Iannis Smaragdis: We have lost our compass



Three years passed as a blink of the eye since the first projection of Iannis Smaragdis’s film El Greco. A film that blazed like a flash of lighting the darkness of the halls with the white, milky, spiritual light which radiated the work and life of the great Greek painter and penetrated our souls. Three years? A lighting? Yes, because as also Nikos Kazantzakis says «Who can discern in the air of love between lighting and the eternity?…» Now, the Cretan director is preparing feverishly his new film for Yiannis Varvakis, attempting another one heroic struggle with the mountainous waves in the dark, mysterious ocean of artistic creation. To discuss with a contemporary Greek who has for his pillow Plato, El Greco, Kazantzakis and Elytis is an endless happiness, a great consolation. And when like another “indicator” revealed me the picture with the drawing of the set with the lazaretto of Zakynthos that adores his office, there where Varvakis left his last breathe of life in 1825, when he was planning the construction of a school in order to enlighten our rebellious nation, and he was speaking to me passionately for Socrates and Christ and for how much in nowadays our soul has been disfigured, another lighting glared in my mind. At that time I saw clearly that the lazaretto he showed me was not but the only uphill path for the diseased humanity, for our choleraic soul, that we must walk if we ever want to escape from the unbearable darkness and enter pure the white, immaculate, unbuilt Light…

-There is a scene in Lolita of Stanley Kubrick where the hero is questioned by his landlady if he believes in God. Then, he answered with intense mood for black humor that “the question is: does God believe in me?” I think this is the mental condition in which we live today as humanity. That is to say, we have fully deified the ego. Doyouagree?

After you said these words, virtually the interview is done! Because these are the issues (he laughs). You see that the today world has strayed completely because the man lost his position and the relation he had with the group. We have become egocentric, personal-centric units and due to our loss of the concept of the group, we also lost the relation of the group inside the whole. So, when formerly the people prayed all together, their energy was spread in the whole. Now with the extinction of the concept to pray together, to protect ourselves collectively against the evil and with our movement by asserting things only for our self, the whole holiness of existence in the universe has been lost. The answer to your question “if God believes in me” is “do you believe in yourself in order for God to bless you?” If you believe that you are part of the WHOLE where each of us must act towards a certain direction aiming to the improvement of things and life, in order to get ourselves to the good, to happiness, to benevolence, to altruism. In fact, all the things point towards one direction. The entity must move from the ego, the “I” to the “We”. Every time we find in history the ego having been moved to We, there is a bloom of the civilization. For example, in the Minoan civilization. Over there, there wasn’t I, there was We. And due to this reason the particular civilization lived and blossomed for two thousand years in absolute peace. This is what is lost today.

Sebastian Koch

-This contains the concept of aristotelic endelehia, according to it in every being is inherent the tendency to the perfection. That the whole cosmic creation is ruled by teleology.

Everything must reach to the point where the part finds the harmony in the whole. You must comprehend and place yourself in it. The human being must more or less fight the disharmony that exists around him, and not to be drifted by profane acts which they will finally backfire on him. Now the plurality of egos has created negative vibrations and disharmony. But in the battle between the good and evil, the harmony and chaos, the good and the harmony will prevail. Because the universe breathes from the harmony. Otherwise it would have been destroyed. And where does this worship of ego lead? To loneliness and disaster. We see it clearly today around us that we walk without cause and purpose. It is like we have lost our compass.

-It is as if we have lost the divine guidance. So, in a period where all the nations worship the market, where the master of the situation are the offshore companies and the Golden Boys that, by taking everyday commands from dark centers they sacrifice ritually to the altar of profit and bonus like black sorcerers thousands of human souls, what Yiannis Varvakis is searching to the market place of the show? Is it true that the film found distribution in the Hollywood?

In fact this is true as we have signed collaboration with a big studio. This is happening for the first time in Greece! A little miracle happened as the film will have its international distribution, in cinemas, in TV and in DVD, from one of the biggest companies of Hollywood. It is very difficult for someone to open these doors because the American studios must be persuaded that this project in which they are involved will make them a profit. As you pointed correctly earlier, everybody worships money. So they consider that the film for Varvakis is capable of making an international success. If they believe it that means there is probably something in the script that might concern many people. What I can tell you is that Varvakis is a hero who comes from the past but aims to the future. He lived from 1770 till 1825 as a pirate but he ended his life as a saint. He left the self-interest of ego and went to the rich, merciful area of WE. He started then as a pirate but things came in such way that he found himself in Russia where he was protected of tsarina Ekaterina the Great, who gave him the special privilege of fishing in Caspian Sea, and in these waters he took off the great virtues of our nation. That is to say, due to his smartness he became rich very soon, and then he revealed another one of our virtues, which is the empathy for the weak people and the defeated. He was incredibly polite and generous to them and so they loved him very much. In essence, because of his politeness and generosity, he was “given” the food of people, which in that time most of it was wasted, and that was the caviar. He was offered a great present that he received and turned it to an advantage. He made a demonic patent in order to be able to release the celestial dish in all seasons of the year, as, till then, it stayed in the place of its production. He was this man who turned caviar into fashion. So, it was there, abroad, in the Caspian Sea where Varvakis took off his great powers. Because we the Greeks when we move outside Greece all of our skills are emerged. On the contrary, here in Greece we use them to “hurt” each other (he laughs).

-Yes, unfortunately this is the curse of the nation.

It is the curse of the nation and its inability to behave normally (he laughs). The Greek man must fall into an unknown sea in order to realize what his powers are and learn how to use them. He started also as an arack trader and then he found himself with a whole fleet. In 1821 when the revolution began, he supported it through the organization of Filiki Eteria where he was like a lord. In fact, he was the only one of the backers who was called as such (lord). In 1825 he sells all of his fortune and comes back to built schools for the education of the Greeks (Varvakios School). In Greece, the civil war had already began and his country treated him as it treats everyone who shows magnanimity. He had the same luck… But Varvakis was not concerned anymore. He had already gone to another level of consciousness. He had been elsewhere. For this reason, he didn’t malign the country. He didn’t begrudge. This is what intrigued my soul from this certain hero. He realized that the Civil war and all the adversities in life is an ordeal we must get through. The countries do not set free straight away. The ethnologists say that when you are 400 years under occupation, in order to recover, it is necessary to go through an equal period. Civil wars, hardtimes, and misery will follow. What we live now is the remnants of the inability of the Greek man to be worthy of his history and of his present. Accordingly, to worth of his future. We are totally wasted. You see the new roads and the houses they construct in cities and not a single building can it stand next to the other. They all look ugly! Even if the beautiful comes in the ugliness, it is lost. Our soul is wounded. It suffers from collapse. It is unable to follow anything. And it has introversion, egocentrism and negative vibe where the one amplifies the other and I wonder sometimes how tourists keep on coming here!

giannis smaragdis 1

-A citizen of the world like you when he travels abroad must see the difference.

It’s huge. They ask me “what is Greece;» and I reply «the most beautiful place in the world». «And the Greeks? Your fellow beings?» And I say «including me, we are unworthy of our place, of our history, of our past, at this time!”…However, we’ll get over. Maybe in a couple of centuries. And why it’d happen? I believe that to us, to Greeks, for better or for worse, it was given a key for the history of the planet’s evolution which is called «metron ariston» which means «moderation is best!» It was given to us. It came. I don’t know why. However, it is disappearing in our times. You can see that the axis has been moved, we are disoriented, as the «moderation in man ship» became «moderation in money». What does that mean? That we, the Greeks, have the duty as a country, as a nation to avoid extinction. We must preserve the spiritual cell in order to be ready for the humanity when it is necessary to find again the measure, to maintain its enlightened representatives who will keep the cellular memory, the prototypal position which is given to us so as to be able for human race to recover his foot-pace, to be weighted out correctly and walk ahead, aright… This is our basic precondition and this must be the superior object of life for the Greeks. And because this will occur in the future, I’m optimist. Furthermore what’s two centuries in front of the infinitive cosmical time? An instant!

-In a time where the directors of your generation have run dry of ideas, the new generation of filmmakers takes delight in shooting the darkness, the misery and the decadence of Greece. Contrarily, you get busy with great, luminous personalities with intense spirituality. This is a matter of education or idiosyncrasy?

As I walk in the street or I travel abroad where I speak with different people from other countries and others continents, what I feel and l have understood is that the demand of people from the art is to water down and to fertilize their frail soul. It is what they say in Crete «to give them hooks so they grasp them. In other words, it is the footholds that you put in a wall in order to catch them and climb higher. As conclude our conversation, I would like to make something clear. Nothing of what I have done, nothing of what I have put down to the paper and then transformed to films, do I consider and feel that they have been made by me. I was inside this affair and I’m also lucky that it happened to me, but all the things “were given” or came. Either in sleep or they brought them “heralds”.

-The muses as also says Plato?

Something like this. So, they come from somewhere higher and your job is those presents, after they are given to you, to pamper and to care for them, to sweeten and to bring them down to the other people because they can be useful to them. My role is ending when the human eyes and the human souls enter this work. At this time the work belongs to no one but to the people who enter the dark theatre and communicate with it and they get something out of it. The film doesn’t belong any longer to me but to them. So, I got the greatest joy from El Greco because it brought me that wave of enthusiasm, as the half Greeks watched it. Following the 1.200.000 tickets in theatres, the newspaper Proto Thema released the film in DVD, where it broke all the records in sales, as the people made queues from six o clock in the morning in front of the Press agencies in order to get the newspaper. Ever since, they stopped calling the film “El Greco of Smaragdis” but just “Greco”. The change in people’s consciousness, the fact that the project was self-existent, in essence our Greco, which got me out of the way, was the most beautiful moment in my life. This meant that I, as an intermediate conductor, carried out my role correctly.

-You delivered it as they say by cutting the umbilical cord.

It was delivered! And this is great happiness. That is to say, to witness a collective attempt, in which you sometime or other it found find its way to the souls of the people and to know that you are now out of it! And do you know why? Because your ego has been broken into pieces and it has become We.

giannis smaragdis

-Is this also the communion of creation?

A merciful communion. So, why Varvakis, who also is “given” to me, is a very serious matter? And indeed, a “herald” who was an ordinary man brought it to me. Because the “messengers” don’t have wings. He is a business consultant in a bank. His name is Dimitris Tzanas. He brought me Varvakis to make a documentary for him. From this point I started. Just a while ago before I began the film Greco. Later I understood that this theme was “given”. And I believe this because in hard times we live, not only we, the Greeks, but also the whole humanity, the American distributors of the film discerned that Varvakis is an important, positive personality which can illuminate the human souls in all the lengths and widths of the globe which are suffering in these new Medieval Ages where we have entered. In the New Age positive examples that have flesh and bones, who complete the course by understanding and being ready to confront as human beings the hardships that God put them, they got through successfully. And Varvakis is one of them. It means than any viewer around the world who comes to see the film, will find his soul comforted. And this will happen, because we find here the unalterable principles that ancient Greek tragedy has left us as stock, that is the great persons of great sufferings and as the ordinary man comes in touch with the burdens of the great heroes which are much bigger than his, he takes comfort since his ordeal is very small, and so he can sleep during the night in peace. He takes a positive aspect of life and his hardships are minimized. This is the catharsis that art gives.

-In El Greco the painter in front of the inquisitor’s menace that he’ll throw him to the fire if he didn’t compromised, he declared that “I don’t fear because in all of my life I’m burning in the Light!» Iannis, these are the most beautiful words I have ever heard in a film! These words should be also the flag of your new movie.

In essence the extension of this phrase, and I’m glad that you mention it Mimis, is this, my new movie. In the end, Varvakis steps in the white, milky Light.

-Is it what the ancient mystics used to say? «The Portals are open. EntertheLight!»?

Exactly! «Enter the Light» is the phrase that they said in the Eleusinian Mysteries! The whole process and the end of the existence is to enter some time or the other the unbuilt Light. To rejoin with the divine. To disappear as a being into the blue horizon where the sea and the sky become one. To return free back to the eternal, immovable source, the God who brought you into the world.

First publication Magazine Nemecis, December 2010, issue 111.

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