THE FILM "SMYRNA:THE DESTRUCTION OF A COSMOPOLITAN CITY, 1900-1922"
What was cosmopolitan Smyrna on the coasts of Western Anatolia like, at the beginning of the 20th century? How did the Greeks, the largest Christian community, live side by side with the Muslims, the Levantines, the Armenians and the Jews?
What was so unique about this Mediterranean port in the Ottoman Empire, which even today, 90 years after the Destruction is still linked to a joie de vivre during the good times and dirges for the Destruction that came so suddenly in September 1922?
Through unknown photographic archives and film footage, collected and preserved in the United States and Europe by the non profit organization Proteas, director Maria Iliou, historical consultant Alexander Kitroeff and their collaborators unfold a fascinating story in a documentary film that premiered at the Benaki Museum in Greece in January 2012, played till March 2012 and was a huge success.
After four years of collaboration and research, Maria Iliou and Alexander Kitroeff bring back to audiences images forgotten in “closed” archives as well as a new perspective that includes all the communities of Smyrna as well as the dramatic events of 1922.
90 years after the destruction, the team seeks to honor not only those who were lost in 1922 but also the discipline of history. Historians from the US and Europe present the big picture while first, second and third generation Smyrniots recount their personal stories. Indeed three of them unfold little family stories relative to the events from the Greek, the Armenian and the Turkish side, from the years of cosmopolitanism to the years of the destruction.
The documentary is corroborated by rare photographic material and film footage compiled from archives in the US and Europe. Unknown images of Smyrna from private collections such as that of Pierre de Gigord and the archives of the Library of Congress, Princeton and Harvard universities, the Near East Relief, the Imperial War Museum, Pathe, the Albert Kahn Foundation and other institutions in the US and Europe are brought to light for the first time.
For the soundtrack the film and sound editor Aliki Panagi used sounds of that era in order to bring the events to life, while composer Nikos Platyrachos relied on songs from Smyrna and hits of the era in order to compose his original score.
The historical documentary and the exhibition are of great importance not only because the audience will see unknown images of Smyrna, the legendary city, but also because at the same time the Iliou-Kitroeff team brings a new perspective to the way in which they tell their story. A perspective that distances itself as much from excessively nationalistic narration as from more recent attempts to suppress the tragic events of the destruction, thus distorting the truth.
The film after a three months run at the prestigious Benaki Museum in Athens, began its European run with great success, opening at the GARTENBAUKINO cinema Vienna on June 20th 2012, with a screening of SMYRNA organized in collaboration with PROTEAS, PROTEUS NY INC and ECHO100PLUS & DESMOS with the aim of providing financial assistance in the form of food and medicines to families in Greece who have been hurt by the crisis.
The documentary premiered on the American continent on Οctober 10th 2012 at the Paris cinema, in New York, on the opening night of the New York City Greek Film Festival.
In the U.K. the film along with the photographic exhibition was presented at the HELLENIC CENTRE in London from January 26th 2013 till February 10th 2012.
On Friday 22nd of March 2013 at 20:00, SMYRNA premiered in Paris during the 7th Greek Film Panorama, at the BALZAC cinema (http://www.cinemabalzac.com). The film was enthousiastically received by the French public.
In New York, from Friday April 5th 2013 till April 18th for two weeks, SMYRNA was showing everyday from 11 a.m to 9 p.m at QUAD cinema in NewYork. (34 West 13th Street, West Village, 212-255-2243, http://www.quadcinema.com, ). As the showings were sold out and the film was received with great interest from the American public, SMYRNA screened for one more week at the QUAD until the 25th of April.
In June screenings along with the photo exhibition will start in Australia, in Melbourne at the Hellenic Museum and will continue till September 30th 2013.
In Greece SMYRNA has a very successful theatrical run. The film after three months of screenings at the Benaki Musem, opened at the cinemas in Athens, Thessaloniki and the rest of the country in September 2013 and is still playing today. It is one of the most viewed documentaries in Greece, with more than 350.000 viewers.
A text by Maria Iliou (screenwriter, director)
SMYRNA OF JOIE DE VIVRE AND LAMENT
I was born in Smyrna 90 years ago.
It was not in fact me, but my father, Andreas, who grew up in Kordelio, learned seven languages and from a young age discovered the joie de vivre of this port city where East encountered West in every way.
In 1922, after the destruction of the city, Andreas, still a child, came to live in Athens.
Ever since my childhood, Smyrna has haunted me. Smyrna existed everywhere: in our life, in our apartment on Solonos Street where I grew up.
Smyrna existed in our discussions, in our dreams and in our nightmares. The acceptance of otherness, novel ideas, music, laughter but also nostalgia for the enchanted place that my father had described, survived in every way in our day-to-day life. No other city on earth was so exceptionally unique.
The expression, “The rings fall off, but the fingers remain,” recurred frequently, as did the idea that true friendship, human relationships, and creativity are more important than anything else; not material goods that can disappear at any moment.
In my nightmares Smyrna was burning and the sea, filled with corpses, turned completely red, while I tried to save myself, turning in my bed. Since then I have tried to imagine the life of the city before the destruction, but the photographs had been lost in the fire. Since then I wanted to look through a keyhole or a magic lantern to see everyday life but also what truly happened and led to the destruction.
Smyrna was always there in our hopes, reminding us that cosmopolitan cities never cease to exist even if they travel elsewhere.
When I left for my studies abroad and when I later lived and worked in different countries, I remained astounded that our Smyrna, the city of cosmopolitanism and of joie de vivre but also the Smyrna of lament and destruction, was unknown to the general public in Europe and the US. That was when I first read Henry Miller’s phrase: “The Smyrna affair has been expunged from the memory of present day man."
The idea of making a film about Smyrna became an obsession. For years I waited for the right moment to narrate the story of Smyrna.
The chance to do so presented itself a few years back, when I was in the US, during the time we were working on the The Journey: The Greek American Dream (presented at the Benaki Museum in 2007). It was then that I discovered unknown films and photographs of Smyrna. I felt then that the time had come to finally see the city through the real images of Smyrna.
Simultaneously The Journey had already brought about a felicitous collaboration with historian Alexander Kitroeff. We began to work together once more and for the next four years it was as if we were digging the same tunnel from two different sides: me from the point of view of the filmmaker where images turned into narrative material and Alexander through the viewpoint of the historian.
And so the moment has come to talk not only about cosmopolitan Smyrna but also about the destruction, honoring those who lost their lives but also honoring the discipline of history.
This documentary is presented 90 years after the destruction.
We bring back images that were lost, locked away in closed cupboards, from American and European archives. However, we also take a new approach to the history of Smyrna; an approach that keeps its distance both from a nationalistic narration of the story and from more recent attempts to conceal the tragic events of the destruction, thereby distorting the truth.
Furthermore this documentary was created with the strong belief that while cosmopolitan Smyrna was destroyed in a tragic way, somehow Smyrna continues to live on.
Smyrna continues to be an idea, a way of life that has to do not only with pain and lament but also with the good moments, cosmopolitanism, and the joie de vivre.
You can carry Smyrna with you wherever you are.
A text by Alexander Kitroeff (Historical consultant)
I: SMYRNA - A COSMOPOLITAN CITY. EARLY 20TH CENTURY
In the early 20th century Smyrna was one of the most important port cities of the Mediterranean and the entrepôt for Ottoman trade with Europe and America. Smyrna was under Ottoman administration but commerce mostly was in the hands of Greeks, Armenians and Levantines who lived side by side harmoniously with the Muslims and the Jews of the city.
The two kilometer-long quayside, famously known as the Quai represented the city’s commercial and cosmopolitan character and its unique joie de vivre.
II. BORROWED TIME, 1912-1922
The Balkan Wars of 1912-13 and World War I triggered a wave of nationalism in the Ottoman Empire, announcing its demise. The settlement of Muslim refugees along with bands of armed irregulars from the Balkans in western Asia Minor where thousands of Greek Orthodox lived led to incidents of violence, deaths and displacement of Greeks. The conscription of Greeks and Armenians into labor battalions in the region of the Black Sea and the Eastern part of the Ottoman Empire ended in genocide.
These events signaled the end of the prospect of political equality for the ethnic groups that the Young Turks had proposed in 1908 and led to a new policy of “Turkey for the Turks.”
At the end of the war, the Greek Prime Minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, persuaded the Great Powers (Great Britain, France, Italy and the United States) to assign Greece control of Smyrna and its region pending a referendum on the future of the region.
The Christian population of the city received the Greek Army enthusiastically when it landed there in 1919 but certain Muslims resisted and this caused tension and bloody clashes. Venizelos appointed Aristides Stergiades as High Commissioner of the city in order to restore order. His strict measures alienated the Greeks even though his intentions were to preserve the city’s multi-ethnic character.
Greek control of Smyrna ignited a Turkish nationalist reaction headed by Mustafa Kemal who led a nationalist movement that envisioned a Turkey free from foreign intervention and where there was no place for the Christian minorities.
The Greek forces began pursuing the bands of irregulars who were launching attacks and they reached into the hinterland where they encountered Kemal’s organized forces. The Greek campaign continued even after Venizelos lost the elections in 1920 because King Constantine, who returned to the throne, decided to prolong the war.
The Greek Army reached close to Ankara but the weakened communication and supply lines brought the collapse of the front in August 1922 and a hurried disorganized retreat, even a scorched earth tactic wherever it was necessary to deny volunteers and supplies to the enemy.
On the diplomatic level, the Great Powers, calculating their long-term interests had already begun to make approaches to the Turkish side.
III. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE CITY, SEPTEMBER 1922
The Greek Army along with High Commissioner Aristides Stergiades abandoned the city, leaving the city’s Christians and the refugees who were streaming in from all over Asia Minor unprotected.
The entrance of the Turkish troops and irregulars into the city they considered to be a symbol of foreign control over their country unleashed a wave of pillaging, violence and deaths. According to neutral observers, Turkish forces set fire to the Armenian quarter and stood by while the flames spread to other parts of the city.
While Smyrna burned, Greeks and Armenians trapped on the quayside desperately tried to find ways to escape. The Great Powers, adopting a “neutral” stance in order to protect their interests, instructed their ships not to take on refugees. Certain American citizens saved thousands of lives by taking the initiative to help women and children escape. But the Turkish authorities displaced Christian men to the interior, something that meant hardship and death.
As the last Greeks and Armenians departed, they left behind them the burned out shell of a once cosmopolitan city. The end had come from outside – the city had been unable to resist the nationalism that had brought about the end of the Ottoman Empire.
For the Greeks it was the end a three thousand-long presence in Asia Minor; for the Turks it was the beginning of a new era marked by the birth of the Turkish Republic.
On the 90th anniversary of the destruction of Smyrna, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the Mediterranean, the film and the photographic exhibition that is associated with it, honors all those who were so tragically lost through an account that respects the discipline of history.