Original photo of the women’s soup kitchen on Trikeri island (Nitsa Gavrielidou collection).
Early in 2010, I met with Olympia Dukakis to discuss a screenplay I was writing. It had been my dream to work with her and now here I was, in her living room, chatting about the characters, the story, and life in general. At some point Olympia asked me: “Who are you writing this script for? Who are you trying to please? Is this the type of work you want to do?” I froze. Tears started running down my cheeks and all I could say was “no”. As I was leaving her home that evening, Olympia handed me a little book titled Greek Women In Resistance, written by Eleni Fourtouni. I remember I kept asking her to tell me if this was something she was working on, but all I got from her was: “Just take the f***ing book and read it!”
I began reading the book as soon as I got on the train home. It talked about a part of Greek modern history that had been buried for years – the tumultuous Greek Civil War that followed WWII. Its focus was the women who had participated in the Resistance movement during WWII and were later punished by being shipped off to concentration camps on remote Greek islands. The book talked about secret journals the women kept while in the camps and were found decades later buried beneath an olive tree. Who were these women? Why had I never heard anyone talking about them back home? How come I was not taught in school about the Civil War? How and why did the Greek government allow this to happen? I felt so ignorant, frustrated and angry. I became obsessed with their stories. They would not leave me alone.
A few weeks later I passed the book on to fellow filmmaker, Sophia Antonini, who was moved by the stories of the women as well. We decided we had to do something about it and soon after we met with Ms. Dukakis to discuss a possible collaboration. As it turned out, Ms. Dukakis first found out about these women almost three decades prior, but was not able to do anything at the time. That day however, the three of us decided that this is the time to pursue this story and see where the path would lead us.
With minimal equipment, even less funds, and a strong desire to find these women, Sophia and I went to Greece for the first time in June 2010. The few women survivors still alive were teenagers during their time in the camps. They were cautious at first, but finally let us into their world and trusted us with their stories – heartbreaking, funny, mischievous, courageous, inspiring stories. Among them we found two of the original notebook writers!! This was another dream come true for all of us involved, even though at the time I had no idea that asking my own mother a simple question – where was she during the Civil War – would change my life forever.
Five years and many trips later, here we are with Beneath the Olive Tree; a story about courage, ideals, forgiveness, betrayal, survival, and the role our past plays in shaping our present and future.