It’s only been a year since Greek Australian producer Nicolaos Demourtzidis introduced his feature-length film Istoria to the world, and his work has just been bestowed with a Hollywood International Independent Documentary Award (2016) in the Foreign Documentary Feature Category.
Istoria follows the journey of Nicolaos’ pappou Elias, his son and grandson as they return to Greece for the last time to explore Elias’ troubled past and possibly even find a sense of personal closure for him.
“The project was done with passion! Passion for our family, passion for our country, passion for people, passion for storytelling. The international stage is receiving the documentary quite well and the fact that we are gaining some credibility along the way reassures me of our hard work,” says 30-year-old Nicolaos in an interview with Neos Kosmos.
“We have not as yet been able to make any real marks in our own country, which is disappointing, but we will keep pushing for local film festival entries and who knows, maybe inspire us to tell a new story.”
Istoria’s main character, pappou Elias, was a Greek expatriate and survivor of the Greek Civil War, who migrated to Australia after losing both parents tragically and, like most Greek migrants of his generation, he worked hard and achieved success both personally and professionally.
For his family, though, Elias was more than that. He was the man who was holding the answers to all the family’s past wonders.
“My pappou was my best friend until the day he left us. He was a big storyteller and a very wise man,” explains Nicolaos, who remembers jumping on his bike to get to his grandparents’ house just so that he could sit there and listen to his grandfather’s stories.
The two men developed a strong bond over the years, but things took an unexpected turn seven years before Elias’ death, when he started showing signs of dementia. Soon after he was diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease Alzheimer’s. The disease was eroding his most recent memories first, leaving his mind to wander back to the time he was in his village in Greece.
Watching the disease slowly take over Elias’ life and vigorous mind, Nicolaos felt the need to find out more and share his family history before he lost his grandfather forever. With camera in hand and inspired by his biggest hero and best friend, the producer from Adelaide took Elias back to where it all started − Greece.
Filmed in South Australia as well as the Florina village of Pelargos where Elias came from, the three-man crew consisted of David Ockenden (director/producer), Brad Halstead (director of photography) and Nic Demourtzidis (executive producer).
After countless hours of filming and editing, the premiere of Istoria took place in Adelaide on 11 October, 2015, and the reaction to the film was overwhelming, with 750 people walking from the theatre with teary eyes and solemn emotions.
“Istoria gives an honest and emotional insight of my grandfather’s story, encouraging us all to look deeper into the eyes of those who struggle with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Nicolaos.
Elias passed away peacefully before he had the chance to watch the completed documentary of his tormented, yet incredible life, but he leaves a legacy behind him which will remain alive forever, thanks to his grandson.
“My pappou was my hero and I truly believe that there is a hero in every other family. Just ask your grandparents to tell their story so that we can keep this colour bright and pass on from generation to generation,” says the young producer, whose hope has always been to take people on an emotional journey and inspire the youth to try and develop a closer relationship with their grandparents.
Although 40 hours of raw footage of his grandfather will never be enough, Demourtzidis has already achieved enough to make his pappou proud; an international award for Istoria, raising awareness for Alzheimer’s disease and above all, he has managed to preserve his family’s history.
“We never had the sights of Hollywood in mind when doing this documentary. We only had in mind telling a story that would inspire others to search their own story. To me, the world is a beautiful mosaic, but it’s losing its colour, therefore if we can all individually keep our stories bright, we add to something that goes beyond culture into humanity, creating one beautiful portrait.”
“As for me, I am just extremely blessed to have met my pappou through all the stages of his life; as an adult and as a happy child.
“I will never forget him.”
The award ceremony for the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Award will be held in two weeks in the US. In the meantime, Istoria’s entry has also been accepted by Irvine International Film Festival (CA, USA), Richmond International Film Festival (VA, USA), Finnow Film Festival (Germany) and World International Film Festival (Toronto, Canada). See more on www.istoriadocumentary.com