AMSTERDAM — Test screenings are a tricky business at the best of times, but when the subjects of Håvard Bustnes’s documentary sat down to watch their big-screen debut last week, it’s fair to say the exit scores were always going to be in the low numbers. Filmed over four years, the film would, they’d thought, show them as “normal people with families”, but instead it paints a disturbing view of modern-day neo-Nazism, lifting the lid on the controversial Greek nationalist party through the lives of three women whose menfolk make up its central core.
Bustnes soon received word that they were not happy, and security was duly increased for last night’s premiere, which took place at a very fractious point in modern European history, following a large right-wing rally in Poland last week and smaller incidents in Holland recently. With the spectre of Charlottesville still also very much in the news – indeed, a Vice documentary on the subject saw a white supremacist citing Golden Dawn as an inspiration – festival figures were on the alert. Happily, the screening passed without incident, but the very real fear of retribution of any kind made it clear that Bustnes had touched a raw nerve. Variety sat down with him at IDFA to discuss the film.
What gave you the idea for this film?
Håvard Bustnes: Everything started in 2013 when a colleague of mine, Christian Falch, who is also the producer of my film, made a documentary called “Blackhearts. It’s a music documentary about black metal. He included in this film a band called Naer Mataron, who are a black metal band from Greece, and it turned out that their bassist is a member of parliament for Golden Dawn. When Christian told me this, and that Golden Dawn was the fifth biggest party there, I was shocked, because Greece was my paradise as a kid. I’d been going there for holidays lots of times and everyone was always so friendly. Then suddenly they had this huge far-right party – they have, like, 400,000 people voting for them. I was really curious to find out more about it. So I decided to use the access that Christian had [acquired] through this black metal music film to make a bigger film about this political situation and the human beings in this party.
Where did you start?
When we arrived in Greece in 2013 almost all the parliament members were in custody, in detention, accused of leading a criminal organization. So it was Jenny, the wife of the black metal bassist who met us, and she introduced us to the rest of the women. First we met Dafni, the mother of one of the parliament members, and then Ourania, who is the daughter of the big boss [Nikolaos Michaloliakos]. We wanted to get as close as possible to the leadership of the organization, so Ourania was really important for us. She was a psychology student, but suddenly she became more or less the leader of Golden Dawn. And I thought she was a really interesting character.
Did you always intend to focus on the women?
Well, the men were in prison! [Laughs] But I think that the women are more interesting. I was really curious about them – I wanted hear how they talk about the men. The interesting part for me is how they always find a reason why the men are violent or whatever. It’s always somebody else’s fault – they always blame somebody else. So I’m curious about how they make up their worldview. To them, these men are the best people in the world. To me, they look like violent people who beat immigrants. So I wondered if they really believed this, or if it was just something they said. But I think they actually believe it.
They didn’t seem at all curious about you motives. Why did they agree?
I always wondered why. It may be because we are from Norway and black metal music was born in Norway. I don’t know! They never asked me about my own views. After a while, though, I had to confront them, and I think they understood then that we had different political views.
Was it difficult?
Oh yes, it was so difficult. Many times I was thinking about stopping it. When you make a film, sometimes you have moments where you believe you will lose your access. Because you push things, and the subject maybe doesn’t like your questions. So there were a lot of times when we thought, ‘Maybe this is the last time we’ll see them.’ But luckily we were able to get more footage.
Did you realize that this would become such a big subject in the world?
I noticed as we went on that it was getting more and more timely, which is good for the distribution on the film, but I would prefer that it hadn’t happened. It’s really sad and scary. I’ve always been curious: How is possible to have these kinds of ideas in modern times, knowing everything we know about the past?
Should we be worried?
Yes. I’ve always been interested in history, but this is modern history – you can see it happening right in front of you. I also think it’s really important to understand what you want to fight against. And we need to show it, because it won’t disappear by itself – the far right movement, they are marching again. We have too many greedy people, too many rich people, and too many poor people, and when the difference between them becomes too big, we have these kinds of movements. So the only way to stop it is to make a more fair society.