I have taken a short break away from my desk to visit – revisit – Greece. Last week I was in Thessaloniki where the city’s 18th annual documentary film festival was in full swing. As my husband is a documentary filmmaker and I have written several films, this is always an excellent opportunity to meet up with colleagues and see works that will rarely find screenings anywhere except at festivals. It is also an opportunity to be with others who are writing, directing, producing, almost always working within very tight budgets, to complete films that matter to them, frequently on subjects that have little commercial value. I also love to be in a city that offers its citizens the possibility of participating, engaging in an international festival free of charge. Dear Greece, beyond the city of Thessaloniki, there are camps filled with thousands of traumatised Syrian refugees; the country itself is in a deep financial crisis with shops and businesses closing down at an alarming rate, yet still the municipalities continue to see the value of offering the arts to the public.
I had considered hiring a car and driving out to one of the camps to try to talk with a few of the refugees, but several of the filmmakers in town went off with their cameras and I decided that enough is enough. I have visited refugee camps in other countries and little will be different. The question is, what is to be their fate, their life-line? Who will take them in?
It moved me when I was in conversation with Thessalonikan citizens to hear how concerned they are for the plight of the Syrians. Not one person I spoke to made any comment that suggested the refugees should be turned away or kicked out. ‘We must feed them. We have to try and help them.’ The main dilemma seemed to be ‘how can we help, offer aid, when we are in crisis ourselves? What do we have to offer them?’ I was humbled by their tolerance and generosity of spirit.