Next stop: Utopia

Apostolos Karakasis. Photo by Stratos Kalafatis Apostolos Karakasis. Photo by Stratos Kalafatis
A documentary on occupied BIOME factory

 Interview of Apostolos Karakasis
“The objective was to observe in detail the epic story of certain individuals crashed by the crisis, along with all the contradictions and tragicomic aspects of the reality”
“The movie outlines the portrait of a struggle from the inside a multifaceted and deeply human look at some heroes of the everyday life, who have the courage to fight for social transformation.  The focus of the movie is one of the most inspired and persistent struggles in the world unfolding in Northern Greece”.  This is what Ave Lewis and Naomi Klein wrote about the documentary by Apostolos Karakasis “Next Stop: Utopia”. (Assistant Director: Thanasis Kafetzis, music: Spyros Gasparatos, producers: Markos Gastin, Eleni Handrinou)
I would underline the words “multifaceted” and “deeply human” look.  In my view - and     beyond its cinematographic virtues – the documentary stands out as its objective, i.e. to support  and togive prominence to the workers’ struggle, does not result in a plane, shallow or didactic narrative. This is because in the director's mind, this kind of highlighting includes all the contradictions and difficulties involved; so the film is open to many interpretations, anything from the most optimistic to the more sad narrative. And I think this what makes this film successful, both in cinematography and political terms.

How did you reach the decision to make this documentary? What was the trigger and your initial thoughts?
Since the onset of the economic crisis, I wanted to make a film that would outline the current situation. I felt it was my duty to do so but I hand’t found  the story that would motivate me to devote years of my life and all my energy in such an adventure, in order to observe closely  and film “the lives of others”. I didn’t want to tell yet another depressing story, nor to illustrate the   complex social experience of our times  in a partial or over-simplified way. When I learned that  Viome workers  would  take over  their abandoned factory, I felt that this was a really strong survival story, which –at the same time- reflected the broader socio-political framework.
I took a personal interest in this effort; I wanted to be there and live side-by-side with the workers. But above all I wanted to meet those people one by one: in their fifties these people decided to do the most radical thing: to occupy the means of production and run the factory under the principles of direct democracy.
I wanted to understand all those everyday heroes, beyond all the “unemployed, rebels, proletarians” labels. I wanted to know where they came from, which were their deepest needs and desires, to live the adventure of their struggle against a system that had condemned them to unemployment. At the same time I wanted to understand their inner  struggle as they were going through a personal transformation and reconsidering reconsideration their attitudes, believes and values in order to survive “the day after".

If I am not mistaken, filming lasted more than two years. If you had to choose the best and worst moments, what would those be?
It took me three years to complete the film. Our approach has not been the easiest, as it was based on long lasting and in situ observation; more importantly it was based on the trust we built with the people that participated in the movie. As in friendship, the good moments are when you feel your friend trusts you, shares his feelings and intimate thoughts with you, not only in time of happiness but also in time of difficulties and disappointment. We filmed almost 300 hours  of real action and life episodes, inside and outside the factory, but the happiest moments during shooting were when the characters are revealed in “3D”, moments you can’t believe in what you see;  and then, the saying is confirmed: reality is richer than imagination.
The most difficult moments were probably after the editing was completed and we had to show the movie to the participants. On moral grounds, I wanted to have their consensus. I couldn’t bear the possibility of them feeling betrayed by their public exposure. Meanwhile, the relationships between some of the lead characters have been tensed,  there was a painful rupture and each side had its own agenda; at the same time, the ex-director of the factory, who participated in the movie,  was in court with the workers. To my greatest relief, everybody was very positive about the movie and they saw it as a fair and honest illustration, an authentic registration of such an important chapter of everyone's life.

The movie is definitely a way to raise awareness and solidarity to the VIOME workers’ struggle.  Apart from that, what was your main concern, what would you like to succeed by making this film?
My main concern was to offer exciting and authentic entertainment, to those who will trust their precious free time with me. I wanted to say a story that creates strong feelings, thoughts and also gives the opportunity to the audience to get a picture of this enterprise from the inside, beyond any ideological bias they may have when they arrive at the cinema. I didn’t want to make a  militant movie “that preaches those already converted”, not even to send a political message.
The aim was to have a close look of the epic story of certain people crashed by the crisis, along with all the contradictions and tragicomic aspects of the reality and offer the audience the condensed three years experience in order for them to contemplate and discuss.

In the film we follow the everyday struggle of the workers, the conflicts, shifts/migrations, a difficult reality etc. However, the film has the title “Next stop: Utopia”. Why this title? Do you see utopia in this venture, in such a hard life ?
From its very start, the venture sets very high standards going beyond the simple business maintenance of a “firm”, towards the direction of a socialistic utopia vision, where all the world would change  slowly through similar actions (examples).  It is in this context, the History train leads these workers – and not only them- to the station of a Great Narrative.  On the other hand, some viewers interpret the meaning of Utopia as a synonym of pointless  reverie. Which interpretation is correct? It is not my job to answer. In a way, this very title challenges the discussion.

Translated by Caterina Drosopoulou