[MGSA-L] Beneath the Olive Tree
june.samaras at gmail.com
Sun Sep 16 22:20:03 PDT 2012
Olympia DukakisAward-winning actress
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Beneath the Olive Tree
Posted: 09/04/2012 11:44 am
About three decades ago I was given a book of notebooks kept by women
imprisoned during and after the civil war in Greece (1946-1949). These
women had fought against the German occupation during WWII and were
now persecuted by their own people for their political beliefs.
They dreamed of a free Greece; they planned to rebuild their country;
who they would vote for if and when they'd have the right to vote.
There was no stopping them.
The stories of these women informed me of a time I knew very little
about. I immediately tried to find ways to share these stories. But it
wasn't until thirty years later when Stavroula Toska, a young
filmmaker, was at my home trying to sell me on a script she was
writing. What I knew of Stavroula's spirit and heart was nowhere to be
found in this script. I gave her a translation of the notebook.
A few months later, Toska came to meet me along with her partner,
Sophia Antonini. "Olympia, we're going to Greece to find these women
and interview them. We've been doing research all this time; many of
them are still alive. We're going to make a documentary about them."
"I've lost sleep over this. We have to let Greece and the world knows
about these women and what happened to them." If she only knew at the
time what she was about to discover in her own family.
They went to Greece and found the women, now in their eighties. They
were teenagers fighting against the Germans. WWII was over and the
royal family and its supporters returned to Greece from "protective"
exile. But many Greek people wanted the collaborators punished; they
wanted a democratic government for all parties; they wanted their
voices to be heard. Promises were made and then broken. The country
was divided in two -- you were either in support of the government
appointed by the British or you were a "communist." One of the worst
civil wars in modern Europe broke out, and tens of thousands of
innocent people were accused of being enemies of the state and found
guilty of crimes they never committed. People who had collaborated
with the Germans were now collaborating with the Brits, and Greece's
so-called "puppet government" was formed.
The women (as well as a good number of men) were thrown into
concentration camps in remote Greek islands. These camps, under the
disguise of reeducation centers, were used to horrifically torture
these people, to "teach" them how to love their country, and to
denounce "the disgusting disease of communism." Women from 16 to 86
were sent to these camps -- anyone who disagreed with the government's
policies was considered an enemy or traitor to Greece.
In Greece, the surviving women had invited the filmmakers to join them
on a three-day trip to Trikeri Island -- the largest women's
concentration camp during the Greek Civil War. They shared with them
their stories of survival and the tortures they had to endure. They
told them about the loss of family members and close friends. These
women not only refused to betray their personal convictions, but made
the best of their situation by educating one another, teaching the
younger girls in the camps, as well as the older women (the
"yiayias"), how to read and write. They started a choir. They had a
theatre group. They created artwork. They collectively cared for the
children of the pregnant detainees. These were everyday, ordinary
women whom the government and camp officials believed would succumb to
pressure and go home quietly. But, no; these women stood their ground.
No betrayal of their ideals at any price.
Two years later, and after the filmmaker's fourth trip to Greece,
Beneath the Olive Tree (previously titled Three Candles) is in
post-production. I can't help but draw a connection between what
happened in Greece after WWII and what is happening now. For the last
year we have been watching as thousands of people have flooded the
streets of Athens protesting the government's policies, asking for
those elected to take responsibility for their actions and be held
The film is a moving, harrowing and inspiring tale of human courage
and dignity under the harshest of times. It dares to ask tough
questions about a contentious time in modern Greece, and it defines a
filmmaker's personal journey, one that asks a new generation of women
to learn about the courage and convictions life demands of us all!
I am the narrator of Beneath the Olive Tree. The filmmakers have put
every penny they had into this project in the true spirit of indie
filmmaking. For more information on how to help and to watch a
promotional trailer, visit www.oramapictures.info.
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