New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Two documentaries, Takis Bardakos’s “Athens From Below”, and Daphne Matziaraki’s “4.1 Miles”, the most important films shown at the 10th Annual New York City Greek Film Festival (NYCGFF) this year, are about the urgency of finding solutions to conditions that are threatening human survival; the first was shot in Athens, and the second was shot in the Aegean Sea, in the 4.1 miles of water between Turkey and the island of Lesbos.
“The turquoise sea that surrounds the beautiful Greek island of Lesbos, just 4.1 miles from the Turkish coast, is these days a deadly gantlet, choked with terrified adults and small children on flimsy, dangerous boats,” Matziaraki writes. “I had never seen people escaping war before, and neither had the island’s residents. I couldn’t believe there was no support for these families to safely escape whatever conflict had caused them to flee. The scene was haunting.”
At the screening of her film at the NYCGFF Matziaraki said her goal in making the film was to bring world attention to what is one of the most pressing humanitarian crises of our time.
Her film “4.1” won a Student Academy Award Gold Medal. A Greek student at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and documentary filmmaker who lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area, Matziaraki is one of 17 students who were awarded as winners at the 43rd Student Academy Awards competition after a record number of submissions totaling over 1,749 films were reviewed from universities all over the world.
“4.1 Miles”, is one of 10 Documentary Short Subject contenders. Out of these ten films, five will become official Oscar nominees. The five nominees will be announced on January 24, 2017 and the winner will be selected at the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, 2017.
Closely watching the refugee situation in Greece, with refugees from Syria pouring into Greece through Turkey, Matziaraki felt, as a Greek and as a filmmaker, that the media coverage
lacked a sense of immediacy; “It wasn’t conveying the truth in a visceral way. Matziaraki told journalism.berkeley.edu, “I wanted to make a film that would capture the strength and determination of the unknown heroes working tirelessly in an impossible situation.”
At the height of the massive influx of refugees trying to enter Greece, Matzariakis turned her camera on those unsung heroes, Greek Coast Guard Captain Kyriakos (who had been a routine border patrol but dreamed of being a merchant marine) and his crew for a day—another day in the succession of many, many days, weeks, and months—of rescuing Syrian refugees from drowning in the waters around the island of Lesbos.
Matziaraki captured the human tragedy and the drama behind the headlines. She also
captured the effect the condition and desperation of the people he is saving is having on Papadopoulos. It also overwhelmed Matziaraki; she discovered a situation she never imagined possible. “I had read a lot about it before I started, but the situation I saw was 100 times worse. And the worst part of it was, there was no help… I could see people drowning in the sea in front of me. And there was no help from the state, from Europe. That really, really shook me and upset me,” she told the New York Times as well as the NYCFF. She didn’t include all of the day’s rescues in the film, she said, feeling that viewers would be overwhelmed.
At the NYCGFF Matziaraki talked about the Herculean rescues Papadopoulos and his crew are accomplishing despite not having emergency equipment and not being trained in CPR. “They have no choice but to keep going,” she said, no matter the rate at which boats arrive or the overwhelming amount of people needing to be pulled from the sea; those who are alive and those who didn’t survive. Men, women, children, families; the old, the babies. She worries that Papadopoulos is cracking under the strain.
600,000 migrants and refugees crossed the 4.1 miles of water between Turkey and the island of Lesbos between 2015 and 2016.
Some of the festivals and screenings “4.1 Miles has had so far: Telluride Film Festival, September 2016; IDA screening series, Los Angeles, September 2016; New York City Greek Film Festival October 2016; Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival Oct 2016; San Francisco Film Society Documentary Stories November 2016; International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, Netherlands November 2016.