MANA: A documentary about 6 nuns and 60 children that had to be made!

7 June 2013 met with director Valerie Kontakos and discussed her documentary MANA, about a group of nuns who created an orphanage outside of Athens.

What was your main inspiration to start shooting such a documentary?

I'm always fascinated by people who reach beyond what's expected of them and whose actions affect others in positive ways. Even if their motivation is personal it goes beyond them. So, you could say I was fascinated with their strength of will and determination. In 1962 a young woman in Greece did not have many options to choose from. These young women took their lives into their own hands and created the environment that would enable them to fulfill their aspirations. I was also intrigued by how they have managed to survive and grow for 50 years through the kindness of others.

What did you find more challenging during shooting?

There are many challenges in making a documentary film. First and foremost is the challenge of telling a story which will be compelling for someone to watch while also being truthful and sincere. In this particular documentary another challenge is being respectful of someone's religious beliefs without espousing or promoting them. And finally, gaining the nuns' and the children's trust to reveal themselves, not just to me, but to the larger public that will see the film.

In your opinion, what has motivated six young ladies to devote their lives in raising other's children?

I'm still working on that and hope you watch the film to discover it for yourself. Every time I visit the Lyreio I discover new elements of the nuns's stories. The simplest answer would be to say their desire to do good, but it goes deeper than that. When they first set off, in their case running away from their families to join a monastery, their initial idea was that they would find a home for themselves in the church that would enable them help to those in need. Their experiences in the 3 years of being on the run and in hiding from their families and the authorities allowed them to find the avenue through which they felt they would be most useful to society.

Since you are filming for two years now, have you find yourself being attached/connected to those children?

Most of the children there are very affectionate. And they love having visitors. So, I have become attached and know I will continue to have a close relationship with a few of the children. In my experience as a filmmaker, its impossible not to become attached to the people you have chosen to focus on. Although my films are about issues, they are told through very personal stories. The people and their realities have to move me first and foremost, before I can make a film that will move others.

Do you believe that this documentary can motivate international production companies to seek for similar cases and bring them to light?

Absolutely, although main media producers have to comply more with market demands and trends, and so far, the market has proven that bad news sells better than good news. I hope this film proves that to be wrong. That's why we decided to go through Kickstarter, a crowd funding web site, to raise the money we need for the editing and completion of the film. You can see the campaign at:

Can you also tell us a few words about the Exile Room and the work that you do here?

Exile Room is an independent non-profit organization devoted to documentary filmmaking. We program screenings of documentary films which wouldn't otherwise be shown in Athens and organize workshops, mostly with filmmakers from abroad. The screenings are free of admission and the workshop fees are based on costs. In other words, when an embassy covers travel and board expenses, it reduces the fees we have to charge participants. Besides collaborating with embassies such as the US, Austrian, and British, we also collaborate with the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival in bringing films and filmmakers to Athens after the festival. We have been compiling and organizing a digital documentary library which will allow people to view films at our space. Our next project is to organize a traveling program which will give people outside Athens access to the films we show.

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