A few years ago I spent a summer in Athens with my Greek friend Arlen. We found ourselves discussing the crisis endlessly, and spent days walking the streets and talking to people. The trails we followed opened us to the experiences of Athenians, but also took us through many of the abandoned buildings strewn across the city.
The otherworldly feelings of emptiness, of abandonment, of time having stopped that is found in these spaces seemed to resonate with the feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness people would describe to us.
Slowly the form of a film took shape: rather than using interviews with people, we decided to restrict ourselves to looking at how these dire times were reflected in the landscape.
We started to film and collect field recordings, seeking not to explain but to convey the feeling of a city in free-fall, where people were battered by repeated rounds of austerity, shell shocked by years of abstract talk of credit ratings, bond yields and bail-out deals that seemed to hold an iron grip over their destinies.
Though these desolate visuals and ominous soundscapes, we found ourselves portraying what seemed to be a post-apocalyptic Athens: a city abandoned, where the things left behind coldly reflected times past but left little clue as to what went wrong.
Yet many of the scenes were replete with images that reflected ideas about the current political economy.The film opens on papers and books from the accounting department of a factory in Pireaus. These are harvested by illegal informal labourers and then dropped three stories to the factory floor, thus beginning their journey to being made into paper again for money.
This hopeless cyclicality echoes the endlessly repeated bail-out talks Greece has recently faced, or even perhaps the rehashing of the theories modern capitalism cannot let go of, that of trickle-down economics, or the possibility of perfect competition, or the idea that an ‘invisible hand’ leads markets to a socially beneficial equilibrium.
Untamed capitalism proceeds in a series of shocks and crises, and these are the times where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The 20th century left neoliberal economics, threadbare states and consumerist growth-based capitalism as the only option open to 21st century citizens, yet all represent nothing but a dark star; a ‘Dis’, not/ill and ‘Astro’, star. DisAstro.