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One image of Greece is the beautiful country ofpristine beaches, white-washed villages, seashore taverns and wild joy. That isthe image projected by The Greek Tourist Organization and companies that wantto attract visitors to Greece.

The other image, the one seen on television anddescribed in other media, especially in the last ten years, resembles more a film noir, dark, somber, gloomy, and pessimistic. Violence in thestreets, sections of cities that look as if they had been bombed and peoplethat are fighting to survive or simply leaving the country. That is the “other”Greece.

Producer and director PanayiotiYannitsos have (has?) found an original andbrilliant way of examining his ancestral fatherland in his extraordinary film FreedomBesieged. The documentary has a large number of people who appear oncamera with their diagnoses, commentary, ideas and remedies for the Greece oftoday and far more importantly, the Greece of tomorrow. These are not peoplewho are trying to attract tourists or condemn the past. They are facing realityand what can be done.

The film opens with as simplequestion: what does it mean to be a Greek? A substantial number of people are asked the question from all walks oflife and not one of them gives an answer. Yannitsos then turns to the shooting bypolice of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15-year old student that resulted inwidespread riots and extensive property damage. Yannitsos presents a picture ofwar-like confrontations and gratuitous violence by well-armed police (includinggas masks) against unarmed civilians.

The film moves onto interviews with youngpeople who express hardships, difficulties and at times hopelessness at thesituation where some forty perc cent of them are unemployed and as many as sixhundred thousand leave Greece for good.

But Yannitsos has a far broaderconcern and way of looking at modern Greece. He concentrates on the young andnot so young who are looking for a solution instead of bemoaning their outcaststate. The answer lies in today’s youth and the people who have ideas andinspiration for them to achieve their potential as individuals.

One example of this is what a formerTorontonian named John is doing in his village. John runs a youth basketballcamp in his village where he trains, cajoles, yells at and simply inspires youngboys and girls as they train and play. He yells, entertains, mildly disciplinesbut mostly inspires, at no small cost to himself, the young to do theirindividual best.

Yannitsos finds centers of optimism based oninventiveness and hard work. In the mountains of Euboea, young people havedeveloped a village that emphasizes sustainability. A 15-year old boy from Thessaloniki,bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as they say, has developed an online site forteens to communicate with each other. There are examples where the key tosuccess is originality. The Ancient Greeks were successful because they wereoriginal and that may be a good defining feature of a Greek.

There is a stunting array of people thatYannitsos interviews on camera.  Foremostintellectual Noam Chomsky, Michael Dukakis, athletes Pyrros Dimas (Olympicmedalist), Yorgos Karagounis (star soccer player), Dimitri Diamantidis(basketball star), doctors, psychologists, engineers, philosophers, and at somelength Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Prime Minister.

The film shows some panoramic views of Greekcities and the countryside that are a pleasure to watch. But the most importantaspect is the commitment, the optimism, the dynamism and the enthusiasm shownby the young director and the youth that he found to marry the country ofpristine beaches sand white-washed villages with the (a?)nation of achievement and progress.

A major accomplishment.


Freedom Besieged was shown on October6, 2019 November 14, 2017 at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. Facebook:



October 11, 2019

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