Freedom Besiege, a film by Panayioti Yannitsos, was shown as part of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival at the Ted Rogers Theatre on October 6, 2019. Yannitsos who directed the film and is one of its producers was present along another producer Mr. Robert Peck, Canada’s former ambassador to Greece.
Mr. Yannitsos and Mr. Peck spoke about the film and accepted questions from the audience.
It has often been noted that Greece’s greatest benefactors have been from the people that left it. In other words, the Greeks of the diaspora. From the businessmen who formed the Filiki Eteria in Odessa and laid the groundwork for The War of Independence to the Americans and Canadians of Greek descent who sent substantial aid to Greece in the 1940’s, Greeks have reached across oceans and continents to help the fatherland.
Panayiti Yannitsos is from British Columbia, about as far from Greece as you can get when you live in Canada. His grandparents emigrated from southern Greece. At age 25, Yannitsos went back to Greece to produce an extraordinary film about the Greek financial crisis and more particularly about Greek youth.
According to Mr. Yannitsos, the film was shot on a shoestring budget financed by the people. He noted that if he received financing from any source aside from ordinary people he would be accused of slanting the film’s point of view to favour the donor. He had invited Greek political leaders to speak on camera and all of them declined except Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He was the leader of the opposition at the time and Yannitsos was accused of favoring the New Democracy Party of which Mitsotakis is the leader.
If he wanted to shoot a film about Golden Dawn, the Greek neo-Nazi party or about Greco-Turkish relations, said Yannitsos, he would have had no problem finding the money. About a different view of Greece and its youth? Forget it.
When the finances were almost drained completely, workers on the film had to sleep four to a room in cheap hotels, he told us. According to Mr. Peck, he learned about the film when it was under way and was so impressed that he joined the team as a producer.
In his remarks Yannitsos addressed the other view of Greece, the one that the film espouses, one of hope in individual commitment and youth that may make all the difference. Political solution seems unlikely but the people he showed, especially John, another Canadian, may make a huge difference. He returned to Greece to organize and run basketball camps in his village for two months every summer. John is a true inspirer, a dedicated man building confidence and the joy of teamwork in the young. He is accused of preparing to become mayor of the little village, Yannitsos told us, and nothing can convince some villagers that he has no such ambition. At one time John had to choose between paying his electricity bill and buying trophies for the players. He had a dark house for a while, Mr. Yannitsos told us.
The film will be shown in Athens in mid-November and Yannitsos said that he has invited Greek political leaders again and is not sure if anyone will show up. If they don’t, they will miss a damn good show.