Interview with Nikos Koundouros
Koundouros studied painting and sculpture at the Athens School of Fine Arts. During the war he was a member of the left-wing resistance movement EAM-ELAS, and because of this was subsequently exiled to the Makronissos prison island. At the age of 28 he decided to follow a career in cinematography. He started his career as a director of the film Magiki Polis(1954), where he combined his neorealism influences with his own artistic viewpoint. He cast Thanasis Veggos, who he had met at Makronissos, as one of the characters in Magiki Polis. After the release of his complex and innovative film O Drakos, he found acceptance as a prominent artist in Greece and Europe, and acquired important awards in various international and Greek film festivals. His 1963 film Young Aphrodites won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 13th Berlin International Film Festival. In 1985 he was a member of the jury at the 14th Moscow International Film Festival.
He awaits for me in the garden of his house in Mets and is dressed as always in black. He walks slowly the result of the attack he had in house last October where four migrants robbed him and just missed killing him.
But Nikos Koundouros shows and feels like a rock. He doesn’t hide his rage, is sorry for his country being led to its present state but is ready even today to fight. But without a gun, as he did in EAM but with a new film.
Question: A few months ago you lived a horrific adventure in your otherwise adventurous life. First of all how do you feel today?
“Like a rock. My sides of course take months to heel, at least 7-8 but deep down I am happy I went through the torment.
Question: Why would someone feel happy for almost dying?
“The event forced me to see reality. I had a ridiculous sensitivity and generosity with the entrance or in reality the invasion of foreigners into Greece.
I used to argue we are children of this earth, let the world arrive in Greece, to get better, to feel secure, to eat, to drink Greek water. From the moment of the event forget all these teenage stupidities.
Four animals, four barbarians who screamed and stank wore masks and made me see the reality.
Question: What will you not forget about that night?
“When they said don’t hold him, choke the queer” said the only one who spoke in broken Greek. Me gay? Ok about choking me but where does the queer fit in? From that night onwards a stream of thoughts started in my mind about getting rid of all the migrants. It’s not correct and also from the point of view of social behaviour for it to open its legs like a whore. 1.4m migrants in the country? 15% of the population? How can this number be assimilated? But it has occurred. These are the consequences of the inferiority complex the Greeks have. Blame the governments. The Germans should have an inferiority complex not us.”
Question: What is specific to this even that makes you feel that way?
“They didn’t just want to rob. They wanted to kill. Another man further down the road they strangled with a pillow. I just was lucky to survive. They held the pillow to my face and I managed to breathe from the side. I saw revenge which was racial, class, social, national however you want to define it. It was pure hatred. As what they wanted to get they had already. I gave it to them. I went to my safe and gave them what was inside. They went into a house which for them was the Louvre and I took them directly to the safe and gave them what they wanted. From the stress I couldn’t remember the number of the safe and I made a mistake. They banged my head with steel. One two three times. For 15 days my face was black from the dried blood”
Question: Did you manage to meet a migrant after the even? If so what happened?
“After the event I was found to be a passenger in a car of a lawyer friend. A Pakistani came to clean the windows. My friend says ‘No’. I who had passed through what I had, said give something to the young man.
My friend gave him a coin. The Pakistani man looks at it and throws it back at us. I jumped out as if I was 18 years old, I grabbed him from the collar and dragged him with such hatred back to the car and told him find it. From behind the people saw the picture of a white man treating the poor Pakistani as if he were a dog. The picture that I gave was that the white race was mistreating a Pakistani dog. But the opposite had happened. Misunderstanding is part of life”
Question: It must be strange for a man who has seen so much: Occupation, Civil War executions, exile in Makronisos…
“I could have characterised the event as a bad instance in life but I would have debased it then. It wasn’t like the tram which hit me on the street which was my fault. Its was a by product of a status quo that exists in all of Greece. The humiliation of a nation to the point of it not being able to walk in the whole of Greece without its heart pumping that something bad may happen. As the police inspector who found me then told me “Athens is an unguarded city where hatred, fear and the unpredictable may occur”. Whoever can do whatever and accept anything. The police according to his own words can do very little even less in apprehending let alone prosecuting these events. Bad events occurred to the Greek nation after the Italian invasion, after the guerrilla war, after the victory of the Right, after Makronisos. All these events marked the bad fate of the Greek. Maybe fate one day will bring us a better life, freedom”
Question: Greece has held up all these years…
“It was held by the blood from some who faced death head on. What had they done? They had betrayed the country. But the betray the country dailys. Today MPs betray it, people with much money, they sell it out those degenerates who have managed our national funds – PASOKs Tzohatsopoulos for instance. We all know them. Today Greeks are degraded and with their heads bowed under. Only a terrible famine which is above all peoples heads will turn fear into panic and force people onto the streets. Did you see what happened in England. We will do the same, there is no other way out. With the call ‘Down with the Barbarians’. The financiers, Ms Merkel they are the barbarians. What are we guilty of? You might say that there isn’t a single person in a democratic society who is not guilty. Why are you at fault? Why am I at fault? There is this terrific generalisation. We all ate at the same table. What did you get to have or I? The Greek people aren’t participants by their very nature. Not only did the people not eat but they never had the possibility to eat under the tutelage of the democratic governments whether they were called New Democracy or PASOK. The terrorists of the people is the state. Who is more of a terrorist today than Mr Papakonstantinou (ex PASOKs finance Minister)? A poor person that takes up a gun and kills another poor person? It’s a game. The terrorists today aren’t something invisible. The terrorist has a name a surname a tax number. They have everything”
Question: What does a Greek artist do with this impasse?
“Its not easy being Greek in this period. Either you have to retreat home and basically observe things or if you want to take part in things you must become a name under control. Not of the police or power, but your neighbours, your brothers, history which surrounds you. You must always be accountable. My resistance was always to make films which weren’t for enjoyment but which wanted to document the unjust martyrdom of a peoples who were destined for a better fate. That is what I will do with my next film called the ‘Ship’
Nikos Koundouros father refused his three children joining the fascist youth of Metaxas. “We paid for that for years” the director states, “then came the war, the Occupation, hunger, in every corner we saw dead people or even piles of them. From the age of 17 I was in EAM in the armed Byron group. All these things aren’t easy for a teenager who grew up differently and existed whilst growing up. It was natural then to create a view from a young child who the only thing that was left for him was to take the gun and go to the mountains or be subjugated. Nothing else” The latter option didn’t fit in with Nikos Koundouros and his brothers.
The director laments Riga Ferraio (youth wing of EDA -1960s KKE) “Greeks refuse to be subjugated. I don’t know about today but when Greeks refused to be subjugated and humiliated the zero of a passive life. They preferred the most tough process even to come face to face with death.
Today death is a form of luxury. You see it in every hospital with three nurses round you and you bed pan to ensure your body isn’t humiliated. Its not the same as being face to face with a firing squad…
The night before the execution of Belogiannis the party (KKE) asked me to look after his wife in a car outside the Kallithea prisons so as to hear the noise of five-six bullets. All of these events you cannot forget and become part of your life. You adapt and you never take these things out of you”.
“The ‘Ship’ is a plan which was born from some strange truths’” states Nikos Koundouros with respect to his latest fil which is about to be produced. It will be in English and with unknown actors. “Two years ago we found out that a ship as black as Hell which was carrying wheat rested somewhere in the seas of the Ionian and after that it went towards Israel which as is well known produces nothing. Later we learnt that it didn’t have wheat but the latest war materials and in the same period of time the new attacks were occurring against Palestinians by Israelis.
All of these events were reported in the papers but were ignored. Koundouros took the journalistic reports and turned it into a film with the friendly cooperation of two writers. In the meantime the film will be added with other events also true.
“In two buildings one in Crete and one in the Pelloponnese, different characters collect girls from Eastern Europe and promise them work but turn them into prostitutes. There is a also a masonic lodge, middle men between Americans and Israelis”
On stage now is Theofilos Tsafos who is a common criminal who has been trained to denigrate human existence starting from himself. First he burns his own heart. After that heartless he tries to find victims to complete his Secret Mission. His hands become murderous weapons and he finally strangles the only love of his life during an erotic act. This play is being played by the Mihalis Kakogiannis foundation and it was written 38 years ago and it hasn’t been played and it was written in London during the Junta where Koundouros was exiled. The story for this play was inspired by real events which I had read from newspapers from that era. “It interested me, I researched it well and wrote it. I was then much more young as I believe that that work for its era contained a part of resistance”