We interviewed Channel 4 News journalist Paul Mason, a veteran of the Greek crisis who has become a cult figure in Greece for his coverage of the crisis, about his upcoming documentary “Greece: Dreams Take Revenge”.
Q: What’s it been like covering the election and the aftermath?
A: Surreal. I was broadcasting live from a hotel room balcony overlooking Syntagma, at the start of the election campaign, when two journalists from a Greek national newspaper barged into the room and started to interview me and take pictures of me. The guy was so hyped up that he fired questions at me like I was some kind of international diamond thief. When I answered he pointed a tape recorder at me said: “Sorry I don’t speak much English but my editor is desperate to get a quote from you”. The rational explanation is, of course, I’m one of the journalists who’s taken the possibility of a Syriza government seriously, and tried to understand and write about them going back years.
Q: What’s the documentary about?
A: I cover Greece for Channel 4 News, which is an award winning nightly network news program. But I realized once the election was called that not even the best network coverage could capture what was going on. So I frantically put together a team, with my longtime collaborator, director Theopi Skarlatos, to start shooting a documentary, and raised a very small amount of money. We got a 15 minute version out three days after the election: we had incredible access – not just to Tsipras on the night of victory but also to amazing remote villages and dockside union meetings where we could see the political earthquake starting to happen. So now we want to extend this into a feature film, covering from now until there’s a decisive resolution of the clash between Syriza and the EU.
Q: Why the title – Dreams Take Revenge?
A: On election night we filmed this young woman, a Syriza activist, in tears. Why are you crying, we asked. She answered with a line from Odysseas Elytis’ poem Axion Esti, which end “and dreams shall take revenge”. I think its double edged – because the dreams of the Greek left are coming true, but who gets to actually take revenge is being decided right now in Brussels and Frankfurt.
Q: What’s it been like in Greece since the election?
A: I had to pinch myself. Like everybody else I find myself saying “it’s a different country” – a police minister who was a criminologist; cops policing demos without guns. The video journalists working with me are mainly young, and probably thought nothing like this would happen in their lifetime. Watching the rushes of what they shoot, I can only describe much of it as “dreamlike” – and as a veteran who’s covered many social upheavals I know this dream sequence is going to end – that’s why I wanted to capture it now.
Q: You’ve covered the Greek negotiations up close, interviewing Varoufakis and Tsipras: how do you find them – and what’s going to happen?
A: To the latter – I really don’t know. My greatest fear is that it all breaks down – with Greece forced into default and exit – because of a mismatch of political cultures. My contact with Tsipras and Varoufakis makes me believe they are unlike mainstream politicians in this: they will not u-turn or significantly compromise. They would rather be out of power than inflict more austerity on Greece – and that’s their greatest bargaining chip. Varoufakis and Tsipras in private are the same as they are in public. The western media has no reference points for them, but if you spent one afternoon drinking coffee in Exharchea in the 1980s, among students, you would understand completely where they are coming from.
Q: How come you’re so engaged with Greece?
A: My sister had a Greek boyfriend in the 1980s and we spent a lot of time together,doing what Greeks love to do on the beach: talk politics. He was a left wing historian sympathetic to a tiny party that was about to become Synaspismos; and we had a shared interest as writers about the December 1944 and Varkiza events – so when the Greek crisis ignited in 2010, I could see it had the potential to blow politics apart.
Q: When will the movie be out?
A: We’re still raising the funds for it, via Indiegogo. But we’re shooting as much as possible, living hand to mouth. The second problem is: we don’t know how this ends, or when. The art of documentary journalism is to be there and shoot what’s happening on the ground – that’s what even the best network and newspaper journalists just can’t do. Realistically, if I can get 75 minute movie ready to launch on the first year anniversary of the election I will be happy – though if it all ends in disaster, and soon, we will put something out via digital. No party like Syriza has ever governed a country like Greece. Imagine the Russian Revolution but with Bouzoukia, stray dogs and disco lights – what’s not to like about a movie version of that?
Paul Mason and Theopi Skarlatos are currently working on the documentary Greece: Dreams Take Revenge. Their indiegogo page is here.