Harald Bergmann • Director of Vorzeit – In Praise of Greece
“I had the urge to sketch a positive portrait of Greece and the Greeks”
by Teresa Vena
- We spoke to German director Harald Bergmann on the occasion of the world premiere of his documentary Vorzeit – In Praise of Greece at the Hellas Filmbox Berlin festival
German filmmaker Harald Bergmann is presenting the first part of a planned series of four films at Hellas Filmbox Berlin (15-19 January), an annual festival focusing on films from and about Greece. Holding the world premiere of Vorzeit – In Praise of Greece [+see also:
interview: Harald Bergmann
film profile] in Germany has an important political significance, considering the tense relationship between the two countries. In contrast with the stereotypes with which Greeks are regularly confronted, Bergmann, who has been travelling to the country for the last 30 years, offers a positive image of the Greek way of life, but sadly not without creating some new stereotypes.
Cineuropa: What was your motivation to make this film?
Harald Bergmann: Actually, in the first place, I wanted to shoot a documentary on the Minoan high culture, which predated the ancient Greeks. It's only for a relatively short period of 100 years that we’ve known about its existence. Discovering that there is an even older culture than the ancient Greeks, on which we base our cultural heritage, has the potential to make an impact on our identity in the future. But before I could plunge deeper into the matter, in 2015 something happened that I couldn't foresee. Overnight, Greece turned into a scapegoat for a European-wide economic failure. All of the German media reported on the crisis that had apparently hit Greece, and they all did so in exactly the same way. It started with politics, and this was followed by the media and, finally, the whole public domain painting the Greeks as lazy people. They were seen as people who were not able to run a working economy, stubborn people who would not follow the instructions of the wiser national leaders and, eventually, people willing to live off other people’s money. I was shocked by this unanimously propagated image of a whole country. Since I know Greece from personal experience, I wanted to confront this image with one of my own. I had the urge to sketch a positive portrait of Greece and the Greeks.
How did you approach your protagonists?
Well, I didn't want to arrive in Greece with a team of four or five Germans, surrounding people and pointing the equipment at them, asking them to react to the political relationship between Greece and Germany. I thought this might be perceived as too invasive or intrusive. So I went by myself, with a tiny camera, and approached people on the bus, at markets – everywhere I went. For me, it was important to speak mainly to people who were not experts; I wanted to let them react to the accusations – especially the Germans – made against them.
How did the Greeks you interviewed react to your nationality and your project?
I was confronted with a mostly reflective attitude, and that is why it's so painful for me. The Greeks are the ones who, out of all the people, were the most willing to forgive the mistakes that the Germans made concerning them in the past. But it's precisely the Germans who betrayed them again. As far as I am concerned, I wanted to give them something back in recognition of all the great experiences I’ve always had in the country. The film is my way of distancing myself from the behaviour of my fellow countrymen. It is intended as praise for this great country. I organised a test screening in Greece before finishing the film, and the public accepted it. It was very important to me that they should agree with my point of view.
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