A New Magical City George Chatzelenis
An open air cinema transformed the Neos Kosmos neighborhood of Athens in a magical world.

Several decades ago Attica consisted of Athens and several surrounding small towns. In time Athens combined with these towns. Cement erased the borders and the history of each neighborhood. Luckily the steamroller of progress did not destroy some places where magic still exists. One of these areas is my neighborhood, Neos Kosmos (New World).

I have been living in this neighborhood for 8 years. At first I did not like it, however as I was discovering the secrets of the region my relationship to it changed. At first I was annoyed with the large amount of cement and the lack of trees and parks. Also I was upset with the untapped abandoned factory in the neighborhood (this building will soon accommodate the new modern art museum in Athens).

But when I began to discover the neighborhood, everything changed. I was moved when I met the remaining refugee houses (the area where I live was a refugee neighborhoods for those who had come from Mikra Asia after the destruction of Smyrna in 1922). I was fascinated by a large collection of antique cars that an unknown man had in the subsidized housing. So I found that immigrants are peaceful people who have made their own neighborhood there. This neighborhood however was not liked by a group of neo-Nazis which attacked a grocery store and a cafe five years ago, because they were operated by immigrants. As a result, the area was turned into a den of anti-Fascists. I am quite proud of this trend. I am also proud of history of the area during the German occupation and the subsequent Greek civil war. I can write many stories that happened here, but I will lose the sense of this article.

The Magical Open Air Cinema

One week ago, a cinema projection took place in my neighborhood’s forgotten square. The Athens Open Air Festival did not chose this square randomly. That night we enjoyed a movie which was directed by Nikos Koundourou, entitled "The Magic City". The shooting of this film took place sixty years ago in this neighborhood.

Lots of people attended the show. All the chairs were filled so many local residents brought chairs from their apartments or they sat on benches in the square. The cinematic enjoyment was not only between the public and the big screen. It was the first time that people loved seeing the film from the balconies of the neighborhood. They were mostly elderly people which preferred the calm and safety of their balcony. On the one hand they were surprised by the throng, but on the other they liked that their forgotten neighborhood had attracted so many people.

The lights went out and the screen lit up. The neighborhood was filled with dreamy melodies of Manos Hadjidakis. Some of us whispered the lyrics of "magic city" as the film started. First up a great Greek actor, Manos Katrakis, appeared, as a young man. Then we watched the refugee neighborhood that no longer exists and the subsidized housing which have become today the neighborhood of immigrants. Nothing has changed. Maybe we want to believe it.

Then we laughed with Thanassis Weggos (the greatest Greek comedian). It was strange to see our favorite comedian with hair (later he became bald). It was the first interpretation in his career. It was obvious that this man would give us infinite laughter with his future films.

The culmination came just before the end. It came in the shape of an incredible moment of solidarity from the poor residents of the area to the protagonist of the film, when the tax authorities wanted to take away his car. One of the neighbors of the protagonist said a phrase full of sincerity and warmth, "It's a shame to let them get the car" and immediately pulled out his wallet to give money to the tax collectors. After this, all other residents started taking out their wallets. Applause was heard in public. It was solidarity that made people applaud. I could hardly hold back my tears.

This solidarity still exists within us, and it is not diminished by the weight of suspicion, xenophobia and loneliness. Then the people were hungry, and they are hungry today. Where is the difference?

Then the neighborhood was alive. They were all one family. The life of each one separated by thin walls. One knew the secrets of the other. There was gossip and violation of privacy, but if someone really needed some help, all the others rushed to support him.

The film ended. The applause this time was even more intense. I was nailed to my chair. This film had touched me. I was moved by the intense humanity that prevailed in a society wounded by German occupation, civil war and poverty. Where is the spontaneous solidarity of the people today?

All these concerns were returning to my mind when I decided to get up to go home. The lights are not lit in the square. I walked in the dark between my strangers neighbors. Maybe we like the dark because it hid the shame that we do not know each other and we did not share a good day so far.

Surely some of us awakened a little more tonight. We returned to our homes without saying a word. Tonight will be closed in our apartments with the hope that tomorrow we will share a few human “good morning”s.

I felt doubly proud of my neighborhood, which hosted sixty years ago such great personalities which inspired a lovely and timeless movie.

I really want to thank the Athens Open Air Festival and the magazine Cinema and Film Archive, because they gave us a beautiful and interesting festival, which managed to revive a forgotten square of Athens and many lost memories.

Such actions are growing hopes in this place.

Maybe they will manage to create again one magical city .... 

Edited By: Ivan Botoucharov