An old man rushes out into the street, begging a miniature train carrying tourists to stop. He gently coaxes a reluctant dog snoozing on the road to move out of the way, eventually half carrying the dog to safety. Settled back in his chair, the man pulls out a map and rattles off the locations of the neighbourhood dogs, wryly noting how old and stubborn each one is.
Dogs of Democracy is a snapshot of contemporary Greece that is likely not one seen by many of outside of the country. Greek-Australian Mary Zournazi meets the people who care for Athens' stray dogs. Dogs marching around the city square, barking occasionally, crossing streets, and blocking traffic. Dogs that come bounding up to receive offered food, then bound off again just as quickly. There was even a famous dog, Loukanikos, who took part in protest marches.
Interviews with those who cared for Loukanikos introduce themes of civic responsibility and the old Greek ideal of filoxenia. Filoxenia roughly translates to "kindness to strangers".
This rediscovery of an ancient virtue plays out against both the anti-austerity movement in Greece, as well as the influx of refugees from the Middle East.
With such vivid subject matter, the cinematography needs to be as unobtrusive as possible. In this, her first film, director Zournazi has skillfully captured interviews and scenes in clear, well-framed and colourful video. Much of the footage of the dogs is on their level, looking them dead in the eye, and the interviews with the humans are very telling.
The expressions on the interviewees (and the dogs as well) faces are as illuminating as what they are actually saying; these are people marvelling on the question on the recent social changes in their country and what it means to be Greek.
This is a short, polished documentary about collective identity in uncertain times. It's well worth making the time to see, and I look forward to seeing more from this director.
The film is rated 15+ , with a running time of 57 minutes. Director Mary Zournazi will attend screenings in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra to participate in Q&A sessions following the screenings.
Now in its eighth year, the Delphi Bank Greek Film Festival features a program of celebrated and groundbreaking short films by Greek-Australian filmmakers. Running until the 22nd of October, visit the festival's website for more information on the films and session times.