My Sweet Village documents life in rural Greece
MY SWEET VILLAGE
Directed by George Chiochios.
At the Coolidge Corner Theater.
By TIM TOWNSEND
THE VILLAGE OF VASSARA, in the Laconia region of Greece, is typical of the many small villages which dot the mountainous Greek countryside. In the 1950s, many residents of these villages left to find "a better life" in other countries, the majority to Canada or the United States. A particularly large number of immigrants from Vassara ended up in the Boston area.
In My Sweet Village, the first documentary film by the brother and sister team of George and Mary Chiochios, they have documented the early pilgrimage many of these Greek-Americans make to visit the village each summer during the August religious festivals. The entire film is narrated by the interviewees, both the visitors to the village, and those who have stayed on. They discuss how the village attempts to survive as its population grows older and as it faces onslaughts from droughts and forest fires.
With the wave of emigration that occurred in the middle of this century, Vassara and other Greek villages lost almost an entire generation to overseas destinations. Now most of the residents are elderly and, as they pass away, fewer and fewer families make the trip to visit each summer. Although the overall theme of the film is a sad one, the filmmakers have kept the film personable enough that you will not walk out of the theater weeping, only hoping that in some way Vassara will survive.
George Chiochios is a film student at Emerson College and his sister Mary is a Boston University graduate in film and broadcasting. Together, the Chiochioses have done an excellent job with their debut production. The quality of the film and sound work is excellent, and the simpleness of the format lets one feel close to the subjects of the film.
By spurning a formal narrator for an "oral history" type of style, the filmmakers have avoided the aloofness that sometimes plagues documentaries. Much of the scenery in and around the village is spectacular and the film shows us a lot of that scenery without being distracting. The background music is well-orchestrated and lends additional Greek atmosphere to the film. Only a couple of slow scenes with just music and no dialogue mar an otherwise fascinating film.
The residents of the village discuss its history, how the villagers fought against the Turks in the mountains, and how the Orthodox church ran a "secret school" during the 400-year Turkish occupation to maintain the Greek language and culture. More recent memories include the violence of the German occupation of World War II, and the brutal civil war that followed.
More time in the film is spent discussing the effects on the village of the exodus of young people to America and elsewhere. One of the older men in the village sums up the effect when he says, "As long as the people continue to come back, the house of their family remains. But when they stop coming back, the house falls." Not only will the village slowly be lost physically, but the culture and traditions, which have already been eroded, will be lost as well.
The Greek Americans visiting for the summer festivals express their love of the village and wish for its endurance, but admit that they would have difficulty re-adapting their lifestyles if they were to return. The few younger people left in the village are the main hope for the continued existence of Vassara. They are very determined to maintain and improve their village and, along with the local bishop, are the only ones who feel optimistic about its prospects.
My Sweet Village is an interesting and touching film that gives the viewer an excellent picture of life in rural Greece. The premiere of the film, held in Vassara itself, reportedly ended with a crying audience and innumerable hugs and praises for the film crew. This film is well worth your time and effort to see.