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Jeremy Colson


Jeremy Colson's festival coverage.

Film Festival ambassador to filmfestivals.com
Visiting Athens, Bangkok, Cairo, Hanoi, Hiroshima, Phuket, Istanbul, Antalya, Estonia, Calcutta, Goa, Trivandrum, Kathmandu, Neasden and more.


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Song for Argyris: A Brave Piece of Work by Stefan Haupt

THE August screening in Bangkok of Stefan Haupt's "A Song for Argyris" is still on my mind, even though a month has gone by and I have seen more than 20 movies since.

Haupt is of Swiss-German extraction which makes this documentary all the more extraordinary, because it tells the true story of terrible atrocities committed by the Nazis during their occupation of Greece in WWII.

Haupt lives in Zurich and wasn't in Bangkok for the screening, but he is on record as acknowledging that this was not an easy movie to make.

He refers to "a kind of emotional barrier preventing us from delving into our own past critically. The past is linked to a community. This sense of belonging cannot be put at risk. The willingness for self-criticism could mean that you hurl yourself out of this community, that you are ostracised or that you are alone and defenceless".

These are profound words. Facing up to the truth of the past can indeed be devastating and divisive, so it is greatly to his credit that Haupt tackles his subject head on.

The story starts in 1944 in Distomo, a small village near the sea on the road from Athens to Delphi. This is where four-year-old Argyris Sfountouris survived a brutal massacre committed by the German occupying forces.

Within two hours, 218 villagers were killed - women, men, elderly people, toddlers, and babies. Argyris lost his both his parents and thirty other relatives. None of those killed were Jews, they were all Greek Orthodox Christians. 

 It was a brutal act by the Germans, and can be compared with the Americans' equally brutal action at My Lai in South Vietnam in 1968, when a unit of the US Army massacred 347 to 504 unarmed civilians, the majority of whom were women children, and elderly people.

Whilst Haupt's film pulls in news footage taken at the time of the Distomo massacre, he does not seek to shock. There are no gory close-ups.

In fact his film is not so much the story of the massacre itself as the story about the life of one of its survivors, in this case Argyris. Haupt follows his protagonist as he goes to Switzerland as an orphan, to Somalia, Nepal and Indonesia as an aid worker, and then back and forth between Switzerland and Greece.

All the while we see and hear Argyris reflect on the ways of escaping the vicious circle of violence. But rather than trying to come to terms with his childhood experience or to get over it emotionally, he attempts to learn to live with it and to bring something about in the outside world.

The film also includes an interview with composer Mikis Theodorakis of "Zorba the Greek" fame. Theodorakis recalls how German soldiers would be showing interest in the Parthenon one minute and would be literally break the arms of starving Greek children the next minute.

I don't know if you can get "A Song for Argyris" on DVD, but one way or another, try to get to see it. It's an excellent example of the power of documentary cinema and shows just what can be done by mixing old footage, appropriate music, fine narration and good editing.

By the same token, it probably wouldn't be too difficult for a British director to make a film about the fire-bombing that destroyed Dresden in 1945.

 

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About Jeremy Colson

Colson Jeremy

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This is the diary of a festival ambassador travelling throughout Asia and elsewhere around the world.  Festivals covered include: Bangkok, Phuket, Istanbul, Antalya, Estonia, London, Calcutta, Goa, Trivandrum, Chennai, Neasden and more


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