Filmmaker and journalist Theopi Skarlatos came to her reporting on the Greek economic crisis from a unique angle — as both an insider and outsider. Though Greek by heritage, she grew up in the United Kingdom, only visiting her father’s home country for vacations and short stays. So when stories surrounding the country’s debilitating austerity measures started bringing her back, Skarlatos was spending more time in Greece than ever before — and just as society seemed to be falling apart at the seams.

In the following interview, conducted during the final stages of editing her four-part series for Field of Vision, #ThisIsACoup, Skarlatos talks about the origins of her partnership with Paul Mason, who produced and narrated the films. (A separate interview with Mason, now economics editor for England’s Channel 4 News, will accompany the third episode of the series.)

Skarlatos also discusses what it was like to document the rise of Syriza, and how episodic storytelling worked to reflect the cycles of elation and disappointment that defined the Greek public’s response to the turbulent political landscape.

Let’s first talk about your relationship with Greece. How much time had you spent there prior to these recent years of reporting?

Skarlatos: I’m half Greek — my father is Greek. We would go there twice or more a year. Then three or four years ago, after the movement in the squares in 2011, I started going back. And actually that’s when I met Paul Mason — in the middle of a riot. I was collecting information for a radio piece I was working on, and he was working for BBC TV. I introduced myself and we stayed in touch, and then went on to do a couple of different short films for BBC Newsnight on the refugee issues in Greece, and then we covered the Cyprus financial crisis together. So that is how it all started.

And then I came up with the idea of making a film that I couldn’t stop thinking about, which was Love in the Time of Crisis. Paul deals primarily in the economic situation, whereas I don’t — I’m a freelance journalist and I cover things very broadly, so I was more drawn to the human element of the crisis and how it was ruining relationships, both in terms of romantic relationships and friendships. Paul executive produced, and off the back of that film came this film.

How did your partnership with Paul take shape for the making of this series?

Skarlatos: Now he has a full-time job for Channel 4, which means he couldn’t be there 24/7. Whereas because I’m freelance, I could be. He’d been given a little bit of funding by the unions [in Greece] to do a short 15-minute film based on the election and this new radical left-wing party that was about to come to power. I agreed to do it and spent three weeks filming during the run-up to the elections.

On the night [Syriza] won the election, we were in this random bar behind all of the celebrations, and we were in total shock. It was the first left-wing party to take power since I don’t know when. We just sat there and thought, “We can’t let this go, we have to continue filming, and we have to tell the story of what happens.”

Since you were responding spontaneously to events, rather than making a film you’d been planning and budgeting for a while, how did you make it work?

Skarlatos:: Well, we didn’t have funding in the beginning. We kind of put the word out that we might be doing this. We spoke to the mainstream media, but they were a bit funny about the fact that the amazing footage and access we had at the beginning had been funded by the union, so they didn’t want to go near it. So then we thought, fuck it, we’ll just raise the money ourselves crowd-funding. We raised more than 40,000 pounds and that got us started.

Was the new government amenable in terms of access?

Skarlatos: By this point I’d made a lot of contacts because I shot the short film during the run-up to the election. I’d been shoulder to shoulder with these people, especially the young Syriza crowd, these campaigners who were trying to spread the word about the party and how it could really change things for the better. These people were totally accessible, and that was their whole ideology — these people are just like you and me. But there is also a huge element of trust, and that is something I had built up over an entire year. By the end of it I was not one of them, but they were used to me being around.

In certain movements, journalists can be seen as a kind of enemy. But it seems there was generally an interest in having you around.

Skarlatos: The media was extremely important to the government. Stories were being told left, right, and center, and nobody knew if they were true or false. Things were not only being leaked from the government side, but there was stuff being told to the press on purpose by the creditors side as well. So there was this weird battle going on about the stories being told to the press, and the inner debates and negotiations that were going on in Brussels. So the media was hugely important in that process.

Was there ever any pushback because you were coming from outside of the country — that you may have been Greek, but you were basically an English filmmaker?

Skarlatos: There were times when I knew I was not one of them, because these are people who have been part of this political party since they were very, very young — 14, 15 years of age. That crowd did feel quite cliquey at times, and I knew I could never fit in 100 percent, but that wasn’t what I wanted. All I was looking for was access. It did help that one of the girls I follow in this documentary was in my last documentary. We’d already formed that trust, and once people saw I was one of hers, or as soon as people saw she trusted me, it was a domino effect.

What form did you conceive of this project taking? Did you discuss it in terms of a short, or a feature, or a series? Or were you just filming, assuming you could figure form out later?

Skarlatos: I had no idea what was going to happen, absolutely no idea. But we knew that we wanted to cover it from two levels, and one of those was political. So we wanted to have access to key ministers, especially those who were taking part in negotiations. Every single day we were trying to get access, and you can imagine these ministers at the height of negotiations and there’s me banging on and saying, “Please can I get in, please can I get in!”

But the most important thing was to tell the story of the real people on the ground. So we didn’t really know [what form it would take], but we knew that we had to have cameras on everything, to be ready to deploy, with riots breaking out all the time.

In the end, the episodic structure makes a lot of sense. The events themselves have all these little climaxes, these self-contained stories that build toward a larger one.

Skarlatos: There was this crazy period at the beginning, where everyone was just shocked by this party that essentially said no to everything you’ve imposed on our country for the past five years — “We’re here to do something different, we’re here to actually negotiate” — which is something none of the other governments even tried to do. So that essentially was the first part.

Then there was a short period of calm, and in that period came the Greek spring, which gave people the opportunity to make their voices heard and really support their government, which was something that I have never seen my entire life. And then slowly as the money and time were running out, we came into this next period when they realized that in Europe the creditors do not necessarily want to help the situation.

There was all this tension and it is kind of episodic — at the beginning was this really emotional period, and toward the end nobody could sleep. Even in the thick of things, no one knew what would happen next. You’d wake up in the morning and it would be totally different from the night before.

Were you filming daily, throughout all of this?

Skarlatos: Yeah, pretty much every day or every other day throughout January. Though less so at the beginning because it took a while to get the funding. We found an amazing Greek team who were out there also trying to film what they could for historical reasons. They were my eyes and ears when I couldn’t be there. Paul would be over a lot to cover things with Channel 4 News, and then a few times he came out specifically for the documentary.

It must have been hard to stop filming. Are you tempted to go back and add to the narrative, add episodes?

Skarlatos: There was this moment where I just felt that I would be OK to put the cameras down. And that was the night of the referendum, which was this huge amazing democratic moment when the people who had never been asked before about anything came out to the streets, 62 percent to say, “No, we don’t want another deal. It’s not going to work, it has not brought anything good, the young people in this country don’t even have jobs, we need something different.”

It was this huge moment for me, almost like this release of breath, of air — it’s come to an end, it’s finished. Then they refused to listen to it, and I thought, well that’s it, that’s the end of the story. Of course the government kind of folded, and they had a new election, but I really didn’t want to go back and film. I felt really strongly that the film ended there.

But we did go back to film the end of the circle, which was: they won an election, they tried to do something, they didn’t, the government folded so they went into another election, and they won again — and that’s the end of the circle.

There are really four circles within that larger circle you described, which seems like a accurate way of representing the reality you encountered, rather than a single story arc. You could spend all this time looking for an end point, but often those end points are actually beginning points. Something about the episodic structure allows you to reflect that.

Skarlatos: And it’s so complicated as well. There’s all these things in each cut that that the average person watching might not get, and that’s when me and Paul come together and we’re like, we need to get this down in the most simplistic way so everyone can understand about what happened.

Did you edit the pieces before Paul added a voiceover, or did his text inform how things were constructed?

Skarlatos: In each part there was a different story to tell. Paul and I go through what factually happened, and [discuss] how we can illustrate those things through our characters or politicians. Because everything is chronological, we can put down what happened and compare with our notes and do a kind of tick list.

Like, this character gets this across, and this character says, “You know that in Greece you get paid 500 euros a month, but in Northern Europe that’s a totally different matter,” which is a really important point to make. And so Paul doesn’t need to say that, or the titles don’t need to say it, because our characters do. It’s finding the bits that aren’t in there and how we get [the information] across in a way that doesn’t stand out or feel weird or interrupt the flow of the film.

Did you always plan to turn this around quickly? Because a standard feature documentary might take six months or longer to edit, whereas you’re just a few months out from the events you captured.

Skarlatos: We’re working every single day, every single hour in order to get this up sooner rather than later, because we don’t want people to forget what happened. I think that it is a good period right now ahead of the Spanish elections to remind people of what happened in Greece, to remind people about democracy. And to remind people of the challenges the Greek people still face.

#ThisIsACoup, Episode I: “Angela, Suck Our Balls” #ThisIsACoup, Episode II: To Pay or Not to Pay? #ThisIsACoup, Episode III: Oxi — The Greek Word for “No” #ThisIsACoup, Episode IV: Surrender or Die

IF/Then Shorts, in partnership with Hulu Documentary Films calls short-documentary filmmakers based in North America to take part in the Inaugural IF/Then x Hulu Short Documentary Lab. This lab will channel Hulu and IF/Then’s shared vision of creating a new pipeline of diverse talent and incubating strong voices who will be the next class of non-fiction storytellers.

Program Details:

Four filmmaking teams will be chosen to participate in a one-year lab focused on short-documentary production and career training. For the first six months, filmmakers will be individually mentored through production by IF/Then staff and take part in monthly virtual cohort trainings, consisting of keynotes from industry heavy-hitters and edit consultations. Upon rough cut of their projects, filmmakers will be invited to debut their works-in-progress to an invitation-only audience and receive feedback. For the remainder of the program, filmmakers will finalize their cuts and receive high-level festival and distribution strategy consultations, along with guidance creating their publicity materials, and pro-bono legal support. Hulu will have the right to review the projects for potential acquisition or further development.

Each team will receive a $25,000 grant to use for the production of their film.

This opportunity will be open to individuals living in/from North America, with an emphasis on Black and/or Indigenous filmmakers, people of color, women, LGBTQ+, recent immigrants, and individuals who identify as having a disability. We will welcome any and all stories from underrepresented voices, with a strong preference around subjects related to gender, the LGTBQ community or issues unique to the BIPOC community.

Project Eligibility:

  • In addition to the identity eligibility of the maker and the theme, eligible IF/Then Shorts projects must meet the following criteria:
  • Be an original short documentary with a final duration of 10-20 minutes
  • Be completed within six to nine months of receiving the IF/Then Shorts grant
  • Be factually accurate, follow best practices in documentary ethics, and be designed for a U.S. audience
  • Be driven by (a) compelling character(s), with access to the character(s) secured
  • Be presented in English or subtitled in English
  • Have no prior distribution attached and be able to participate in the IF/Then Shorts distribution initiative
  • All stories and storytellers coming from countries and territories in North America. This includes the United States and its territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, US Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa,) Canada, Greenland, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela, and countries in the Caribbean: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, The Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Clipperton Island, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Saba, St. Andres and Providencia, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turks and Caicos Islands.

KEY DATES:

The application portal will open on January 15, 2021 and close at 11:59pm EST on Feb 15th.

  • January 15, 2021: Open call for IF/Then x Hulu Short Documentary Lab
  • March 31, 2021: Finalists announced
  • April 5, 2021: Virtual Program Kickoff

APPLY:

Submissions are now closed.

Please direct any questions regarding this application to ifthenshorts@fieldofvision.org

Starting July 22, IF/Then Shorts has a new home at Field of Vision. Joining Field of Vision will be IF/Then Shorts Program Director Chloe Gbai and Supervising Producer Caitlin Mae Burke. Founded in 2017 with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, IF/Then Shorts is a fund and mentorship program that supports storytellers in breaking barriers to access, exposure, and sustainability in the media landscape. IF/Then works with creators who experience inequity based on factors such as race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, ethnicity, age, citizenship, and/or geography.

IF/Then Shorts taps into the need for broader geographical representation in the stories that get told through its regional pitch events. It holistically supports short documentary storytellers in their creation of compelling, character-led, community-inspired stories that embody the breadth and diversity of the people and places they represent.

The program addresses the imbalance of representation, perspective, power, compensation, and career longevity among independent filmmakers and media artists. IF/Then Shorts leverages access, expertise, network, and brand to address these challenges. Through grants, mentorship, industry connections, and professional development, IF/Then Shorts helps to ensure that storytellers from a multitude of backgrounds have access to the resources and tools they need to tell their stories, connect with audiences, and thrive in their careers. IF/Then Shorts was previously part of the Tribeca Film Institute, which is planning to pause operations indefinitely in September. "IF/Then Shorts is an incredible program, and one that’s vital to the field," said Charlotte Cook, Field of Vision's Co-Founder and Executive Producer. "We’re so glad that they can find their new home with Field of Vision. The program’s values align perfectly with Field of Vision, and further our overall commitment to shorts and advocating for filmmakers. Chloe and Caitlin are phenomenal, and I feel so lucky that they’ll be joining our team."

IF/Then Program Director Chloe Gbai said of the move: "We’re so excited that thanks to the MacArthur Foundation and Field of Vision we can keep this funding and development pipeline open to diverse, creative nonfiction talent past TFI’s pause this September. This program will have a new life and is ready to uplift the voices that we need to champion during these interesting times."

Supervising Producer Caitlin Mae Burke added: "As a former Field of Vision filmmaker myself, I know how beneficial it is to work with these trailblazers in the short documentary space. I'm overjoyed that all of our active projects and future supported filmmakers will benefit so immensely from this move, and we look forward to the tremendous growth potential for IF/Then possible under the Field of Vision umbrella." IF/Then is currently holding an open call for the North Shorts Grant and Fellowship, in partnership with Points North Institute, The Screening Room, Jigsaw Productions, and the LEF Foundation, for regional filmmakers in the American Northeast. About Chloe Gbai Chloe Gbai is the Director of IF/Then Shorts. Previously, as the POV Shorts and Streaming Producer, she launched POV Shorts, which earned POV its third documentary short Oscar® nomination, two News & Doc Emmy nominations and an IDA Awards nomination for Best Short Form Series.  She has previously worked at Teen Vogue and Viacom, as well as served on review panels and juries for the National Endowment for the Arts, Sheffield Doc/Fest, ITVS, IDA Awards, Black Public Media, Creative Capital, and various other film organizations. She is a member of Brown Girls Doc Mafia and a member-in-residence of the Meerkat Media Collective.

About Caitlin Mae Burke Caitlin Mae Burke is an Emmy-winning producer. Her films have screened and won awards at top tier festivals including Sundance, Berlinale, and Tribeca Film Festival and have been broadcast across the US and around the world. Her work has screened at MoMA, The Museum of the Moving Image, and in movie theaters internationally. She is an inaugural inductee to DOC NYC's "40 Under 40" and alumna of Berlinale Talents. IF/Then currently has funding opportunities available for filmmakers. Please find more information here.

Field of Vision has partnered with Doc Society and Sundance Institute to launch Independent Documentary: Filming in the Time of Corona, a new Risk Assessment Guide for independent documentary filmmakers who are considering starting or resuming production during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Many filmmakers are asking themselves — and others in the documentary field — the big question: Should I be filming at all?

As our field discusses and debates this particular question — and its ethical and and public health implications — Field of Vision, Doc Society, Sundance Institute, and our co-signatories are offering a “living document” that provides guidelines, a checklist, and questions for independent documentary film teams to ask themselves, each other and their partners. It is our hope that this guide will help filmmakers make informed decisions and help keep everyone safe.

We’d like to acknowledge our gratitude to all of the the co-signatories of the Risk Assessment Guide, who helped consult on, and improve the guide: Asian American Documentary Network (ADoc), Asociación de Documentalistas de Puerto Rico (ADocPR), ACOS (A Culture Of Safety) Alliance, Ambulante, American Documentary/POV, Black Public Media, Brown Girls Doc Mafia, Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), Chicken & Egg, DOCUBOX, Impact Partners, Indian Documentary Foundation, Latino Public Broadcasting, National Association of Latino Producers (NALIP), Pacific Islanders in Communications, Perspective Fund, Scottish Documentary Institute, Topic, Vision Maker Media: Native Stories for Public Broadcasting, and others.

This is a rapidly changing situation as well as a long-term reality. Those of us in the documentary field will need to be mindful, flexible, and diligent as our risk assessment continues to evolve in order to keep not only our community safe but also the communities we collaborate with in the stories we tell. This new normal is unprecedented, but our documentary community is nothing if not committed to responding to this profoundly unique situation.

The guide will be updated as the situation develops and as we receive additional feedback from filmmakers and support organizations.

The final round of funding is now closed.

For this final round of funding, we will continue prioritizing providing support to filmmakers of color and filmmakers from other marginalized communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Field of Vision and Topic Studios have created a $250,000 fund to provide grants for freelancers working in the Documentary field. The fund will distribute unrestricted grants of up to $2000 to support personal financial needs during the COVID19 pandemic to freelancers who have experienced hardship from loss of income or opportunity as a result of the pandemic

Dates and Deadlines

April

The fund will be open for applications from Wed April 8th from 9am ET until Friday April 10th at 6pm ET or until we reach 1,000 applications. You can find the link to the application at the bottom of this page.

May

The fund will be open for applications from May 6th from 9am ET until May 8th at 6pm ET or until we reach 750 applications.

Notification of grant approval will be within 20 days of the fund closing, and payments will be processed within 30 days of notification of a grant. June The fund will be open for a final round of applications from June 10th from 9am ET until June 12th at 6pm ET or until we reach 500 applications.


Criteria

Be able to demonstrate work as a freelancer within the documentary field in roles such as:

- Directors - Producers (This includes Associate Producers) - DPs - Editors - Sound Recordists/Designers - Researchers - Assistants - Critics & Writers who have covered documentaries - Publicists

Other freelance roles will be accepted if they meet the rest of the criteria

Provide a link (examples - IMDB page, Film Review, Direct link to project) that shows professional work in the field.

The fund is eligible for artists internationally, however you must be able to receive funding electronically (we are not able to issue checks), and priority will be given to countries and regions of which there isn’t government freelance assistance that you are eligible for. If you have not been eligible for government assistance, please state that in your application.

Students who are currently enrolled are not eligible.

People who are currently in employment are not eligible.

Please note: We have made every effort to reduce the amount of information, paperwork and requirements for funding and have tried to make the fund as open and accessible as possible. We are largely operating on a trust-based system and really urge you to work with us on being able to maintain this. It’s extremely important to us to be able to get funding to the freelancers that need it the most. Please answer all questions thoroughly and accurately so that we can ensure the funds are allocated to help as many people in need as possible.


Information Needed:

- Demonstrated professional work within the field - Usual income source - Description of situation - Maximum amount requested - Minimum amount requested - What the funding would be used for - Location

Please note: It’s important to include a maximum and minimum amount requested. Also, please note that grants may be taxable as income under the law that applies to you. We will issue Form 1099s for grants of more than $600.


The Process

As always, it is important to us that filmmakers lead how we operate and respond, and so the process will begin with a blind review of applications by a panel of filmmakers and producers, with a simultaneous review by the Field of Vision and Topic Studios teams. Those recommendations will then provide the recommended list for funding, which will then be reviewed once more before contacting the fund recipients.

We will only be contacting those who have been allocated funding.

On receipt of the grant acceptance please expect up to 30 days to receive payment. In order to issue the grants we will need a W-9 or W8-BEN tax form and an invoice which includes wire transfer details.

UPDATE: As of March 23rd, our first 200 meeting slots have been booked. However, you can still sign up for the waitlist at the links below as we work to add additional appointment times. From Monday, March 16, the Field of Vision team will offer a virtual "office hours" service for the documentary community. As we’re in a moment of uncertainty, we want to make ourselves available to filmmakers in any way we can. We understand that the industry is experiencing a lot of upheaval, and that this is a particularly difficult time for freelancers and people working independently. 

We have allocated time every weekday until Friday, May 1st (we may extend depending on the situation) to have video meetings and calls. We’ll be prioritising filmmakers who’ve been affected by festival postponements and production changes, but will also be available to offer a range of mentorship and consultation around a variety of areas.

At Field of Vision we like filmmakers to lead and improve how we work. We were inspired by Jeanie Finlay, who has opened her time to mentoring after an upcoming film shoot had to be cancelled. Jeanie is working on a new film that we’re extremely honoured to be supporting. 

We are a small team and will try our best to make ourselves available to as many filmmakers and producers as possible. If any other members of our community would also like to donate their time, we are happy to facilitate this as well, so please feel free to reach out to us.

The areas which we would like to offer consultation on are below: 

  • General mentorship
  • Feedback on proposals and grant applications
  • Project Development
  • Online Distribution
  • Digital Engagement
  • Partnerships
  • Pitch Training
  • Editing
  • Technology & Digital Security
  • Distribution
  • Editorial Feedback
  • Festival Strategy
  • Career Guidance

This is not just open to filmmakers wanting to submit work for us to review, or filmmakers we have worked with before. If you feel you would benefit from time with our team on any project you’re working on please feel free to reach out. There are more details on how to take part below.

HOW TO SIGN UP

Meetings

If you would like to have a virtual meeting about any of the above, please follow this link to book a time: https://bit.ly/waitlist-fov-virtual-consult

(We will also be adapting to demand, and will create a waitlist, and/or increase availability if needed.)

Submissions & Pitches

While we are still managing and prioritizing our regular submissions system, we would also like to make time for project and pitch meetings.

To sign up for a pitch meeting with us, please make sure you have submitted through our system prior to the meeting, using the link below:  fieldofvision.org/submit

Once you have submitted through our submissions form, please sign up for a meeting slot here. NB: We won’t be able to take any meetings around potential projects until you’ve submitted through the system. If you’re not ready to discuss a specific project, or are looking for more general advice, please use the first form.

Please bear with us as we begin rolling out our virtual office hours service. This initiative came together very quickly, so there may be hiccups. We just wanted to offer something to start. 

As we navigate these uncertain times, what is certain is that we are a strong community of creatives and storytellers. We have shown time and again how resourceful we are, how dedicated we are to our craft, art form and field, and how supportive we can be of each other. 

Please stay safe everyone, The Field of Vision Team

Shorts

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Our 100 Days 3/7

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Our 100 Days 1/7

An Act of Worship (9 min.)

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The Moderators (20 min.)

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Clowns (7 min.)

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Project X (10 min.)

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Hopewell (3 min.)

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The Vote (12 min.)

Mila Aung-Thwin and Van Royko

Like (9 min.)

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Concerned Student 1950 (32 min.)

Adam Dietrich, Varun Bajaj and Kellan Marvin

Peace in the Valley (15 min.)

Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher

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Arabian Street Artists Heba Y. Amin, Caram Kapp and Don Karl aka Stone

#ThisIsACoup 4/4

Surrender or Die (16 min.)

Theopi Skarlatos and Paul Mason

Eric & “Anna” (14 min.)

Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway

Birdie (14 min.)

Heloisa Passos

The Above (8 min.)

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