CATS ON THE ROOF – Women on the battlefield: from partisans to trans
Film & Lecture-Performance by Maria Sarri
Με αφορμή τα ντοκιμαντέρ της Αλίντα Δημητρίου επιχειρείται μια καταγραφή της σημερινής δυναμικής των γυναικείων κινημάτων.
Το βιντεο “Γάτες στη στεγη” (2014, Μαρία Σαρρή) παρουσιάζει μαρτυρίες γυναικών του σήμερα.
Μια μετανάστρια στο κατειλημμένο θέατρο Εμπρός, δυο μέλη της λεσβιακής κοινότητας Αθήνας, δυο γυναίκες απο την Ιερισό Χαλκιδικής, μια τρανς απο την Θεσσαλονίκη, δυο απολυμένες καθαρίστριες απο το υπουργείο οικονομικών. Διαφορετικές γυναίκες που κατοικούν στην Ελληνική επικράτεια και χαρακτηρίζονται απο διαφορετικές ταυτότητες και στόχους.
Μπορεί κανείς να δει πως μετασχηματίζονται τα υποκείμενα μέσα απο την διαδικασία της ανοιχτής διεκδίκησης της αξιοπρέπειας τους, την βία που βιώνουν κατα την διάρκεια του αγώνα τους, και την αλληλεγγύη που αναπτύσσουν.
There are three valuable documentary films directed by Alinda Dimitriou. In these films, women narrate their experiences from 2nd World War, civil war and the struggle against dictatorship. All the stories are about the battle of left and communist women in Greece for social justice and equality. In my presentation, taking up the path Dimitriou had opened but also diverging from it, I would like to talk about women in Greece today in terms of the so called “crisis” due to economical reasons. Under the new social aspects the targets and desires of people have completely changed; through filmed interviews with various “women” I would like to present the new struggle beyond sexes, national identity and classes; the struggle for co-existence, dignity and pride. Women: old, young, trans, lesbians, immigrants.
Στιγμιότυπα από την ταινία “Γάτες στη στέγη” / stills from the movie “Cats on the roof”
the text of the presentation that took place at Berlin NBGK art space/ and at Brussel’s Pianofabriek:
The motive for my presentation is a trilogy consisting from 3 very important films about the participation of Greek women in the war and political struggles of Greece during the second half of the 20th century. The director of the movies is Alinda Dimitriou, who passed away in the summer of 2013.
Dimitriou’s movies inspired me, by giving me a simple and good way to present my issue.
In any case her work is a valuable archive of documentation of women’s presence in recent Greek history.
These films are:
- First, “Birds in the mire”, shot in 2008. It is about the women’s resistance in Greece during WWII and German occupation (1941- 1944).
- Then, “Life on the rocks”, shot in 2009. This one is about the communist partisan women during the civil war (1944-1949).
- And the 3rd and last is “The rain girls”, shot in 2011, which deals with women’s resistance against the dictatorship between 1967 and 1974.
Alinda Dimitriou was a documentary director who for all her life worked for public television (that doesn’t exist anymore) and the Ministry of Culture. (That’s what I do myself for living as well).
Dimitriou is recording, in a breathtaking direct way, through the speech of her heroines, a very valuable part of Greek history that has been neglected from the official records.
All three films follow the same structure. Women, sitting alone or in groups of two at their houses, narrate their stories, while a few photos or videos from that time are interpolated. Dimitriou’s heroines are invisible today, but they have taken part at the big national narration of the left in Greece and then disappear again into everyday routine. They had an active role in the formation of Modern Greek history. The years between 1941 and until 1974 were harsh years for Greece: war, poverty, hunger, resistance, divisions, repression. Dimitriou’s oral material is priceless: For once, women only do the talking.
Dimitriou’s documentaries –as in any documentary film- capture everything through her personal lens. What comes through the speech of the people she has chosen, are the demands for social justice and equality through the vision of the Left –as it was formed in Greece of the 2nd half of 20th century.
This vision, which was part of the modernism movements of the time, was almost feasible. Utopia then was the reality of tomorrow. Collectivity, participation in the public sphere and the faith in the struggle had put aside every personal demand. Gender and race was not something that concerned anybody, on the contrary, patriotism was a must. Love for the homeland and communism was the only way. The self-sacrifice of those women today seems impossible. Nevertheless, we also find a kind of disappointment in their words about today’s situation.
The historic challenges didn’t allow the articulation of the individual demands and desires of those women. Dimitriou’s women gave precedence to homeland, communism, family, and freedom over themselves. Maybe the notion of freedom is the only key for their self-fulfillment, because their excessive exposure to psychological and physical distress made them go beyond their typical role of Balkan woman of that time. In the end, what I find important in these films is not the freedom of the country, but the very personal path of each of them.
Dimitriou’s films have a complex relationship with temporality; one could even say, a lack of relationship. These films, as I said, were made in the beginning of the 21st century, during a period of crisis; but there is no particular sign of that on the films body, in terms of either form/ technique or of political/ ideological discourse. As far as the spectator is concerned, they could have been shot at any moment in time between the respective events and today.
Listening to the story these women are recounting, we are led to classify the situations they found themselves in as an endless “crisis”. But they are not; they never use this term, or any other similar, to describe their experience. …
“Cats on the roof”
“Cats on the roof” is an attempt to realize a recording of today’s women’s activism in Greece and at the same time to make homage to Alinda Dimitriou and to open a discussion and a workshop of oral history documentation of women.
Following her style, I chose a poetic title for my movie.
Today there is not only one horizon, we don’t look all to the same direction. As far as the spectrum of the Left is concerned –which, by the way, is my point of reference as well- there are many different demands and paths for social justice.
Today, struggles are made from different positions and by different people. The geographical area expands and includes –due to migration- women from every corner of the planet; what we call “woman” today is not defined only on the basis of the birth-given gender or of a certain sexual orientation; and, finally, “war” today means something completely different from in the past.
With a lot of appreciation for Alinda’s work, I am trying to map today’s aspects, including lives and strategies that are not linked exclusively to one specific political stance, but nevertheless are not without political content.
Through the choices of women who narrate their life, I try to trace their strategies and their ways for conquering their dignity, struggling between their personal desires and collective action.
The video’s structure follows Dimitriou’s approach.
I have chosen 5 cases. A few words for my heroines:
- A young woman first generation immigrant from Albania at the Embros squat. She narrates her personal experiences not only of being an immigrant in Greece but also as a member of a squat. Embros was a deserted theater that was occupied in November 2011 by a group of cultural producers linked to theater, called “Mavili collective”, who decided to re-activate it with an intense 10 days program of art events, performances, lectures, and other activities. Since then many people passed through it (including me) but is still a self-organized place.
- Two women from LOA [Lesbian Group of Athens] talk about their struggle for dignity and recognition yesterday and today through feminist groups. The discussion took place at a collective lesbian cafe in Athens, called Beaver.
- We already count 323 days that cleaning sector employees at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been fired. All of them happen to be women. Since then they haven’t stop their struggle for getting back their jobs. They have camped outside the building of the Ministry and organized several acts of resistance. In a way have been an emblematic group of people that have been hit from the crisis. The State and the police have responded to them with excessive violence.
- Marina is a trans woman from Thessaloniki. It was very difficult and in a way a failure for me to contact with the trans collectives in Greece. Due to excessive violence and racism that they face, they are very suspicious towards every kind of public exposure. Although Marina is part of a trans association, she has been forbidden to talk about their activism, so she is talking as an individual trans woman today in Thessaloniki, omitting her social activism.
- Ierissos is a village in Halkidiki, Macedonia (Northern Greece). For three years now an undeclared war is taking place there. A private company, with the collaboration of the state, has bought a big area on the mountain Kakavos in order to extract gold from mines. This operation is a big ecological disaster and doesn’t meet the legal requirements. The inhabitants of the around villages revolted and created a movement that for three years now faces every day the police violence. Women have a prominent role in this revolt.
- As the fact changes I have to update my descriptions, since the documentary made the government in Greece change among the promises of the new government was the enforce and justice for minorities and low income people the groups in Greece are waiting to gain their rights: cleaning ladies, people from Ierisso , LGBT communities, immigrants. We hope to see an improvement and this film become a historic archive.