Kirstin Innes finds hope and solidarity in a film born of desperation, now available to watch online.
Given how quickly the political landscape has shifted and shifted again in recession-hit Greece in the last decade, it’s tempting to view the aptly-titled Greece: Days of Change, which premiered in 2014, as an historical document. Against the backdrop of the 2010-2012 anti-austerity movement, Elena Zervopoulou’s documentary follows three men trying to regain control of their lives from within the recession, and the different ways they channel their anger and frustration positively.
Grigoris picking tomatoes on his farm after leaving the city with his children
We drop in and out of their lives, watching them make small changes – for Giorgos, an ageing musician and broadcaster made homeless by the recession, at a personal level as he struggles to find a purpose and make himself heard again; for Grigoris, an Athens bicycle repair man, at a family level, as he and his partner take their two young children out of the city and for Ilias, a lecturer, in the political, as he helps head up the grassroots social-agricultural campaign known as the Greek Potato Movement.
Where Giorgos is, to an extent, a lost soul, cut adrift by capitalism and the recession, just trying to find his way, in Ilias and Grigoris we see anger at a situation, at a political class (in Greece and Europe) that punishes the ordinary people for corruption at a higher level.
Politicians make fleeting appearances in the film, drifting in and out as Grigoris’ elderly colleague on his rural tomato farm curses the prime minister, or the Minister for Agriculture makes an awkward, disaffected visit to the Potato Movement’s first farm camp set-up. Politicians and their mechanising are the larger forces affecting this story; they do not seem to live and breathe and anger like the humans within it.
Ilias with the potatoes he has helped secure directly from the farmer
Perhaps the most involving narrative of the three, the story of Ilias and the Potato Movement is the sort of inspiration that we need in a post-Cambridge Analytica, post-Trump world: a reminder that only a few years ago the idea of mass movements coming together to effect positive change felt much more tangible.
The unrest we see in this film, with shots of the widespread anti-austerity movement’s demonstrations throughout 2011 and 2012 – after the country’s GDP dropped 25% in six years – offering context at the beginning, begins to crystallise around Ilias and his fellow activists as they strategically take down the “cartels” keeping grocery prices high and bankrupting the people.
We watch them move, over the span of what seems to be a couple of years, from staging theatrical coups in supermarkets (80 “shoppers” filling their trolleys with milk then walk away when no discount is offered, so that it spoils before the employees can put it all back and goes down as a no-sale) to negotiating directly with the potato farmers themselves for thirty, then three hundred people to buy potatoes without supermarket interference. (Grigoris’ story demonstrates why the farmers might be more than happy to go along with this; after working all year on a tomato crop, he’s dispirited and panicked when Lidl offers him barely anything for a year’s work.)
“We have to cultivate the ‘we’,” Ilias explains. It’s the sort of solidarity that led to the 2014 election of Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, in Greece, and this film is an interesting documentation of the mindset of a people about to create that sort of upheaval. It’s also, at a time when big business seems to have tricked us all again, an energising and surprisingly uplifting watch.
Greece: Days of Change is now available in the MOVING DOCS Home Cinema. Pricing is shown in US dollars but the film is available worldwide except for Spain.