"Debtocracy" offers answer to fiscal woes

Beware Greeks bearing videos.

Over the past few months, “Debtocracy,” a docu made by left-wing journalists Aris Chatzistefanou and Katerina Kitidi for €8,000 ($11,300), has become an Internet sensation in Greece, and has helped fuel the protests that are rocking the country.

Posted on a dedicated website in April, and reposted on YouTube and countless other sites since, the film has been viewed more than a million times.

Without any formal distribution or marketing, it’s been avidly passed from protestor to protestor, spurring opposition to the government and giving an intellectual rationale to their calls for a default.

Made available for free under the rules of licensing org Creative Commons, the doc also has been aired on several small Greek TV stations and has been shown at public screenings in villages and towns throughout the country, as well as having been circulated on home-recorded DVDs. “Actually, we’ve lost control,” Chatzistefanou admits.

Local-language versions of the film have now been produced across Europe, and it has been adopted by protest groups in other countries facing harsh austerity measures, such as Portugal and Spain. In May, the film was shown at the election campaign launch of Portugal’s Left Bloc political party, and later that month, Chatzistefanou and Kitidi were asked to attend a screening in Barcelona’s main square, Placa de Catalunya, which had been occupied by protestors. Unfortunately, police raided the square two days before the screening and confiscated the projector, so the directors had to make do with a discussion instead of a screening.

Doc’s genesis is in “Infowar,” a show Chatzistefanou used to produce for Greek radio station Skai Radio.

“Infowar” consisted of segments that took a radical stand on a variety of subjects and expressed points of view that were largely absent from mainstream Greek media.

In part, the show’s approach was a reaction against the public service ethos of Chatzistefanou’s former employer, the BBC World Service in London, where journalists are required to balance different viewpoints.

“You have to understand the way that the media landscape is structured (in Greece),” Chatzistefanou says. “It is a very small market that is controlled by the same people who control the economy. They are part of the economic elite, and the media presents their ideas.”

Last fall, Chatzistefanou produced a show that looked at the way Ecuador had tackled its own debt crisis in 2007 by repaying some loans while ignoring others.

Chatzistefanou and Kitidi decided to produce a film that would look at the roots of the crisis in Greece, and advocate an alternative solution — using Ecuador as a model — to the one being pursued by the Greek government.

The film is packed with interviews with left-wing authors and academics — such as Costas Lapavitsas, an economist and professor at the U. of London, political scientist Eric Toussaint, who is prexy of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt, and Samir Amin, a Franco-Egyptian economist — all of whom have now become celebrities in Greece.

“It was the first time that radical ideas had managed to reach a wide audience (in Greece), an audience that had only been listening to the corporate media before that. It was the first time they had the opportunity to listen to something different,” Chatzistefanou says.

The film draws on other docus, like Avi Lewis’ “The Take” and Fernando Solanas’ “Social Genocide,” that have tackled the problems caused by globalization.

“We wanted to explain that the debt crisis in Greece wasn’t created because we are a lazy nation that spent too much foreign money,” Chatzistefanou says. “We wanted to say that the debt crisis is an outcome of the world economic crisis. For us, that crisis didn’t start in 2007 or 2008; it started in the 1970s.”

Chatzistefanou has paid a price for his stance: Shortly before the release of “Debtocracy,” Skai Radio sacked him. But the docu has given him a new focus, and thanks to a flood of donations coming in through the film’s website, he is now able to make a followup, which will look more closely at some of the issues in “Debtocracy,” such as privatization and the effects of the Euro currency, which the filmmakers claim has hurt smaller European countries, like Greece and Portugal.

“To be honest, we didn’t expect this reaction from the people, so we didn’t have any plans for the next documentary. But now in a way we feel obliged to continue,” Chatzistefanou says.

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