How do you have time to fall in love when everything around you in your home country is crumbling to shit? I mean, imagine trying to chirpse someone through a noxious smog of tear gas – we've all seen The Dreamers, but for those of us who aren't looking to shack up with an incestuous brother-sister couple, it's not exactly conducive to romance, is it? The economic situation in Greece is ruining a lot of people's lives and an overzealous police force are cruising the streets with their batons smashing any erection they can find. Positives: Makes life a lot harder for pick-up artists. Negatives: makes love a lot harder for people who aren't sociopaths.
Journalist Theopi Skarlatos and producer Kostas Kallergis have been asking the same kind of questions – or, more precisely, "What happens to love when society falls apart?" – for their new documentary about love in present day Athens: Love in the Time of Crisis. Be they of undying love or a post-riot one-night stand, the love stories you hear on the streets of Athens have become their own unique chapter in the Greek crisis. Starting with a Facebook page where people could tell their love stories, the documentary now has a trailer (above) and is reaching out for support on Kickstarter.
I caught up with Theopi, who'd recently returned from Cyprus, to talk about whether love has been lost in Athens' depressing modern landscape.
VICE: Hey Theopi. How many stories on love in the time of crisis have you collected?
Theopi Skarlatos: Loads. We went out to do this trailer and we came back with enough to make a 20-minute film, not just three minutes. You know, people – once you start talking to them and they trust you – start to open up and tell you things. Quite a few friends of mine are back there, and it's so sad that adults have been forced to live like teenagers – living with their parents – because of the crisis. They might want to be intimate with their partners, but they have to wait until their parents go to the supermarket, or something.
Why did you decide to work on this specific subject?
I did quite a bit of work for the BBC, covering the crisis for the website and for Newsnight. And I was out with Paul [Mason, the Newsnight editor] covering the Golden Dawn’s collusion with the police. We went to do some filming in Agios Panteleimonas square, and my memories of it before – of old people sitting outside and kids running around – had been eroded by the financial crisis. There was this racist graffiti on the church walls saying, "Greece for Greeks". It seemed so evil compared to my memory of it.
Ι went back to my room in the hotel and I broke down in tears as I was taking a shower. Not for myself, but for a country, for everything it used to be and for everything it had become.
"Love or Nothing"
The "Love or Nothing" graffiti was significant for you as well, right?
Yeah, it summed everything up for me. Because everything is being slashed – pensions, wages, everything. And at the end of the day, what you’re left with is the stuff that doesn’t cost anything: love. For the people who have it, it’s amazing how that can give you the strength to make it through the crisis. If you don’t have it, where is it? Why don’t you have it? Has it sunk to the bottom of your list of priorities?
What kind of people did you speak to who didn't have love in their lives?
We spoke to a prostitute and it was completely captivating. She told us that, a couple of years before the crisis, she gave up working in the sex industry. She said that those two years were the best of her life because she chose her relationships and who she let into her life. She told us that she still dreams about it. Then the crisis hit and she had to go back to prostitution. She said, "My dream is to have what you have, with no pain. For you, kissing and cuddling is something normal. For me, it’s a luxury I can’t afford.”
People were forced into these situations, and I wanted the documentary to be a platform for people to tell their stories. I want it to develop – to build a community around it. I really hope people will share their stories of how the crisis has affected things for them.
Am I right in thinking that you also spoke to people who have decided to stay and try to rebuild things?
Yeah, people who haven’t lost faith in their country and want to rebuild it. They've created these groups to try to change things, and they end up meeting other people doing the same thing and falling in love, even in riots. Natasha, one girl we interviewed, was saying how erotic it is to be in this situation, where you're fighting for your country, then you have tear gas fired at you and a guy comes and pulls you to safety, wipes the shit off your face and suddenly becomes your new lover. That side of things interested me.
I’ve heard of that happening a lot.
Yeah. We really want those stories, but a lot of people are scared to tell them. Because of the Golden Dawn and because it’s political, they’re afraid that if they voice their political views they’ll be shunned.
I feel like the lack of prospects because of the crisis can destroy a relationship.
It can, because you devote so much of your energy to thinking about how you’ll make it. A friend of mine made the analogy of being on an aeroplane, where you're told to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your children. You have to come up with plans and think about yourself, and that takes up 90 percent of your energy. What do you have left to give to anybody else? How can you relax and spend time with somebody else?
What’s the most striking story you’ve heard to date?
I read this story, from a doctor working in a hospital, who said that “people are coming to the hospital to get IVF treatment. They get pregnant, their partner loses their job, they can’t cope financially and they have to come back and get abortions”. There’s been a 50 percent rise in abortions. That, for me, is tragic. And the prostitute – she was saying to me how they all bribe the police. One day, she told them she couldn’t afford to pay them, and she was arrested literally the next day.
I want to be able to pose questions about those things through the documentary. I'm not so interested in the political side of things, but the situations that people find themselves in. Especially love, because it looks like it's become harder to find, but, when you do, it shines brighter than anything else.
What are your thoughts about Greece's future?
You hear that Greece will get better in the next few years, that the economy will start improving. Then you say that to Greek people and they look at you like you’re crazy. They say, “There’s no hope for the future. Tell me, what hope there is for this country? How it will rebuild itself? Show me a plan. Who’s got a plan? Nobody does." Unfortunately, the only people who claim to have a plan, despite the ridiculousness of it, are the Golden Dawn. And people fall for that.
They don’t have a plan.
I know, but they talk about it. They say that they’re going to make things like they were back in Alexander the Great’s day: “We're gonna shine like we did in years gone by." And people fall for it because they have nothing else to believe in.
Follow Yiannis on Twitter: @YiannisBab
More stuff about the Greek crisis:
Watch - Teenage Riot: Athens