Asklipiou street, next door to them. Somehow, we had been neighbors throughout time.
Margaris had been instrumental and inspirational as much for Pantelis, when he embarked upon “Happy Day”, as for me when I began working on my documentary about Makronisos.
Margaris passed away in 2004. Even though we had been neighbors, I had never met him.
In May 2009 I asked Pantelis to go to Makronisos with me and do the ‘portrait’ of “Happy Day”.
He was very moved by the idea and he accepted.
We took off with cinematographer Dimitris Kordelas and his assistant, Kostas Geralis.
Another coincidence was that my documentary on Makronisos was playing in cinemas, at the time, and was very successful.
In view of the filming with Pantelis, I had taken advantage of my pre-established connections with the locals, and first thing in the morning we got on a launch from Lavrion to Makronisos.
Pantelis had not been on the island since “Happy Day”, that is since 1975.
As for myself, after my first visit in 1997, I went there regularly for six years, between 2001-2007, for the film Evi Karabatsou and I were preparing.
Pantelis and I were both deeply moved.
And so was Dimitris Kordelas, whose father was a fine man with left-wing convictions, who had been viciously persecuted at the time.
We began to film while still on the launch and on our way to Makronisos.
Since there was no car around, it was arranged that every time we got off the launch, it would wait on the mooring, and be available to us as soon as we decided to move on quickly to another part of the island. The car we had used two years earlier for the final sequence of “Makronisos”, with the three main heroes of the film, Aleka Paizi, Ilias Staveris and Tassos Zografos, was sitting there deserted and decrepit; it had become part of the overall desolation of the island.
Pantelis and I went everywhere. To all the ruins of the battalions. somewhere on the island, there were still some well-preserved parts of the “Happy Day” set. We filmed without any interruption. And walked non-stop. It was like a road movie on Makronisos. Pantelis was at his best as a narrator of stories from the shooting of his film and from the bleak history of the island.
We fitted five days shooting into one. Dimitris Kordelas did an extraordinary job.
We had prepared the camera setups so that our frames would bear analogies to those in “Happy Day”.
And Dimitris executed it on the spur of the moment, masterfully and in very difficult conditions, along the craggy landscape of Makronisos and with Pantelis outpouring a copious stream of words, we did not want to interrupt for any reason.
My collaboration with Dimitris, on Makronisos that day, was the best I ever had with a cinematographer in my life. The most harmonic and productive.
We wrapped up a very emotional shooting session before the sun set.
While he was still talking on camera, Pantelis mentioned the coincidence of Asklipiou street. And he added that he was very moved that we got to make this film on “Happy Day” together.
He, who had made the most iconic fiction film on Makronisos and I who had made the most extensive documentary on the same theme.
And this way, he finally kept the promise, he had given me in the distant 1993, to discuss in full the experience of “Happy Day”. Waiting for 15 years was worth it.
The film on “Happy Day” was not merely a ‘portrait-scan’ of a film.
It developed into a picture that embraces all the layers and the hidden aspects of the subject.
It was structured on the following material:
1. The footage we shot with Pantelis, on Makronisos, on 2 May 2009.
2. Footage filmed during the preparation of “Happy Day”. It was handed over to me by Pantelis; it depicted a trip he and his team had made in 1975 and gives us the chance to see what Makronisos looked like back then.
3. Original archival footage I had collected after years of research and which had already been used in “Makronisos”.
4. Extended clips from “Happy Day”.
5. Archival footage coming from “Cinetic” with rare audiovisual coverage from “Happy Day” at the awards ceremony of the Thessaloniki Film Festival, as well as Dionisis Savvopoulos’ unique performance of one of the songs that had not made it into the film, but best expressed its spirit.
Therefore , it is clear that apart from Pantelis’ testimony, the film also allows us to see Makronisos and its history, through multiple layers and cross references:
Through a fiction film, made in 1975, in which the history of Makronisos had undergone a process of dramaturgy;
through an authentic archival film, shot during the period, when the “Happy Day” plot takes place (1947-1952) and features the “glory days” of the island;
through footage shot during the preparations of the film, which was not intentional and for that reason, it has some cruel authenticity;
through archival footage from the Thessaloniki Film Festival, in 1976, which illustrates the emotionally and ideologically charged response of the audience to the film;
and of course the footage we filmed with Pantelis, which depicted the island’s present state of utter desertion, so that the memories combined with the sight of disintegration created a new, totally different impression.
From everything I have written so far, it is evident that I am truly content to have made this picture, which is yet another ‘offshoot’ that sprang from my involvement with the Makronissos affair. These ‘offshoots’ made it possible, for me to address different aspects of the subject, which could not fit into the documentary in the many and diverse films that followed.
It is as though I was not done with the subject.