An essay on Lucia Rikaki's depiction of the Greek education system in her documentary "The Other", by Eva Magkou-Lajiness (part of her project on "Image and Education in Greece").
Directed by Lucia Rikaki, writing credits Lucia Rikaki. Year 2005. (Runtime 74 minutes). Language: Greek, Albanian. The documentary was awarded at the Thessaloniki Film Festival in 2005.
According to statistics, in 2010 one out of five residents in Greece will be alien immigrant. Greece, a country of emigrants, who left over many decades in the hope of bettering their lives, is now experiencing the reality of being a host for immigrants. In recent years over 1 million Albanians have migrated to Greece.
“Us” versus the “others”. Or how we could describe the modern Greek society and our attitude towards the immigrants. Particularly towards that piece of immigrants that is of more concern. Those who came from neighboring Albania.
In Patsideros, a small village named after the word ‘patsos’, meaning peace, we find the only Greek elementary school with one single Greek student; all the others are Albanian. Filmmaker Rikaki, a child of immigrant parents herself, portrays the rare qualities of coexistence between people of different nationalities. In this small school in Northern Crete, life is made to feel better for people that were forced to leave their country, and especially the young ones (their children), who followed their parent’s choice. The “one seat school” in Patsideros, is an example of how things can be done with a lot of joy, a lot of effort, and a lot of fun, even life for the "others" can be made to feel better.
Lucia Rikaki recounts a modern story with her protagonists in the first plan. The intention of the message that she wants to pass to the spectator, is clear and evident from the first few moments when she begins her narration. She declares, using the example of her immigrant father in Germany that for somebody to emigrate with the fundamental aim of his own survival (and more usually of his family’s as well), is a difficult decision for him and the members of the family. Her effort is to prove that racism should not have a place in the human society, even if this society is of a small and remote village on Crete. She decided to shoot this film because she believed that it is important to record and to present a positive sample of coexistence of persons coming from different cultures that can be “ensured” and “sealed” through education.
Through the follow-up of selected moments, we see that through the efforts of Yiannis Fragkiadakis, their schoolteacher, the children incorporate in the local society, (do they assimilate too?), while at the same time they are educated.
The film does not prettify situations. It does not describe a society as we would like it to be, but as it really is, because there are times that prejudice prevails. Without being the desirable, it certainly is a small resistance nursery in a capitalistic world. The local society wavers between its class conscience and the "planted" racist arguments against the Albanians. An extreme example is the father of the only Greek student, who ruminates all the racist arguments, while simultaneously he is the only parent in the village whose child is in the same school with the immigrant children. Because of his attendance (as Giorgos is the only Greek student) the school is still open. The catalyst in this small community, is the schoolteacher, a person who both communities admire. A pioneer, who through practice and the messages he passes to the children, he strengthens their efforts of integration. Yiannis Fragkiadakis is “local”, continuing the work of the former schoolteacher and Orthodox priest of the village, Father Manolis.
Father Manolis is a pleasant surprise, although he sets some limits. He helps and accepts the immigrant children, with the wish they would be baptized Christians and the belief and wish they would certainly not hold the “National Symbols” (the Greek flag with the Cross on the top) in the parades. He agrees the immigrant students should be assimilated, but to the country’s profit and not only theirs. The schoolteacher on the other hand, has set his goals primarily as the teacher who seeks the Truth. Morning prayers and parades are the necessary “tools” to make and keep the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs satisfied. While he is interested in the social integration and education of the immigrant children, he will talk about war and peace, with references to the Iraq invasion, mentioning the seven years of dictatorship in Greece (starting in 1967), and he insists they should know about the country they come from. He takes them for educational walks in areas near the village, introduces them to classic music, and they celebrate “Carnival”. As local, his actions are not contested because he is “one of us” as the people of the village say. Yannis Frangiadakis, treats everybody equally. “I don’t care about their nationality,” he says. “I want to learn from them, encourage them not to forget their culture, their language and at the same time to learn about Greece, their new home.” The small school in Patsideros is a model of how things can be done with a lot of joy, a lot of hard work, and a lot of fun, making life for the natives and the ‘others’ easier and happier.
Even the process of shooting the film, contributes in his efforts. They “visit” the houses of the students following the camera. It is the most shocking part of the film, see and listen the distress, the dreams, the difficulties, the problems that experienced in both Albania and Greece, and their hopes for a better life for themselves and their children.
We meet people who do not fit the racist notion of the "Albanian". Peole who have not stopped dreaming and fighting for their dreams. They are not that much different from the “locals” who live in poverty too. It is 2005 A.D. and we see daily scenes, which remind De Sica Italian Neorealism.
The documentary itself is a treasure, because it is not about the grown ups, but it focuses on the children and their reactions. Giorgos the Greek, Armando, Giorgos number two (who leaves the school when he finds a job in the city), Despina, Angela and her brother, Andreas. Andreas is a lovable “wise guy”, who became so assimilated in his new community that he speaks the Cretan dialect better than his own mother tongue (all of the immigrant students are fluent in Cretan), and he believes that Greece is Crete (he shows the island when he is asked to point to Greece on the map) and the capital of Greece is Heraklion (the closest big city).
“The immigrants in our region, cultivate and crop our fields. I hope some day if not them, at least their children, consider our village ‘home’, their ‘roots’, and they have a better life than their parents”, marks the schoolteacher Yiannis Fragkiadakis. His example, with his simple but shockingly humanistic practice, provides an outlet and new channels for a vital social question after the massive immigration wave to Greece.
Social and racial equity in teaching helps keeping the balance, and ensures the harmonious and smooth coexistence between the Greek and Albanian residents of the village, but the problems and the conflicts are not absent. The families of immigrants present big differences between them. Some admit that as soon as their children become self reliable, they will return to Albania, while others claim that they do not want to go back. The first miss their homeland, while the second want to forget.
The documentary begins promising, but it does not accomplish it goals and the expectations of the spectator, and it fails to fully develop the subject. There is the sense that a lot of subjects are not “touched” and a lot of things are not said, by the side of the Albanian parents.
In their eyes we see the fear and the concern not to say something inappropriate or provocative against their Greek neighbors. As the father of Giorgos (the Greek student) said “they do not dare do something ‘bad’, because they know that will be consequences”.
Here however a moral dilemma is raised: Does the film maker have the right to “press” the subjects of his research to speak about things they try to avoid and that perhaps in the long run might harm them, or should accept and “show” only what they want to expose?
The film is dedicated to all who that were forced to be “eradicated” and hoped for something better to come in their lives, and to those who accept them as equal, and helped them to fulfill their dreams. It is also dedicated to the director’s father memory who was the reason for the realization of the documentary. He was a high school teacher teaching Ancient Greek who during the dictatorship had to leave the country and emigrant to Germany.
“The ignorance of the German language led him to a line of professions like assembling parts of cars, cleaning building entrances, and so on. For several years he was forced to live in poverty and under extremely unfavorable conditions. It is our duty to remind the younger generations that from a country of immigrants we became country of reception of immigrants”, Rikaki underlines.
“When I reached Germany, in 1973” she remembers, “I did not know a German word and, despite my father’s efforts who had learnt some to teach me, I did not accomplish much in the German school of our neighborhood. The term for the immigrant children was explicit and determined absolutely the German ‘view’: "Gastschulerin", which means foreigner student-visitor”.
The frequent failures of small Lucia in the language made her feel like the laughing-stock and led her to the Greek school – ghetto, a school that satisfied more the social need of keeping the Greek children in a safe place (if not at home) while their parents were at work, and not the need and right to learn.
“My father could not bear the life of immigrant. He probably did not meet an inspired German citizen, (like the schoolteacher of the Cretan village), to support and help him in the new life he attempted to start in Germany. He died far from his homeland, family and friends when he was forty-five.
Image: The Good Teacher, Student, and School
“The Other” presents a certain perspective on the good teacher, and the bad school system.
The good teacher here is Yiannis Fragkiadakis, who although is local does not believe in racism and he fights it through his teaching methods. His philosophy is that his students either Greek or Albanian have the right to be educated in an almost multicultural way. He not only prepares his immigrant students to live in the “hosting” country, by teaching them the language, history, and customs, but to learn about their own country, and share their experiences with the only Greek student. We do not know if Fragkiadakis was trained to face such a “peculiar” situation, but he seems he found his way to “balance” between the curriculum which the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs has set and the needs of his immigrant students. “Good” here means anti traditionalism, creativity, trying new things, fighting conformity and racism, and forming caring relationships with his students.
In the documentary we do not see any external oppressive forces, but at the end of the academic year, the superintendent’s office closes the school and transfers Fragkiadakis to a nearby-village school. The Greek student will attend the new school because his father will drive him every day, but what will happen to the immigrant students? Most probably they will start working in the fields, and the dream of getting a high school diploma will be only a dream. Even if there are no visible oppressive forces, they exist, and they worked “underground” closing a functioning school because the Albanian parents do not know (or are afraid to handle the situation) how to demand and protect their children’s right to be educated. The Albanians, parents and students, are “second class” citizens, of low socio-economic status, and their needs and rights are not of any concern.
Race / Ethnicity / Class / Gender / Language
“The Other” is all about race, ethnicity, class, gender and language. It is about “us” and “them” as Giorgos’s father says. It should be very useful to define “us” and “them”.
Who is “us”, and what are the advantages it could mean if any? “Us” for the locals means race, ethnicity, language, and religion. It also means “superiority”, and “ownership”, while “them” means “other than us”. “Other”, different (and suspicious?) race, ethnicity, language, and religion, and definitely “inferiority”. The media did a great job! The “us” of the remote Cretan village are brainwashed by newspapers coming from the big city and the news on television, about “criminal Albanians” all over the country “whose agenda is to steal and slaughter”. It does not matter that the “others” living in the village are hard working family people (who are probably as much afraid of what happens in the big cities and the capital). “Them” is also a danger to “our” present and future ownership of the homeland and the fields. All these racist notions are “planted”, day by day. In the documentary we see a scene with the locals and the new comers celebrating together. But “together”, is the immigrant families in smaller groups within. We see “us” and “them” singing and dancing only “our” traditional songs and dances. “Us” are not interested in the culture of “them”, their culture is of no importance. There is some sort of celebrating together, but it seems it is only for the documentary’s sake and not a real and deep relation starting.
“Them” on the other hand are the immigrants, and they know their position very well. They follow the news, they know they have no rights in a country that they entered illegally and they know they have to pay a lot of money to become legal and (legal or not) they depend on the locals, the police, the immigration laws, the priest, the teacher, and so on. They found out that it counts positively to become Christians, change or paraphrase their names into Greek, and they do it in order to survive. “Them” sacrifice their own race, ethnicity, language and religion for a more important issue: their family’s survival.
“Us” are not in a much better position than “them”. They are poor, their own houses are not much better, and their own children are not taken any better care by the superintendent’s office.
In the school environment it seems the teacher and the Greek student respect the immigrant students. The Albanian students have the opportunity to learn about their homeland and make presentations about their culture and language. But they “submit” to the decision of the teacher (who follows the superintendent’s order) that at the parade will be the Greek student to hold the Greek flag with the Cross on the top (it is not clear in the documentary who is the student with the highest grades). Fragkiadakis believes that he should keep the “balance” and not create “unwanted frictions” like the ones that happen in other schools when Albanian students were appointed to hold the Greek flag with the Cross on the top.
The priest is “liberal enough”, but not “liberal”. He believes the immigrant children should be educated. He is the one who approached their parents and asked them to go to school when he was the teacher of the village. On the other hand, he is an Orthodox priest; he wants the young Albanians to become Christians. He definitely does not force them and their families, but we should not forget that he represents the dominant religion, he is “authority”, and he will be the “useful link” by their side in their interacting with police and authorities.
We could say that there are the dominant Greek society and the dominated Albanian minority in the village, but in the school it seems to dominate a spirit of collaboration that makes us hope that the new generation will grow and evolve free from racist beliefs and fears.
Surveillance, spectacle, and image
The documentary focuses on and follows the students in the school environment and out of it in their homes and in the village. In the classroom, learning, making presentations, and interacting with their teacher, in the school yard while playing, singing and cleaning, and during the excursion and when they go to fly the kite. In the fields and the village and their homes, with their parents and siblings, watching television, singing both Greek and Albanian songs, dancing and miming modern Greek singers and stars. The film maker respectfully used characteristic scenes which are still shocking, showing the poverty of both Greek and Albanian families. In terms of surveillance and spectacle the documentary shows forms of behavior of Greeks and Albanians.
Throughout the documentary and its various settings, image clearly matters and mediates many of the relationships we see. From the dominant Greek society, and the dominated Albanian immigrants, to the daring teaching of Fragkiadakis.
Everyday life and technology, globalization, and standardization
The teacher’s purpose and efforts are to educate his young students and teach them to respect each other and both cultures equally, resulting in the long run in changing the small society they live in.
The documentary shows that the everyday life of schooling does not depict the students’ life in the small society they live in (and for this there is still hope for future changes). The teacher (and the film maker with this documentary), suggest there should be social changes and “learning how to understand and appreciate other cultures”.
The fact that the school is in a remote Cretan village allows “The Other” to ignore the implications of globalization, contemporary technological change, and standardization, although there are scenes (the Albanian children in front of the television set singing and dancing, the Albanian student who finds a job and drops school, the graduation papers at the end of the academic year) reminding us that “the real life is out there”.
The visual-critical frameworks
How the viewer and the viewed are connected? What is the documentary trying to say to and / or about us and them? Why?
Today the classrooms in Greek schools are populated by Greek and immigrant students, and ethnical and religious homogeneity belongs to the past. Inevitably, if the documentary is shown in a classroom the students would recognize situations and “identify”. It would probably “teach” the students who are ready to “learn”. Students could watch the documentary in class and discuss it. More specifically to it, however, such a discussion, from the perspective of visual culture, might revolve around questions such as: If one were to make a movie of our classroom, what it would look like? Would it be similar to “The Other”? Why and / or why not? Who would you want to produce the movie? Who would you want to see it? Would, or could, it really represent what our classroom is like?
In approaching “The Other” both interpretively and more directly pedagogically, tough questions must be addressed. Of all of the film’s characters, whose opinions seem to be most important? Why? Is this film “realistic”? How are the rest of the schools today? Are there immigrant students in elite urban schools and if yes what is their socio economic status? Can we (students and / or teachers) relate to the school of the film? Is Fragkiadakis a good teacher? Why and / or why not? Would he be successful here? Why and / or why not? Does he bring new and innovating methods of teaching? Should he be transferred? Why and / or why not? What would you do to change the superintendent’s office decision?
Critically understanding “The Other” and incorporating it into the classroom requires asking questions such as : Who produced the movie and why? What relations exist between the one shown in the documentary and our society?
Lastly, film studies encourages viewing a film relative both to its aesthetic dimensions and to its socio-ideological contexts. (Vinson K. and Ross W., 2003, p. 171). We must ask, therefore, questions about the film’s accuracy and quality and about its messages and their meanings. Such questions might include: Did the story make sense? Was it authentic or credible? Would you like to have attended such a school?
In the end, we must as viewers and as educators ask why we feel the way we do about particular pedagogical representations. If we initially liked Spare the rod and spoil the child, do we still? And, how might we (re)consider what it means?
Theories of image
Bakhtin’s chronotope asks viewers to consider the relationships between space and time implicit in any given image, as well as how, and to what extend, space and time merge and exist as an explicit character. (Vinson K. and Ross W., 2003, p. 172). How do the time and place within Spare the rod and spoil the child is set influence our understanding of the film? How do we and our students perceive the Greek society of late ’50s – early ’60s and this location interact with how they are presented in the film?
Barthes’s rhetoric of the image suggests seeing a film in terms of its linguistic or textual and its symbolic or iconic messages. On the linguistic / textual level, Barthes asks that viewers attend to things like what is shown versus what is not shown, and how the audio text and the visual text work together. On the symbolic / iconic level, the viewers should compare and contrast what is directly stated (the intended and explicit plot), with the film’s indirect or even hidden ideology. What is said versus what is meant or implied? Are there any unintended meanings?
According to the notion of simulacrum has “The Other” reflected a particular time, place and set of events and circumstances, or a mere legend of some time, space, and set of events and circumstances?
For McLuhan, what is important about a film is not what it says directly, its particular contents, its plot and themes, but instead the medium and technology of film itself and what it enables. The film acts as an extension of our senses, and obliterates time and space. “The Other” enables us to be somewhere else, in a different space and time, and to peer into it so that we might somehow “know” it.
“The Other”, demonstrates examples of anti-democracy, racism, oppression, fear and classism in the village society, and democracy and care from the side of the teacher in the classroom although there are some decisions top-down (who will hold the Greek flag in the parade). The immigrant students see their parents to be careful in what they say and do, to avoid conflicts with the locals and follow the norm, conforming and behaving “properly”. They realize that they can not be and become more than what their race, ethnicity, and class is “allowed” to gain, while at school there is a different philosophy. They are encouraged to choose what to be and become, in a classroom that is determined by democracy, anti-oppression and the collective good. Still in the documentary we don’t see the teacher to openly contradict disciplinary and reproductive conformity by trying to persuade the immigrant student not to drop school and find a job (which will offer him some money and a new and modern cell phone, but will not better his life in the long run).
There are not resistance scenes from the part of the immigrants in the documentary. They know that resistance is punished, they have learnt it in their homeland, and they follow the norm in the “new country”. As the father of the Greek student pointed out “if they do something we don’t like they have no way to escape, this is an island and there is water all around it”. They do not challenge the authority of the priest, or the teacher. They are considered “inferior” by the local community, and they do not contest this “label”.
On the other hand the teacher “teaches” resistance to the children of the immigrants by trying to establish a democratic, multicultural and-anti oppressive classroom. Still it is not clear if this will make any difference, especially after the decision of the superintendent to close the school. Will the immigrant children go to the nearby village school? And if yes, will their new teacher encourage and inspire them? Most important even if the immigrant students feel differently, will they act the same as their parents in their every day life in the village?
The teacher and his students use school time for their own purposes (La perruque), when they go on excursions, they fly the kite, they celebrate “Carnival”, and so on. The students go “behind” the camera when the film maker visits their homes (detournement?)
“The Other” lends itself to various resistance strategies via critical media literacy. If the film would be shown to students, they could be asked to reflect on the documentary according to their experiences, their lives, and make sense of it within their own subjective understandings. They could attempt to create their own movie about their classroom, teacher(s), and immigrant peers. That would be very “educational” as they could realize the power of the media, and how to counteract the manipulative and depowering tendencies of the media in contemporary society.