The “Salvation Plan” of Lucia Rikaki

The “Salvation Plan” of Lucia Rikaki

by Krystallia Patouli

"What is the "Salvation Plan"? The new award-winning documentary film of Lucia Rikaki? A large group of volunteers in the "Sotiria" Hospital, with an exemplary activity from their early years, with… roses in their hands? A great visual arts event with young artists? The redefinition of the word “life” and its… salvation? The director Lucia Rikaki gives her own answer to Krystalia Patouli for the

What would you say about the visual arts event "The Salvation Plan," which became the inspiration for your namesake documentary, screened today in the movie theater of Greek Films Archive and awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Documentary Film Festival of Chalkida?

It is an initiative of the curator, Panayotis Papadopoulos, a great artistic event, at the premises of the “Sotiria” hospital. There has never been any similar event that I know of.
This hospital was the first sanatorium in Greece, as stated in the film “... at the foothill of Hymettus, bearing the hopeful name ‘Sotiria’ (mean. ‘Salvation’). The foundation of this sanatorium, in 1902, was a private initiative of Sophia Schliemann.”

Poets Maria Polydouri and Yannis Ritsos had both been hospitalized there...

Yes; also Nikos Beloyannis was murdered there, because during World War II it was a concentration camp and a site of execution of partisans. But the area has also a long history revolving around the human needs, and the interesting thing is that it continues today. It is unique and admirable how a community of employees in a hospital are able to create and offer beyond their professional obligations, focusing on the spirit of offering, on each person’s talent, as well as on society...

At the beginning of the film, moreover, is stated that "The artists are invited to address the concept of collective memory and to review history and its social dimensions, through artistic intervention."

Exactly. In this sense, the “Salvation Plan” is something of symbolic value to me; because all these people are moving around things that are relevant to the public and politics. I first came into contact with what was going on there through the press. I loved their art projects and I took an impulsive decision, so one day I just got up and got there. They guided me around and showed me everything, told me about the operating conditions, as well as the history of the hospital. I was thrilled with the quality of their work and with everything that I learned.

We all get off at the Katechaki station often, but we don’t know what lies behind this... forest.
Someday, I asked "Do you intend to make a record of this exhibition?" and they answered "No". Then I told them that I would like to take it upon me. Like that, unceremoniously and on my own initiative, without any funding, I decided to film everything that went on there.
And in fact, during the filming, there was from the outset a strange ambience of confidence, and I say strange because the people didn’t know me, nor did I know them.

What “material” did you use for this film?

It is a film shot entirely on the premises of the “Sotiria” hospital and at the courtyard filled with trees, from nurses, doctors, and 100 young Greek artists, students at the School of Fine Arts.
For four months I was going there very often, because I had to get to know the artists, as well as the several very well organized groups, all the volunteers, visitors; we are talking about thousands of people!
I thought that it would be worth to see why all these people are there, because, for example, all the exhibits were works of modern art, and most of the ordinary people have never gone to a gallery in their life, and they aren’t familiar with anything like that. However, they were all based on the rich history of the place and its people, but also on a story of pain and power, even of regeneration, in many cases... things that everyone can identify with, even if he has not seen a manifestation of theirs in contemporary art, he can still feel them. All this was so intense, that it caused very emotional reactions, and I have recorded several of them.

It is also very interesting how these young artists of 22-23 years (because Panayotis Papadopoulos’s idea was to get very young artists), most of whom have not had similar experiences with health problems, immersed themselves in this issue for 2 years I think, in order to learn the history, to get an experience of the hospital site; they even slept there many nights.
I believe that, if every one of us expose themselves to an information with consideration and respect, we will all end up with our own elaborations on the subject, because we are all capable of being sensitive and responsive, we just don’t practice these sensibilities. So Panayotis took this as a base, and it’s impressive what he did with these guys.

You said that you started this film impulsively, but what do you think was the most important incentive that made you decide it?

First of all, I was familiar enough with health issues, through the festival which I organized in Kos for years. But although I have seen, precisely for this reason, many similar issues, this one really affected me, because I haven’t seen any similar efforts, as I said earlier. Note that I saw hundreds of films and issues every year, in order to choose the ones for the health film festival.
So I considered this intervention as both very interesting and optimistic. In fact, I was thinking that, when I finished the film, it could be screened at the festival too, at some point. But this year, the new mayor of Kos has thrown us out, for completely incomprehensible reasons.

You’re talking about the International Health Film Festival, of which you were the founder… the Festival "Hippocrates"?

Yes, it was the only festival in the world about health issues. Therefore, we thought then, that it should be taking place at the “Sotiria” Hospital in the future, as a continuation of our work. We had the approval of the Ministry of Health and of the hospital management, but we weren’t able to go through with this idea, for reasons beyond our control. But our goal is to keep trying for it, because we have also a perfect auditorium there at “Sotiria”.

You started the film, mainly because of this artistic event, but along the way you saw more into it... Volunteering, companionship, awareness, and not only regarding health issues...

This hospital has always relied upon volunteerism. Once, they had this awesome fundraiser, where they offered a rose to passersby in the Syntagma Square, saying “Give anything you want for the new building of the sanatorium”, and they managed to gather 35,000 drachmas within a day, which was a huge amount for that time, and funded an entire building! And in fact, this story is in the film, and it has other stories behind it, such as the one regarding the first building. There, each room had 10 beds, and each bed was undertook by a family on a voluntary basis: The patient accommodated in this bed, undertook the expenses needed for as long as he was hospitalized, except for the cost of his medical care. There is an important history of selfless contribution, which is prolonged in a touching manner, and aimed to secure the best possible conditions for the patients and their families.

So in the film, you show how all these volunteers, working together, carry out an effective work for the patients and their families.

And how these volunteers transmitted their enthusiasm to the young artists who had no such experience. They followed the track the historical memory and the disease in a touching and respectful manner, and were able to make all these amazing projects.

So we are talking about something more than a… life-salvation plan. Perhaps about the very salvation of the soul...?

That’s a nice way of putting it, because when I kept asking them if the "Salvation Plan" is possible, that’s exactly what I had in mind. And everyone responded in his own way. Some answered to me that it’s all in our mind, that we could even fly, that we are always equipped to overcome all difficulties.

And about every aspect of salvation, the Salvation Plan for any crisis, since the disease is also a crisis...

That's why I write in the subtitle that salvation is possible. This is exactly what we wanted to highlight through this film. In this gloomy national and international setting, there are Greeks working and contributing generously. The film is a hymn and a record of an impressive, materialized collectivity. All this sharing, the willingness to offer, the solidarity, are materialized in the work of these people…

...As well as communication and expresiion? Because it is also said in the film that "In this event, art as a collective process revolves around the emotions and human relationships." How much is this compatible with the so-called "meta-communication"? I attended a seminar on chronic disease, at the Laboratory for the Study of Human Relations, and they kept speaking about communication! During the break I got to wonder, did I get in the wrong course... But then I realized that, in order for a system to be healthy (from ourselves - both mentally and bodily - up our relationships) what we call “meta-communication” is necessary… which means “to verbally express what I feel, as well as the vision of the relationship which I want to have with others (and with ourselves, each one of us),” through any communication...

That’s what people in the film said! And then the other accepts to listen to you, and for you to listen to him! Whenever I found this situation, I recorded it. I remember that I found a woman whose mother had died, and she told the same thing, but in other words, reversed... she told me that "in the past, we found humanity in people"...

So it seems as if, through this documentary, the word “salvation” itself is redefined?

Yes, de facto so. Like everyone, I too am in search of positive examples and when I saw that, I felt that I had to "applaud" it and to be as ready as possible to record it in film. Ultimately, as it seems from the response, this target has been achieved. Even I am moved now that I’m watching it.

An interesting challenge and invitation...

Especially in the situation we are now living in, in order for us to find elements we didn’t believe they existed, and to redefine them. Indeed, a huge task is carried out on a daily basis by people, and this is the richest material that we have available.
These same people are our treasure… It is a treasure that might not say anything to the… rating agencies, which may not even consider it as a factor… but it can work wonders, and we can see that in this event that I have filmed. The Salvation Plan is a bright example. Every day for me, throughout the course of this film, I was having a surprise, a discovery, a great joy. I never, not even for one minute, felt that it was something ponderous...

There's a very optimistic message...

For me, yes, there was and there is one.

"As much as you are in pain, world, everything starts all over again, everything is still yours." The film ends upon these verses of Yannis Ritsos. And this is a modern… prayer of sorts.

Info: The documentary film of Lucia Rikaki, “The Salvation Plan” (Project “Sotiria”), will be screened daily from today, October 20 until Wednesday, October 26, in the Greek Film Archive at Iera Odos St., at 7pm. Duration 62 minutes. The screenings will continue for another week from October 27, at Trianon, Kodriktonos St.

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