New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
At the beginning of artist and filmmaker Vasia Markides’ documentary Hidden in the Sand, about the “ghost city” of Cyprus, a recollection by Markides’ Cypriot mother, Emily, as she looks at a photograph of her ancestral home, suggests how very ominous the age-old threat of Turkish invasion must have been for Cypriots. Showing Vasia where her room would have been on the now demolished second floor of the stone house, Emily recalls that her mother, holding a lantern, would look out to sea in the darkness. “I would ask her, ‘what on earth are you doing at this hour of the morning — 3:00, 4:00 in the morning — looking out?’ She would say ‘that’s where the Turks are going to land one day, and after they land they are going to take over’. She was almost prophetic. She was always afraid the Turks would come to invade Cyprus, and she was proven right. She felt that that would be the spot for the landing.”
Hidden in the Sand chronicles the story of Famagusta, in the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus, from which 60,000 people fled during the 1974 invasion.
A sense of compassion and a hint of puzzlement over the bewildering nature and results of the fateful event of 1974 underlie the stringing together of archival footage of Famagusta in better times and now, interviews revealing issues of loss and ethnic identity, and examples of nationalism and propaganda in both communities.
First screened at the Greek Cultural Center in Astoria on August 29, 2009, Hidden in the Sand (Ammohostos, the Greek name for Famagusta, means “buried in sand”) was screened again this year, on February 19, at the Stathakion Center, at a Cypreco of America, Inc.- organized event for the 50th anniversary of the 1974 invasion. At the suggestion of many from the 300+ audience who viewed the film that evening that Ms. Markides expand Hidden in the Sand to feature length, the filmmaker is seeking funding to do so. The new version will likely be completed by springtime for worldwide promotion and distribution, says Markides, who talked about her documentary with the Greek News.
GN: What motivated you to do the film?
VM: My mother is a refugee of Famagusta. She has painted a legendary picture of this mythical city for me since I was a young child. It became a great object of curiosity growing up, so in 2003 when the checkpoints slackened between the north and south of Cyprus, I jumped at the opportunity, bought my first camera and started collecting footage.
The drive to make the film was instinctual. It was a film that needed to be made, a story that needed to be told. I felt it as an obligation, as both a Cypriot, and daughter of my mother, to reveal the tragic fate of this hidden gem to the world. Ultimately though, the main goal was to play my own small part in the reconciliation process.
GN: What is the most important thing about the film for you?
VM: The most important aspect of making the film was the personal process of transformation that I went through while collecting footage over the years. Spending time in the north with Turkish-Cypriots for the first time unraveled a lot of the biases I had developed while living in the ethnically Greek part of Cyprus. The media institutions, the educational system, and the government all foster a general attitude of victimization amongst the Greek-Cypriots. Very little in the society encourages people to take responsibility for their current situation, and this creates a sense of powerlessness. The perpetual feeling that we’ve been wronged… which of course we have – but the full story is much more complicated… keeps us pointing fingers while we gaze over the rigid demarcation line between us and a solution. Making this film woke me up to this by allowing me permission to form valuable relationships with incredibly intelligent people whose stories helped me shape a new history for myself and to break down restrictive barriers of ethnic and national identity. It made me completely reevaluate the meaning of being “Cypriot”. I wanted the film to convey this idea and to encourage people to question the institutions and social structures around them, which keep them tethered to a painful past and a grim future.
GN: What would you like people to come away with after viewing it?
VM: I’d like people to come away with some self-reflection, even if that causes discomfort. I’d like them to come away with a greater knowledge of both Cyprus and Famagusta and a motivation to share that with others. I’d like them to have felt a wide spectrum of emotions in 37 minutes, and I’d like them to have laughed a decent amount. It’s a funny film.
GN: What sort of additions to the film do you think you might make?
VM: If I’m successful at raising the funds I want to expand and personalize the film while creating a more cohesive narrative that more comprehensively portrays the story of Famagusta. I will be a main character, encountering the ghost city from behind the camera. This subjective perspective will enhance the audience’s emotional connection with the material, as they identify with the first person narrative of the filmmaker’s journey to investigate this forbidden place, which has been painted as a paradise on earth but has remained inaccessible.
While venturing to “the other side” in search of Varosha, the filmmaker will be confronted with existential questions about the meaning of identity, ethnicity, and what it means to be a Cypriot from both sides of the divide. This will be portrayed in a verité manner while avoiding gratuitous self-promotion and didactic musings. This re-structuring will not only give the film more depth of character, but will also increase the suspense and plot line of the film by adding a subjective ‘first-person’ narrative. The viewers will now get a sense of the risk involved in filming this area, which is highly prohibited by the Turkish army, as will be shown by the numerous encounters with Turkish troops while filming.
Hidden in the Sand was financed mostly by grants that Markides secured during graduate school at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (Tufts University), Boston, MA, where she received a Master of Fine Arts in May 2008. Two travel scholarships that were part of the Dean’s Discretionary fund, as well as a Tufts’ Tisch School of Active Citizenship paid summer internship, which allowed her to spend the summer in Cyprus working as a video journalist for the Cyprus Mail, the English daily newspaper of Cyprus. These funds helped helped her to buy a “decent camera, microphone, some tapes, a laptop, a hard drive, and a plane ticket to Cyprus.” Once she was there, she relied on the support of friends and family for the rest. She was also given a gift of financial support from a couple who are avid collector of her paintings.
For clips from the film go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSbV2EpoD9Y
“You can find all the ingredients of political violence in the last 50 years of Cypriot history,” says a voice as the camera pans an agricultural landscape, “divided rule tactics, car bombs, bullets in the back, interrogation and torture, mass graves, UN troupes, napalm, meddling foreign states, a coup, invasion, occupation, two-year conscriptions, and enough propaganda for another half century of hostility,” says the voice going on to say that analytically, any account of the Cyprus conflict will offend many, “whether they are Britons, Greeks, Turks, Greek Cypriots, or Turkish Cypriots…and if one is honest and unflinching about the facts, all will take offense”.
“The fate of the city is not only hidden in the sand but hidden from the public eye for 34 years,” says another voice, while another says that it is not the loss of his property that grieves him, but “the loss of my youth”.