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Elina Psykou • Director of Stray Bodies

“We should think carefully whether a certain procedure is our genuine desire or if it is what capitalism wants from us”


- The Greek filmmaker elaborates on the issues she aims to tackle in her daring documentary, featuring various forms of medical tourism

Elina Psykou  • Director of Stray Bodies
(© Pinelopi Gerasimou)

At the Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival, we sat down with Elina Psykou, who presented her long-anticipated film on a variety of controversial topics Stray Bodies [+see also:
film review
interview: Elina Psykou
film profile
, honoured with the jury’s Special Mention in the International Competition (see the news). Psykou reveals how the concept for the film emerged, as well as her own personal views on the sensitive topics discussed in the doc, which she did not try to impose on screen.

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Cineuropa: How did you come up with the idea of exploring the “medical tourism” trend in Europe?
Elina Psykou:
The initial concept for the film occurred to me 13 years ago. Back then, I was surprised that abortion was completely banned in Malta and women therefore had to seek legal medical help elsewhere. Meanwhile, cremation was not allowed in Greece by the Orthodox Church; therefore, lots of dead bodies were transported to Bulgaria, to the crematoriums in Sofia. So, in my mind, I connected these two situations and came up with the idea to get a grasp on this surrealist sort of tourism for issues of life and death. Fortunately, five years ago, cremation was finally allowed in Greece, so the Bulgarian narrative line of the story was dropped, although we continued collaborating with our co-producer there, Red Carpet. Hence, I focused on abortion, in-vitro procedures and euthanasia as an opportunity to talk about birth, death and all the travelling that goes on around them – and about what human beings are allowed and are not allowed to do. The position of religious institutions was important in all of that, too. What surprised me was that, for example, cremation wasn't allowed in Orthodox Greece, but it was allowed in Orthodox Bulgaria.

That’s because communism converted Bulgaria into a mostly secular country, and the church there is quite liberal on many subjects.
Well, yes, religion always goes hand in hand with politics. For me, it was also important to talk about the position of the European Union. Because I would like us to be more united, and not only for economic reasons. I'm happy that now, with the help of the EU, we have a law in Greece that finally approves gay marriage. This is good, and I would like to see more universal legislation in the union that would support human rights.

But the film also gives the floor to controversial opinions, like the one of the man who can see eugenic principles in the in-vitro procedure, and this makes one think twice. Weren’t you concerned that you might be attacked by both right- and left-wingers?
The eugenics concept, of course, is something to be debated, and I was advised to remove that part. However, it was clear to me from the very first moment that I didn't want to make an activist movie, as I also aimed to shed light on various overlooked perspectives. Despite concerns and opposition from my collaborators, I remained resolute in my decision. The film also demonstrates how language and arguments from the left have been co-opted by the conservative and far-right narratives, causing confusion in society and blurring ideological lines.

On the other hand, procedures such as in vitro, for example, open up a big, profitable market. Although I'm convinced that our bodies are ours, and we can do with them whatever we want, we should think carefully whether a certain procedure is our genuine desire or if it is, rather, what capitalism wants from us. This is certainly a question that I would like to pose with my film. For example, one of my two characters who wanted to conceive in vitro succeeded after many painful procedures, but the other one gave up, as it got too much for her.

How did you actually find your characters and persuade them to participate, given the sensitivity of the topics?
We had been conducting extensive research across multiple countries over the years, while I, of course, was working on other films. It was quite difficult, but we were also lucky. Like with the case of the French woman seeking assisted suicide. It came to the fore unexpectedly and enriched the film with this personal, moving storyline. The episode with her final few minutes, shot with the consent of her children as well, is perhaps the strongest part of the movie.

Have your characters found peace after fulfilling their desires?
I think they have, yes – not only because of what they achieved, but also for having participated in the documentary because in this way, they shared their experiences with more people, which helped them to process their trauma. They are also actively involved in the presentation of the film to audiences. My character from Crete came along for the screening here, the girl from Malta will present the film at CPH:DOX, and the Italian characters will go to the local premiere in Italy in June.

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