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Power of People: United We Stand / Divided We Fall

Human beings, the only species with the capacity to reason, tend to place things within labeled boxes to structure their reality into intelligible sets of meaning. While inanimate objects seem indifferent to such arrangements, the same cannot be said about people. After all, the ramifications created by such an order can be that of fragmentation and/or belonging; it all depends on who does the ordering and why.   

Observing Nature, one thing has been made clear: there’s strength in numbers – in most cases any way. Though belonging to a group doesn’t necessitate one’s survival and overall prosperity, there’s no denying that there is an objective and there is solidarity. At least that’s what one witnesses while watching Bayram Fidanboy’s short documentary African Children (2021). The documentary offers a glimpse of a tea plantation in Rize, Turkey. Up in the mountains, everything is green no matter how far one looks, but there’s more here than meets the eye. Unable to hire workers from Georgia due to COVID-19, the plantation took on men that had moved to Istanbul from different countries in Africa. Besides the physical challenges they have to face while working, they’re also confronted with racism and being taken advantage of. The silver lining is none other than the bond they have formed between them by working and living together in a foreign country that doesn’t welcome them. The short is essentially saying that there can be harmony in hardship even up on a mountain.

Airports are places of motion and emotion, connecting people as they cross one border after the next. Countless travellers step through them everyday and each one of them has a story. This is precisely the point Aphroditi Katerinopoulou’s Postcards from Hellinikon (2020) is trying to make by following people who spend moments in Hellinikon: a  closed-down airport in Athens, Greece scheduled to be replaced by a casino, an announcement states. Though passing through, they’re no longer airborne passengers; they’re just visitors whose motives behind stopping by remain unclear to the extent that it’s almost surreal. Different pairs of people talk about the future, but none has the same plans. A father and his teenage daughter. A young couple. A group of band-mates. A man practising his speech to get his wife back. An old woman and a kid. For most, there’s no common denominator other than the land they’re standing on. It all begins with a boy playing with an aircraft model toy – the only plane that can ever be spotted in the sky near there these days. That is until it’s stuck on a palm tree. The boy’s arc is placed in between the rest of the stories functioning as an interval – a sort of mechanism to take a breather from all the information offered. Bizarre as it might be, one thing is for sure: when people care, they’ll get what they want. 

But, the power people master can be potentially catastrophic. Marija Apcevska’s North Pole (2021) focuses on peer pressure and how teenagers are almost puppeteered by the invisible strings of the parallel universe of social media standards not only to behave in a certain way, but also enforce said behavior to others. Margo (Antonija Belazelkoska), the class’ outcast it would seem as she’s the one holding the camera for the dancing routine challenge in the chilly atmosphere of the girls’ locker room, decides to have sex with Matej (Luka Mitev) though she couldn’t care less about  him. Shot on super 16, the short has a unique look – the images captured are so palpable, viewers can almost feel the winter air against their skin. This effect is further emphasized by the dominance of a windy sound effect echoing from time to time throughout the film’s 15-minute runtime. With everything almost frozen on screen, Apcevska’s handling of the mise-en-scène is purposefully attempting to make the audience feel uncomfortable – almost as if a shiver is passing down their spine. Perhaps they may be reminded how it feels to be 15. Always on the lookout; always on the edge prepared to have something taken away from them. 

Forming groups is an instinct; even walking alone at night feels safer with a stranger right by your side. Even if that’s an illusion, as there have been times that the neighbor has not been a savior but a foe, the mind is trained to assess the world differently – danger is not nigh in the company of others.  

Ioanna Micha
Film Critic