Tag Archives: documentary

Insignificant men and significant things

I met Rochus Misch in March 2007. He was an energetic old man, living at a quiet, insignificant Berlin suburb. For his neighbours he was just Rochus. For the rest of the world he was Hitler’s bodyguard and the last survivor from Hitler’s Bunker below the German Chancellery building. I read a couple of hours ago that he died today and spent some time thinking about my acquaintance with him.

With Rochus Misch at the site of Hitler’s Bunker (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

I interviewed Rochus for more than 4 hours, it was my first “serious” interview and I wanted to get all the facts straight. Rochus narrated tons of details from his life and his service under Hitler’s direct commands. The inevitable questions were posed. Rochus kept telling me that he didn’t know about the Final Solution. He was Hitler’s shadow, but old Adolf never went to concentration camps, hence Rochus never saw anything. I asked him to conduct a part of the interview at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin; he had no problem at all, sitting on one of those eerie concrete blocks talking to me about his duties, his service.

Rochus Misch at the Jewish Holocaust Memorial (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

Rochus Misch at the Jewish Holocaust Memorial (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

Rochus was orphaned at an early age and, after trying his skills as a painter, he  joined the army. He was a very simple boy who was discovering the world and the offer to serve in Hitler’s bodyguards came completely out of the blue. Suddenly, from a village boy in uniform that he was, Rochus was transformed into the bodyguard one of the world’s most powerful men. Even when I met him, six decades later, I could feel his awe when he was talking about the “boss”. But still, I’d ask the same question again, in other words every time, and he would deny that he knew, he’d try to avoid denouncing the killings, “there is no war without crimes and there will never be one” he kept saying. Why wouldn’t he just denounce the Holocaust? I kept wondering during the week I was in Berlin.

At his home, with his photo albums (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

At his home, with his photo albums (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

Was he a fascist? No he wasn’t. He was an insignificant boy who suddenly became significant. His life got meaning under Hitler. He could easily deny everything else apart from the importance of those few years he lived next to Adolf. I remember him being extremely reluctant of talking about his family. I later found out that he had little or no contact with his own daughter. She had found out from her maternal grandmother that her mother (Rochus’ wife) had Jewish origin, something that he never accepted.

Pointing the "boss", as if one could miss him. (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

Pointing the “boss”, as if one could miss him. (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

After the war Rochus spent nine years in Soviet camps as a prisoner. He returned to Berlin and had a quiet life after that, much like his younger years. When I met him in his 80s, Nazi Germany was the most vivid, most important part of his life. He wouldn’t get tired of giving interviews to journalists from all around the world, asking him the same things. How was it in the bunker? Did you hear the gunshot when Hitler and Eva committed suicide? Did you see Magda Goebbels poisoning her own children? How did you feel?

Rochus Misch (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

Rochus Misch (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

Several years later he published his memoirs. At the website for the book there was this quote of his:

My name is Rochus Misch. I am an insignificant man, but I have experienced significant things.

I am now thinking about Greece. And the rise of the extreme far-right over here. I think of the countless Golden Dawn voters that I have interviewed. Most of them are marginalised. They feel important when they participate in Golden Dawn rallies. They belong somewhere. Much like Rochus. They deny any connection between Golden Dawn and the rise in racist attacks in Greece. We didn’t see, we didn’t hear, if this is true it’s bad but we are not sure yet. Much like Rochus. And they keep supporting them. They turn a blind eye to violence, to populism, to hatred, to intolerance, to social division. And, most importantly, they vote for them.

Insignificant men doing significant (but wrong) things.

PS: I had travelled to Berlin for the production of a documentary about Rochus Misch for WarZone Documentaries where I was working back then. The documentary is available online here (unfortunately only in Greek).

Fear. Loathing. Athens

 

Magasinet cover (supplement magazine in DN newspaper, Norway)

Magasinet cover (supplement magazine in DN newspaper, Norway)

A great article by Norwegian journalist Eskil Engdal on the situation at Perama neighborhood, one of the poorest areas in Athens with an unemployment of more than 50%. It’s front page title says “Fear. Loathing. Athens. Merry Crisis and Happy New Fear”. Eskil left Athens with the impression that there is a lot of fear in Greek society. Average Greeks are afraid of losing their jobs, or of a grim future for their children. They are afraid of what the next day will bring. Migrants are afraid of Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn is afraid that migrants will change the demographics of the country, they will turn Greece to an islamic country, or simply that they will “steal” our jobs. Eskil is not wrong.

Tomm Christiansen produced some great photos for the article and the newspaper accompanied the online version of their story on Greece with my short documentary on political graffiti “The Wake Up Call“.

The cover’s graffiti is by Sidron and it’s a block away from Athens’ historic Polytechnic.

The Wake Up Call

The Wake Up Call logo

I’ve finally finished the production of a short-doc that occupied most of my free time the past 3-4 months. It’s a documentary about the political graffiti in crisis-stricken Athens. The project is the child of an idea I had last January. I was always bumping into amazing works of art in the streets of Athens but these were increasingly politicized, a natural result that was mirroring the social dissatisfaction.

euro car crash

By WD

However, when I would see the same works of art destroyed, painted over or, simply, damaged by time, I thought I should document them. Thus, I like to see this documentary rather like an instant photo of Athens today. A photo in which one can see the urban art, the discontent, the politics, the dissent and, more discreetly than the rest, the pessimism.

bansy euro girl

By Absent

The documentary focuses on four Greek political street artists. Paul, MaPet, Absent and Bleeps. I contacted them last August and told them about the project. I’ve explained its aim to them, spent many hours discussing details but also gaining their trust. We started filming in September and finished at the end of October. I specifically asked them not to feel pressed to do something but to simply call me when they have inspiration for a new work.

The real terrorism is the 8 o'clock news

“The real terrorism is the 8 o’clock news” – by Paul

A lot of people thing that graffiti artists simply get a bunch of coloured sprays and paint whatever they want, just like that. While many might as well do that, the above mentioned four artists usually do some sort of preparations that can take from 1 hour to 1 week, if not even more. In addition, in Greece we tend to think that these people belong to some far left fractions, that they are vandals in the same uncritical way that our society equates vandals, rioters and anarchists. Well, they are not. They are normal people, with normal professions, having normal lives. They do not belong to the same party, group or organization; they don’t necessarily know each other either. In fact, they come from very diffrerent backgrounds. But the have one common thing which helped me give a title to the documentary in a way that it includes all of them.

"Wake Up!" by Bleeps (Photo by G. Nikolakopoulos)

“Wake Up!” by Bleeps (Photo by G. Nikolakopoulos)

They try to pass a message to the rest of the society. A wake up call.

Here is the short-documentary. I hope you enjoy it.

You can find out more about the short-doc, watch the trailer and check extended galleries on the artists’ works, here: thewakeupcall.gr

Athens – Social Meltdown

Here’s a short documentary on the social repercussions of the Greek crisis and an attempt to understand the rise of violence, but also of solidarity in Greece. It’s made by Ross Domoney, a colleague and friend from the UK who did not parachute himself to Greece for a couple of days but spent several months in Athens.

Athens: Social Meltdown – Greek subtitles from Ross Domoney on Vimeo.

Alter(native) tv

Two weeks ago I had a coffee with a Dutch photographer who visited Athens for a photo workshop. We had a chat about what’s happening in Greece and he asked me about the story of Alter TV. I was surprised that he knew and he was surprised to find out that such things can happen are happening in a European country. A week later I visited the tv station with another Dutch journalist who is based here in Athens. Both thought that this was a story worth told and were puzzled that we Greeks don’t see it as “extremely interesting”, but rather as a normality. This is the story of Alter TV, one of the 6 private free-to-air channels in Greece.

Alter TV's offices (Photo: Kostas Kallergis)

The station is in a state that we call is “epischesi ergasias” (επίσχεση εργασίας), a phenomenon of the Greek job market I presume. So what is it? It’s something like a strike. When an employee owes several salaries to his employees, they have the right to proceed to an “epischesi ergasias”, which means that they still go to work, but are refusing to work because of the employer’s arrears. The difference with the strike is that they are not losing their wages while practicing it. They go to thei posts to show their readiness to work (though refusing to produce) and, in some cases, to protect the company’s personal (movable) property in case of bankruptcy. But let’s take the story from the beginning.

According to its employees, Alter TV got into financial trouble last year but managed to re-emerge as the second (and at times first) most popular news channel (based on the main news bulletins’ ratings). The channel is mainly owned by three men, the father and son Kouris and Kostas Giannikos who was also responsible for the day-to-day running of the place (the Kouris family had 51% of the shares, Giannikos had 25% and the rest was free floating on the market). In the past years he went on a borrowing spree, getting loans in the name of the Alter TV and then using them to create a network of sister companies which were totally depended  on Alter. A music company, Legend, which produced music CDs that were advertised solely on Alter. Modern Times was a publishing house whose books were also heavily advertised by Alter. At a time when publishing houses could not afford to advertise books on TV, Modern Times could advertise any piece of junk they wanted on prime time and see them easily in the Top-10 list. The employees of the channel were employed not only to produce the channel’s programs but a series of tv ad clips which were done for the sister companies at a dirt cheap cost. The station also sold great parts of its advertising time slots in advance without securing a constant cash flow. As a result, when the Greek financial crisis became a fact in this country the station went into trouble. The employers started owing a month’s salary at the beginning and were paying their employees at an increasingly unpredicted way. A salary after 1,5 month, another one after 2 and so on.

Right now the owners owe between 8 and 12 salaries to their employees who have been in a state of “epischesi ergasias” for more than 2 months. Kostas Giannikos left the company and focused on his other companies which also ran into financial troubles. The employees at his financial newspaper “Investor’s World” are also in a state of “epischesi ergasias” now. Alter TV’s new Board of Directors has told the employees that there is a possible investor who is willing to take over the channel but they can’t mention his name. According to their plan, out of 650 employees about one third (286 employees) will have to be laid off. They’ll get 70% of what is owed to them and will receive their compensations after 12-24 months. The ones who’ll stay will get 60% of what is owed to them, they’ll have to work for free for the coming months until the company officially enters the protection of Article 99 (Bankruptcy Law which protects about-to-bankrupt companies from creditors). Oh yes, there will also be a renegotiation (sic) of their salaries with 10%-30% cut according to their previous salaries.

The employees did not accept this proposal and are waiting for another solution. In the meantime they have been using the station’s frequency to broadcast messages against the owners, the Kouris family.

As they told us, it was their reply to a cheap and dirty propaganda war launched by the Kouris family against its own employees. This can best be depicted by a front page of Avriani newspaper (owned by the Kouris family) which, at an attempt to blame and shame the employees, gathered all salary expenses in the past two years, including the salaries of celebrity tv presenters, changed the amount to drachmas and published this:

Avriani (28-12-2011): The employees of Alter have pocketed 81.903.196.293 drachmas

Right now the employees of Alter TV are going to their offices every day. They are there to meet up with their colleagues and at the same time protect the facilities as there have been attempt by the employer and by creditors to extract part of the equipment (which, in case of bankruptcy, must be sold to fund their compensations). There has also been a widespread solidarity towards them by trade unions and single citizens, who are bringing foodstuff and other goods of need. The studio where they used to record the weather bulletins, the so-called Virtual Studio, is now turned to a warehouse where they gather all these goods.

Akrivi Kyrikou, one of Alter TV's camerawomen, shows the list of goods whic were donated to them (Photo: Kostas Kallergis)

Another studio, where cooking celebrity Vefa Alexiadou once produced her gastronomy show, is now used by the employees to cook for themselves.

Alter TV employees cook in the studio formerly used for a cooking show (Photo: Kostas Kallergis)

Apart from messages against the owner, the employees also produced a daily short news bulletin with news about their struggle, informing about other strikes (e.g. the strike at of the workers at Halyvourgia steel factory) and lately they included in their broadcasts documentaries (e.g. Aris Chatzistefanou’s Debtocracy) which have a critical point to the current Greek financial crisis, its causes and its possible solutions. Last week Alter TV’s transmitters were shut down. So all you can now see is this

Exercising the Power of Nightmares

Greek Prime Minister Papademos gave a long introductory speech to his cabinet meeting last Friday (10/02/12). Considering his previous speeches and announcements, he devoted a big part of his speech by describing what would happen to Greece and Greeks should we end up in a disorderly bankruptcy.

Lucas Papademos, Greek PM

Here’s a hasty translation of that part:

A disorderly bankruptcy would throw our country into a disastrous adventure. Circumstances would create economic chaos and uncontrollable social explosion.The adverse consequences of a disorderly bankruptcy would be multiple and extremely painful for the Greek economy and society.

The state will be unable to pay salaries, pensions, to cover basic functions, such as hospitals and schools, while we will still have a primary deficit of 5.2 billion euros. Which means that the state revenues would be insufficient to cover our expenses, even if we would stop serving our debt.

Direct spending cuts which would have to go in case of a disorderly bankruptcy would result in real wages and pensions collapse, especially since it would be even more difficult to collect taxes.

The import of basic goods such as medicines, oil, machinery, etc., would be particularly problematic, as the country, both public and private sectors, will lose all access to borrowing and liquidity will shrink. Businesses would close en masse, unable to raise finance.

The living conditions of Greeks in the case of a disorderly bankruptcy would collapse and the country would drift into a long spiral of recession, instability, unemployment and destitution.

These developments will lead, sooner or later, at the exit from the euro. From the core country of the Eurozone, Greece would become a weak country on the fringes of Europe.

The full speech (in Greek) can be found here.

Never before has he spent so many words to describe what his vision of Greece is. Never before has he used more words to inform us how the situation can improve. Never before, during his duty, has he told us where exactly we are led with this new round of measures. For the first time he chose to describe the worst case scenario, a psychological blackmail trick that has been abused repeatedly during George Papandreou’s two years in power.

It’s not a new or unique phenomenon in politics. British film maker Adam Curtis described it in his 3-part documentary called “The Power of Nightmares”.

In the past, says Curtis, politicians were competing each other by offering a better future. Citizens were choosing the best and more feasible future and would vote it in elections. In the past decade or so this has changed. Politicians are now competing by offering the least worse future for the citizens, who live in a state of fear of what could happen to them.

Lucas Papademos just joined the group.

To watch all three hour-long parts of Adam Curtis’ Power of Nightmares, click here. Adam Curtis’ blog at BBC is available here.

Krisis

Krisis, is a feature documentary film connected to the Prism GR2011 project, a collective documentation of Greece during the economic crisis, shot with DSLR cameras during 2010-11. Through a process of creative collaboration, a group of 14 photojournalists and videographers, were mentored, enabling them to make the transition to a multimedia storyteller. ‘Krisis’ is the synthesis of these different stories into a feature documentary that explores how Greece and the Greeks are handling the crisis. In addition, The Prism is a testament to how creativity an innovation can occur in the darkest of hours.