YIDFF 2003 International Competition
The Way to the West
An Interview with Kyriakos Katzourakis

Telling Each Person’s Individual Story

Q: What made you decide to make a film about refugees in Greece?

KK: Over the last 10 years the number of refugees in Greece has been annually increasing, making the subject of refugees very important. This is a situation that greatly affects our daily lives and is something that we have never had to deal with before. The kinds of problems brought about by the increased number of refugees who come to Greece include changes in the urban environment, discrimination, labor exploitation, and the horrible living conditions of refugee women and children, just to name a few. These problems are not very obvious because they tend to be covered up in some way or another. I didn’t “choose” refugees as the topic of my film. They are a part of our daily lives, so it was almost inevitable that they would be filmed.

Q: What did you most want to express in making this film?

KK: We were very lucky in that each of the refugees in our film had extremely memorable stories to tell and this formed the film’s foundation. We didn’t want to make a film about ethnic groups organized into categories like Kurds, Bangladeshis, Iraqis, Albanians and so on. We wanted to show individuals with names and faces who had their own unique stories to tell. For example, a young man named Frank from Ghana appears in the film. We didn’t want to depict him as a black man or as a Ghanan—we wanted to depict Frank, the individual. He is a devout Christian. Faith had saved him in one form or another, even during the most difficult of times. Although he has lost one of his legs, he has found work as a teacher and even plays soccer. He is optimistic and enjoys life to the fullest. On the other hand, Frank’s roommate is a young man who has closed himself off due to the hardships of refugee life. In this way, even though they are both refugees from Ghana, they exist as two totally different stories. So our main goal was to show how these refugees exist as individuals, and we therefore paid great attention to this when we were editing the film.

Q: The main subject of your documentary, a woman by the name of Irina, says many times regarding her life’s hardships, “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” And yet I felt that you were brilliantly able to capture something that is difficult to talk about because it is so painful.

KK: We spent 110 hours on the video shooting as well as on the editing. It took an incredible amount of effort to turn this subject into a work. This is because we needed to show things—nudity, lapdances, scenes from the cabaret, etc.—which we didn’t want to show. So when Irina says that she “doesn’t want to talk about it,” in a way, that expresses what we had to overcome as filmmakers during the making of this film. You can’t turn the women into subjects of curiosity for prying eyes. This is why we compiled all of the interviews we conducted with refugee women into the one character of Irina. So you can say that she represents all of the refugee women that we interviewed. During the processs of creating the composite for Irina’s character, it was important to us that we did not stray too far from the facts and did not become too emotional, so it was extremely difficult. The woman who jumped off the train, the woman who killed herself, the woman who was shot and killed at the border—these are all people who actually existed; we did not make them up.

Q: Can you tell me about the political and artistic aspects of your film?

KK: The political theme of my film is the fact that behind each refugee’s life of hardship is the background of a war caused by an invasion by some powerful imperialistic country. However, I think that a film also needs to take an aesthetic approach rather than just make political statements. It is difficult to create something that is political in nature while simultaneously valuing aesthetic form, but I think it’s an important process.

(Compiled by Hayasaka Shizuka)

Interviewers: Hayasaka Shizuka, Masuya Shoko / Interpreter: Kaneko Yoshiya
Photography: Sato Akari / Video: Oki Masaharu / 2003-10-11