New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Greek director Vassilis Loules “fell in love with oral narratives” when a few years ago, while making films for cinema and scenarios, he found himself dealing with the documentary, “putting people in front of the camera lens to tell stories.”
The documentary was “Lela Karagiannis, the Fragrance of a Heroine” (2005), the story of the WWII Greek Resistance heroine, Lela Karagiannis, told by her son. “It was the first time in my life as a film director that I was so conscious about what I was going to do next, which was to bring to light personal, little stories. But also their other stories – the ones that unfolded amid the turbulence of history.”
Loules advanced that concept in his next film, the documentary “Kisses to the Children” * (2012), in which he interviews five individuals of the Greek Jewish Community who as “hidden children” survived WWII. Both films involved Loules’s special interviewing skill, an approach that encourages his subjects to access deep memories of images, feelings, and events rather than to recite memories they have consciously or unconsciously reconstructed in the passage of time.
The director has implemented this same skill in his new documentary, “And I also passed by there and had paper shoes to wear” (“Πέρασα κι εγώ από κει / κι είχα παπούτσια από χαρτί”) about the oral tradition in villages around the city of Trikala, in Thessalia, where Loules was born. His communication with the storytellers (ages 75 and 85, and one 60-year old) enabled them to deliver their absorbing narratives freely, as if they were not performing before a camera. The integrity of Loules’s approach characterizes his work.
Like the other two documentaries, “And I also passed by there and had paper shoes to wear” demonstrates Loules’s decision “to bring to light personal, little stories”, but it is a variation on that rule, the director said in the latest in a series of interviews with the GN that began in 2013, “Here, there is not History–the big frame–but Time itself. Here, there are ‘little stories’ taking place not in the turbulence of History, but in the fade, in the ending of Time.” Aside from its aesthetic value the documentary is a priceless cultural record. “His method is exemplary for ethnographic work and constitutes a great example of recording of oral traditions. He successfully managed to make those people feel like real storytellers and offer these narratives,” says Maria Kaliambou, Folklore Specialist, Yale University.”
“And I also passed by there and had paper shoes to wear” will premier in the U.S. at 7:00 pm, October 19 at the Bow Tie Cinema as part of the New York City Greek Film Festival (NYCGFF). There will be an introduction to the film by Maria Kaliambou, and a discussion with the director after the screening.
Greek fairy tales often conclude with the phrase, “Πέρασα κι εγώ από κει / κι είχα παπούτσια από χαρτί από πάνω κόκκινα / κι από κάτω κόσκινα, παραμύθια, για πάντα”. The title’s unfeasible image of a traveler that wears red paper shoes with soles like “sieves” (full of holes) emphasizes the magical mood of the story just told, a story that takes place at a time when miracles were, indeed, feasible.
In this documentary the real world becomes primeval. Bubbling brooks appear to be animated from within, patches of sunlight break through leaves rustling their own language to make patterns on the forest floor, fields of cotton sway in a dark rain, and Nikos Kipourgos’s evocative music suggests unknown forces. But don’t worry about the spiders, turtles, and hedgehogs that speak, the bees that wash their hands, the girls that secretly become soldiers, the fish made of gold that fill a lake, and the boy whose cheerful godfather is Charon himself, because they’re all okay in the end.
Ms. Kaliambou notes this film shows that storytelling is still alive in some areas in Greece “where there are still storytellers who can narrate if they are given the circumstances,” but oral tradition may be not as active as it used to be. “In western societies oral storytelling has been replaced by films, videos, modern narratives, etc.” she said. Like Loules, she recognizes that folktales have undergone major changes in the modern era.
Asked about the current status of storytelling in Greece, Mr. Loules replied that many fairytale-telling groups and contemporary narrators, festivals, and fairytale schools have appeared in Greece during the last 10 years, and some of thee are working in cooperation with narrators from other European countries and the rest of the world. “It is as if fairy tales have been reborn; as if light is shining down once again on folk tradition.”
He explained that most of these contemporary storytellers work in education or are literary types, know foreign languages, and travel. They are “just the opposite” of the old story tellers in his documentary, unschooled people of the earth–shepherds, farmers, housewives–who don’t know another language and have rarely traveled. “But every time I meet one of these modern narrators I hear with great emotion their expressions of gratitude to me for making this documentary which preserves the image and the narrative style of these old-time storytellers who will soon cease to exist.”
Even though its tone is charming, says Loules, there is a tacit melancholy underlying the documentary because these may be among Greece’s last people in whom the echo of centuries of oral storytelling is still alive. “I have the strong feeling now that the reason I made this film was not really to record and to preserve some fairy tales, but in order to keep the faces, the gestures, the pauses, and the body language of these storytellers alive.”
“I am moved by the feeling that by making this documentary I have kept lit a small part of the flame that burned in the old days, during my childhood, when I sat at the heater in my father’s bicycle shop in Trikala, when it was snowing, and freezing cold, but I was warmed by the heater and the stories my father’s friends told.”
Mr. Loules invokes this unforgettable image of himself as a little boy under his beloved father’s wing, in this tender tribute, “There is still a soft and soundless, warm snowfall in my heart. I dedicate this screening of “And I Also Passed by There And Had Paper Shoes to Wear (Fairytales forever) in New York to the memory of my father, Yiorgos Loules, who died on the first of April, 2015, while riding his bicycle.”
The text of the Director’s Notes on the film’s DVD booklet ends with a P.S. that reads: “This text and the film itself are dedicated to my son Petros, who took me by the hand and led me back to the magical land of fairytales.”
Mr. Loules is also in the U.S. for a new tour sponsored by the U.S. and Canadian universities that will screen Lela Karagiannis, the Fragrance of a Heroine”, and “Kisses to the Children” and hold discussions with the director. The University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), York University (Toronto, Canada), Indiana University (Bloomington), Stony Brook University (Long Island, NY), Harvard University (his third visit), and the University of Pennsylvania are among his destinations. The University Seminars Program of the Onassis Foundation (USA) sponsored his 2014 university tour.