Dogs of Democracy

‘Dogs of Democracy’ Film Review and Interview with Director Mary Zournazi

‘What is the courage that we can have in the time of hopelessness?’

During our interview about her film Dogs of Democracy, philosopher Mary Zournazi expressed a desire to find courage when things seem hopeless. She told me that courage, and indeed hope and optimism, come in the small moments, moments in which people care for each other when they aren’t forced to. Many of these moments can be found in the behaviour of animals—in this case, in the stray dogs who roam the politically fraught city of Athens, Greece.

Zournazi’s film is a documentary, though more accurately a ‘film essay’. Telling a true story with footage captured on location and interviews with the subjects, a film essay’s narration often guides the viewer through the argument the filmmaker is making. Zournazi sought inspiration from French filmmaker Agnès Varda, whose often autobiographical, experimental film essays helped shape the genre.

Dogs of Democracy focuses on the stray dogs of Athens, dogs with names like Socrates, Aristotle and Pericles. The citizens of Athens have chosen to take care of these dogs instead of rounding them up and putting them in shelters. Holidaying in Greece and hoping to ‘find myself’, Zournazi told me, she was struck by the compassion the people of Athens had for these dogs during a time of political upheaval and, in many cases, hopelessness. She began to wander the streets filming the roaming dogs. Closeups show the dogs sleeping on the street, barking at traffic and, in one shot, a dog runs right up to the camera and bumps the frame. These dogs are confident and friendly (and, as you might expect, an absolute joy to watch).

These relaxed, everyday sequences are intercut with footage of the energetic anti-austerity marches. Riot police shoot tear gas into the crowds as demonstrators march and run in packs across the roads. In each shot, we see a golden dog named Loukanikos darting back and forth. These shots are contextualised by Jina, a woman who was advised by her doctor to stop attending marches ‘at her age’ because she was ‘always on the streets’. Named TIME magazine’s first canine Person of the Year in 2011, Loukanikos was, in Jina’s words, ‘waiting peacefully’ before the beginning of every march. ‘First to the last moment’, she says, ‘he was there.’

Filming stray dogs, Zournazi found she could make a film about the economic crisis. There was so much of Greece’s history tied up with these free-roaming canines; they had always been there, witnessing history on the frontlines. Zournazi’s film shows people like Spiros, caring for the dogs without any financial compensation. Zournazi’s is an unusual perspective on a financial crisis, one which shows how unquestioning love can fuel the spirit of a revolution, even when that spirit is tainted by a feeling of hopelessness.

Having won the Nevada Women’s Film Festival Spirit of Activism Award, Mary Zournazi is a director with the capacity to show compassion in the most trying of times—and she shows that we can find this compassion in the most unexpected of places.

– Tom

Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.

Dogs of Democracy is playing at the 2017 Delphi Bank Greek Film Festival on Saturday 21 October. Mary Zournazi will be attending for a Q&A session after the film.

View the full festival program here.

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of Asha Holmes Publicity.
Image credit: Asha Holmes Publicity