By Natalia Megas

On October 5, 2016 Athens From Beneath, an insightful documentary about Greece’s unemployed, will premiere in the U.S. at the New York City Greek Film Festival, an extraordinary feat for the man behind the lens Takis Bardakos, who directed, produced, and wrote the film while he too was struggling with his own economic crisis, one that left him and his family homeless and unemployed.

Athens From Beneath

Takis, 59, who has a quiet, gentle presence but an endearing strength behind his voice, would rather talk about the plight of his fellow Greeks than about his own struggles. The only way in is to discuss his passion for film, especially his new documentary that holds true for far too many Greeks.

The film shows how the financial destruction is bringing out the best in some people too.

The film, which has screened in various European film festivals and beyond follows the stories of several Greeks dealing with the unwelcomed changes that the financial crisis has brought them and how their world is suddenly pulled out from under them. It also shows how the financial destruction is bringing out the best in some people too.

“Even though I was unemployed [and had no cash flow], I decided to start filming,” says Takis. “I found myself one morning outside church in a middle-class area with wealthy people and saw more than 150 people with bowed heads, waiting patiently to receive food. I never expected that in a parish with well-to-do residents, there would be so many people who didn’t even have food to eat. I met my colleague, and he comes out with food for his family.”

“I have to do something about it,” he says about the “new poor” in Greece, a country not used to seeing homelessness. Athens From Beneath was Takis’ solution to the growing problem, a way to cultivate social awareness. “I saw people sleeping in ruins, many living under bridges, sleeping in abandoned cars, other people, sick, and sleeping in cardboard boxes to protect themselves from the cold. I saw many looking in the trash and decided to start shooting, without a budget, but determined to get to the end.”

While Takis took to the streets to document the consequences of the financial crisis on others, he was dealing with one of his own.

“I’ve been a professional filmmaker since 1982 but for the first time in a very long time, four years, I’m unemployed,” he says. “What kills is that you have no money. It is that you have become a psychological wreck, without hope of returning [to the way it was].” He worries even more about Greece’s youth. “What will happen to our kids when the employment rate hits 60% and most of them are out of jobs?”

Athens From Beneath

In Athens from Beneath we follow the story of Constandinos, a man in his 50’s who once held a marketing job, now unemployed yet cooking food for the even poorer Greeks at the town square. Just like Constandinos, Takis took time off from filming to collect left over food from the farmer’s market and bakery to share it with those in greatest need.

Born in Ermioni, a small town in Argolis, Peloponnese Takis began his film studies at the prestigious L. Stavrakos in Athens. He began his film career as a Director of Photography, working on T.V. series like “Vendetta” and documentaries like “Metallica,” a film that won an award for direction and photography at the Cinema Du Reel in Paris.

But about four years ago, after a steady film career, Takis’ work began to dwindle, as did Anna’s, his wife of 20 years and a professional theatre actress who also struggles to find work.

“I never imagined that we would be unemployed for three, four years straight,” he says, let alone be without a home.

“I never imagined that we would be unemployed for three, four years straight,” he says, let alone be without a home.
Five years ago, Takis, Anna and their 16 year-old daughter, Athena rented their home for 500 euros a month with an annual family income of 30.000 euros. “Last year, our annual income was 1900 euros,” he says. “This just shows you the reality of the crisis in our country.”

When Takis and his family couldn’t afford rent anymore, they became temporary guests at a friend’s house for almost a year until this past August, when Takis found a temporary T.V. production gig in Cyprus, five years after being without a steady salary. He was able to move his family into their own place but not without financial stress and an uncertain future. Takis, who currently works now over 12 hours a day in conditions he calls, “third world with no respect for the European laws,” has only seen 10% of his monthly salary after a couple of months of work and fears his employer will let him go before paying him after he’s done all the work, he says. “They do that often here [in Greece],” he says. After his six months are up, he knows he will once again become one of nearly three million unemployed in Greece.

The purpose of the documentary is to give a voice to the silent victims of social inequality and injustice.

A couple of years ago, Takis founded Square Films, a “socially-conscious” production company that fosters social awareness and cultural understanding, an undertaking that didn’t require any capital upfront, especially since the production team was working for free. But the production company could only take his first full-length documentary, Athens From Beneath, so far. It was then that Takis turned to one of Greece’s unique business coaching centers, PRAKSIS, an NGO providing humanitarian aid in a wide range of fields to socially vulnerable groups but also aiming to get the economically vulnerable sectors back into meaningful employment, specifically self-employment. Unlike other hubs, the BCC provides support to all the mom and pop stores, says Paul Kidner, a program manager there at the time of this interview. “Those people are the lifeblood of an economy, but the crisis and the constant austerity and regressive taxation is hitting the hardest… Nobody is there to help those people.”

The center gave Takis the boost he needed and on a budget of 25.000 euros and lots of free hard work, Takis eventually brought the film together.

“The purpose of the documentary is to give a voice to the silent victims of social inequality and injustice. But above all, it’s to show how life has changed or collapsed and destroyed large sections of humanity,” he says. “Athens from Beneath means that which I didn’t see at first glance but what is hidden under the beautiful surface, behind the shop window.”

“I really believe in the purpose of this film,” says Takis, “because at the heart of it, is the people and their human values of solidarity.”

Takis lives in Athens with his wife, daughter and son, from a previous marriage. The documentary is in Greek with English subtitles.



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Twitter: @NataliaMegas