The American Film Showcase cultural exchange trip to Greece was a fascinating, successful and worthwhile experience. I had never been to Greece and I discovered a country with a long and interesting history, filled with passionate, friendly people, and of course great food. Greece is struggling now with massive debt, high unemployment and strict austerity measures. There aren't many opportunities in the film business right now. Those that do work do not usually get paid until months or a full year after working. Some do not get paid at all. But even with this impediment, I met many enthusiastic and productive filmmakers who were creating their own documentaries with little or no money.
I had many opportunities to interface with students and filmmakers while in Athens, Thessaloniki and Naoussa. It was wonderful to see students so eager to experiment with new digital technology and new ways to capture, edit and share their work over the internet. I spoke with many who felt that if anything worthwhile had come out of the financial crisis it was the art that was being created. People are attacking the issue creatively in many different forms. It was interesting to hear about documentaries that were focusing on unusual aspects and effects of the crisis and exploring how this was changing Greek life on intimate personal levels.
History is all around you in Greece. In Athens I had the opportunity to visit the Acropolis, and the new museum there is amazing. It seemed everywhere you looked there were ancient ruins and excavations. An amazing moment that I will always remember was in Naoussa, a smaller town a few hours outside of Thessaloniki. We arrived at the screening around sunset and we were a bit early. Our host Nikos Koutsogiannis led Andrea Meditch, the Consulate General Robert Sanders and me across a small stream on the edge of a fruit tree grove and into a clearing. It was the spot where Aristotle had taught a young Alexander the Great. It was an inspiring moment and almost surreal to see the carved walls, caves and stone seats that were used in this ancient school.
Traveling and doing workshops with producer Andrea Meditch was wonderful. I felt lucky that she shared some of her knowledge and insight into documentary filmmaking and the business with me. She's been involved in some truly amazing documentaries and to be able to have such great contact with her was so valuable and constructive.
I feel I gained a great knowledge about Greece, it's people and it's way of life. I know the trip was beneficial to me, and based on my interactions and continued communication with those I met on the trip, I think they got something out of the exchange as well. It was a privilege to be able to share my knowledge of documentary filmmaking with young people who I know are already moving forward and creating stories, which they will be sharing with the world soon.
*The American Film Showcase is a major touring film program bringing American documentaries, feature films and animated shorts to audiences worldwide. AFS is a partnership between the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and USC's School of Cinematic Arts.
Photo: director of photography Chris Cassidy, producer Justin Szlasa, director Chris Kenneally, producer/narrator Keanu Reeves