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Photography culture x history and refugee experience – inspired by short film “To Mati”

“To Mati”, a film by Stergios Dinopoulos featured in the 2019 BBB Short Film Festival and the film of BBB audience award is about a young female photographer, traveling to her motherland, the Greek island of Lesvos for volunteering in refugee camps, while she is seeking her family’s refugee past in the village of her grandmother. And my interest in the Balkan region (my studies) and picture (hobby), got really combined in a suspicious way here…

This was the first short film production I got to see and suddenly brains are set in an indecisive position whether should we focus on the technical magic of the film or on the very much known pattern of refugee issues in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

Eventually, Balkan genes were stronger focusing first on the human stories. First to be felt, are the constant dipoles in many scenes and many aspects of life. If your mind is being let free to the real-time, years, and history, the most fascinating and well “hidden” dipole, is the fleeing of some Greek people to Palestine and Syria 80 years ago, and the fleeing of Syrian people in Europe 80 years later. This story is not roots, past, and traditional Greek island life from one side and the Mediterranean camps of inhuman conditions from the other… It is not a competition between the family story and the social and political refugee crisis. They are two subjects combined and knitted simultaneously. It is human pain. It is pain of leaving home in regimes of terror. It is a film that will not be having you sobbing crying. It is a film that if you know someone that went through the refugee experience, whether you have the Balkan heritage on your back or no, you will feel your eyes wet, and if your ancestors went through it themselves, the tear will run down.

Now, bringing more brightness on the table, as the direction goes on, the stronger received feeling is that sometimes big dialogues and huge scripts are very much not necessary! Big pauses, silent scenery with sounds of nature, sea, and trees, speak louder than we expect. To Mati is all about the surrounding environment being a storyteller with the help of different camera lenses and points of view, in a back and forth shape, narrating experiences 80 years apart through photographs, modern lenses, cameras of 1940, etc. Camera’s history is narrated throughout different ages and circumstances, marking the potential this little “devil” gave to humanity throughout the years by capturing incredibly important moments on the modern world’s history.

Finally, is shown the connection between the photography culture and educating people, and the importance of that even in difficult circumstances in life (in the refugee camp by volunteering) as a way of the photography art to be continued in the next generations.

written by Stefania Kotsifa, student of University of Macedonia, Department of Balkan, Slavic and Oriental studies