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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

An account of being roughed up after a film festival in Greece

Press
FACE DOWN ON THE TABLE IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM, I hold stock-still as the young doctor with the needle poised to pierce my scalp deadpans, “How are you enjoying our Greek hospitality?” Two female doctors in training, tall, longhaired brunettes, giggle at his banter between instructions in their language: he’s fascinated that I’m calm after being attacked by a mob. “So you’re a photojournalist?” “Po-po journalist, it seems,” I joke, using slang that’s an all purpose “oh-oh.” The women giggle. “I don’t get it,” he says, as he pulls thread through my lacerated skin.
It’s been a little more than a month since that Sunday night and most aches have subsided. My insurance covered the CAT scan and other tests once I was back in the States, assuring nothing might be permanently awry. Cumulatively, I’ve spent almost six months of my life in the north of Greece but this is the first time I’ve been taken for an anarchist infiltrator and roughed up by a gang of nationalists. [Machine translation]
Thessaloniki is a city of just over a million. Street protests are common, prevalent, even. One cloudy afternoon a couple of years ago, I asked a cop in knee-high black boots standing beside his motorcycle as a main artery was filled with red flags of a communist youth party and black flags of some anarchist faction, what’s this one about? “Just another regularly scheduled spontaneous demonstration,” he answered.
That Sunday was the last of ten days of the eleventh Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival. I had been watching films and talking to directors and photographers and programmers for a print piece for Filmmaker magazine. The usual suspects: homelessness, globalization, genocide. Earlier, I’d had conversations with a young Rwandan director who made one of several films about that last topic as part of a section of films made specifically by African directors. I had a drink with a few filmmakers and colleagues and chose to stop by a friends’ apartment rather than ending the event on the bloody note of his film: he is a good storyteller and I’d gotten more than the gist of the horror, physical and moral, of that tragedy.
Along the eight blocks to the apartment, a square bristles with a crowd of middle-aged men listening to an energetic older man. A rank of blinding bright white lights stands between the speaker and the Byzantine edifice behind him. This is the square of Agia Sofia, the “Church of the Holy Wisdom.” It’s a neighborhood I know well; I feel safe. The words of his urgent peroration that I understand are mostly along the lines of “homeland” and “patriotism.” Riot police stand at the perimeter of the gathering. I have my DSLR camera with me, walk past without even framing a picture. I move along. “Homeland.” “Patriotism.”
Bloodied platea
Journalists watch, movie reviewers watch, photographers watch, used to seeing. Seeing without being seen, as well. I was about to get a simple lesson in observation. The speaker’s voice resounds through the shutters of the flat several blocks away. “Homeland. “Patriotism.” I take the same route half-an-hour later, 9:15, after dark. Observing, I reach toward my unzipped camera bag, more to protect its contents than to take out any equipment. Three, then four middle-aged men are abruptly in my face shouting in Greek, “Who are you?” “Who sent you?” “What are you doing?” I’m surrounded. I move to protect my bag as punches fly and fall.
Sloppy punches and kicks from a dozen men in a mob scrum are always to be preferred over two guys in an alley. If you get dragged free soon enough, it’s more roughing up than being beaten stupid. Still, there’s blood. The velocity of the event? Under two minutes, I would guess.
Irony
I was told later the men who kicked, swung, slapped, as I crouched on the ground to protect my face, might have taken me for “an anarchist infiltrator.” Fast, furious. Less than two minutes and about a pint of blood later, soaking my hair and cascading down the back of my jacket, police pull me away, to insure “bodily integrity,” as the term of art of Greek law has it. Adrenaline brings clarity. My upturned palms are covered with blood from the gash on the back of my head. I hold them up. “American… Journalist… NOT political. What do you need?” My fingerprints blood my press pass as I hand it across.
A rare incident, I’m assured later by Greek friends, the police, the U. S. Consulate. And a modest one compared to the blood that had run through the aisles during so many of the thirty or so documentaries I’d seen in the ten days prior. Greek friends expressed concern about the temperature in their streets: these were the middle-aged fed up with riots in the streets of cities since the December shooting of a 15-year-old boy in the Exarchia district of Athens. What had I done? What a reviewer, a journalist, a photographer does. Just looking. My “crime.” Just being seen looking. And remembering the image of my two bloody hands, red, La chinoise-red, which I could not take a picture of.
CODA: Last week I saw Z for the first time in memory. Costa-Gavras’ restored thriller is the most authentic representation of getting your head lacerated in Greek street violence that I know. My injuries were in almost the same place on the back of the skull as those that kill Yves Montand’s political figure. I sat stock-still, rapt with fascination.


Bloodied jacket

5 Responses to “An account of being roughed up after a film festival in Greece”

  1. Erin says:

    Jesus! I’m glad you’re alright, Ray.

  2. don lewis (was PetalumaFilms) says:

    Good God man!! I too am glad you are (mostly) O.K. Of all the places to get beaten by a mob, I must admit, Greece doesn’t immediately come to mind. Maybe your misadventure will save us all from “Mama Mia II.”

  3. T. Holly says:

    indie is recuperating; still, he gets the shots, red

  4. Glad to hear you made it out alive and safe, man. So sorry to hear about your rough experience in Greece.

  5. T. Holly says:

    What a repugnant retort by Jeff Wells. He could never write a Diving Bell and the Butterfly story.

Movie City Indie

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“The Motion Picture Academy, at considerable expense and with great efficiency, runs all the nominated pictures at its own theater, showing each picture twice, once in the afternoon, once in the evening. A nominated picture is one in connection with which any kind of work is nominated for an award, not necessarily acting, directing, or writing; it may be a purely technical matter such as set-dressing or sound work. This running of pictures has the object of permitting the voters to look at films which they may happen to have missed or to have partly forgotten. It is an attempt to make them realize that pictures released early in the year, and since overlaid with several thicknesses of battered celluloid, are still in the running and that consideration of only those released a short time before the end of the year is not quite just.

“The effort is largely a waste. The people with votes don’t go to these showings. They send their relatives, friends, or servants. They have had enough of looking at pictures, and the voices of destiny are by no means inaudible in the Hollywood air. They have a brassy tone, but they are more than distinct.”All this is good democracy of a sort. We elect Congressmen and Presidents in much the same way, so why not actors, cameramen, writers, and all rest of the people who have to do with the making of pictures? If we permit noise, ballyhoo, and theater to influence us in the selection of the people who are to run the country, why should we object to the same methods in the selection of meritorious achievements in the film business? If we can huckster a President into the White House, why cannot we huckster the agonized Miss Joan Crawford or the hard and beautiful Miss Olivia de Havilland into possession of one of those golden statuettes which express the motion picture industry’s frantic desire to kiss itself on the back of its neck? The only answer I can think of is that the motion picture is an art. I say this with a very small voice. It is an inconsiderable statement and has a hard time not sounding a little ludicrous. Nevertheless it is a fact, not in the least diminished by the further facts that its ethos is so far pretty low and that its techniques are dominated by some pretty awful people.

“If you think most motion pictures are bad, which they are (including the foreign), find out from some initiate how they are made, and you will be astonished that any of them could be good. Making a fine motion picture is like painting “The Laughing Cavalier” in Macy’s basement, with a floorwalker to mix your colors for you. Of course most motion pictures are bad. Why wouldn’t they be?”
~ Raymond Chandler, “Oscar Night In Hollywood,” 1948

“Film festivals, for those who don’t know, are not exactly the glitzy red carpet affairs you see on TV. Those do happen, but they’re a tiny part of the festival. The main part of any film festival are the thousands of people with festival passes hanging on lanyards beneath their anoraks, carrying brochures for movies you have never and will never hear of, desperately scrabbling to sell whatever movie it is to buyers from all over the world. Every hotel bar, every cafe, every restaurant is filled to the brim with these people, talking loudly about non-existent deals. The Brits are the worst because most of the British film industry, with a few honourable exceptions, are scam artists and chancers who move around from company to company failing to get anything good made and trying to cast Danny Dyer in anything that moves. I’m seeing guys here who I first met twenty years ago and who are still wearing the same clothes, doing the same job (albeit for a different company) and spinning the same line of bullshit about how THIS movie has Al Pacino or Meryl Streep or George Clooney attached and, whilst that last one didn’t work out, THIS ONE is going to be HUGE. As the day goes on, they start drinking and it all gets ugly and, well, that’s why I’m the guy walking through the Tiergarten with a camera taking pictures of frozen lakes and pretending this isn’t happening.

“Berlin is cool, though and I’ve been lucky to be doing meetings with some people who want to actually get things done. We’ll see what comes of it.”
~ Julian Simpson