Monday, November 26, 2018

Back to the Top


In 2008,  23-year-old Leonidas climbed on the top of Mount Olympus for the first time.

On his return to Athens, a motorcycle accident nearly cost him his life, putting him in a wheelchair.

Ten years later, he attempts to go back to the top and his friends will make sure he makes it.

What if none of them has ever climbed on a mountain before?

A feel-good hymn to the power of will, friendship and ... punk rock.

Reasons to see this movie: The protagonist. The tenacious, stubborn, romantic, punk rocker Leonidas.

The camera follows him as he unhesitatingly wheels himself in the chaotic traffic-jammed center of Athens, or as he gets ready for his mountain climbing expedition, on Mt. Chortiatis and continues to follow him on his crazy adventure on the rough steep paths of Olympus.

Leonidas is a visionary. He is the captain.
He is accompanied by a team of dedicated and just as mad allies, the unlikely crew of a pirate ship, rallying around him, with the sole purpose of getting him to the top and shooting a film while doing it.

On the occasion of the 'Back to the Top' premiere - with two sold out screenings-  at this year's 20th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, in which the film won two awards (the ERT Award and the Audience Award), I had the pleasure of talking with its director Stratis Chatzielenoudas.

The 'Back to the Top' director Sratis Chatzielenoudas

'Back to the Top' was undoubtedly inspired by the story of its protagonist, Leonidas. Did you already know Leonidas?

No, I did not know Leonidas. I used to come across  him in punk concerts and events and Ι was always impressed by him, without us being personally acquainted. It was awe-inspiring to watch him pogo dancing  at 3 a.m. for two or three consecutive nights.

When we finally met due to the documentary, it was not difficult for us to bond since we both have the same age, the same origins, we hear the same music and we are part of a common political-musical circle of people.

Who had the idea to tell Leonidas' story? Why was it important for you to tell it?

What made me want to tell his story was that when I first visited him at his home, he was sitting in a regular chair with his wheelchair being outside my field of vision. 

After spending a short time with Leonidas, Ι was swept away by the energy and the power he possessed. He looked as if he could get up from his chair at any given moment.

As Leonidas says, 'Disability is in the mind'.

Leonidas had visited Mount Olympus and Enipeas Gorge for the holidays. 
In the summer of 2008 and after Leonidas had climbed to the top of Mount Olympus, at 2.917 meters, on the way back to his home in Athens, he was involved in a traffic accident that nearly cost him his life.

From the first few weeks in the hospital, he expressed his complaint that he would not be able to go back to Mount Olympus again, but he somehow never lost his faith and that was something he had been discussing with his friends in the recent years.

A few years later Leonidas' friend, film producer Ioanna Petinaraki, had the idea to help ​​Leonidas  make his dream come true and film it in a documentary.

I personally considered it a very difficult venture. 
However Leonidas' contagious enthusiasm changed my mind.

I am quite grumpy man and Leonidas has made me realize just how important it is to appreciate and enjoy every minute one spends in this life.

When did you begin shooting the film? Under what circumstances? How hard was your journey to the top.

It took us 3.5 years to complete the film. It was a very difficult task in terms of production and filming.

In the beginning, there was a number of punk live concerts  organized in Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as an online funding campaign so that we could cover some basic costs, such as the trips to Thessaloniki and Mount Olympus.

Leonidas lives in Athens, but he often travels to Thessaloniki as he has many friends there, but also to visit the mountain shelter of Chortiatis, which is managed by Giorgos Bairaktaris, the co-star of Leonidas in the film.

Giorgos is an experienced mountaineer and rescuer. 
He also organizes mountain and sea activities for people with disabilities. 

Meeting him was quite accidental and I think that if it wasn't for Giorgos, we would not have accomplished anything.

He was the man who selflessly offered to equip our team, even invent the special equipment for Leonidas and train him and he also took upon him to plan how the whole team would manage to climb the mountain in safety. 

Don't forget that the only ones who had ever climbed on the peaks of Olympus were Leonidas and Giorgos. All of our friends and the film crew had never attempted to climb to such altitudes.

How did we manage to do it? I still have no idea.
I will repeat what Leonidas said when he was asked that question: 'When I was climbing, I would not look at the top. I would only look at the rock in front of me'.

The film is filled with a sense of community, comradeship and friendship, be it a group of friends, a rock band or a film crew. How important is friendship for Leonidas and for you?

Friendship and companionship and that we all together can achieve things, all these were the ideas I wanted to convey through the film.

In addition to the dynamic personality of Leonidas, the circle of people around him made a huge impact on me.

They are truly connected to each other and they care a lot about Leonidas and he cares for them.

The idea of friendship and solidarity is the protagonist of the film, and Leonidas is its flag, the man who never gives up. 

How important is the music for this film?

The original music for the film was written by punk rock veterans Vodka Juniors. We had a creative collaboration and they supported us throughout the production process.

Listen to the original theme here:

What are the plans for the film? When are we going to see it?

It is coming soon to the cinemas. I believe in the next two months. 
We are currently working together with the 'Neaniko Plano' (Youth Plan) organization to subtitle the film  for people with disabilities.

Tell me a few words about you. How difficult is it to make films in Greece today? 
Have you already thought about your next movie?

I live and work in Athens. A city I love to hate and to use it in my movies. It's hard to make films in Greece. Everything takes more time because bureaucracy hinders the funding.

On the other hand, people of my generation need to express themselves, and everyday I discover new and interesting projects running on low budget or no budget at all!

I am currently in the final draft of my screenplay for my first feature. It's a black street comedy and I' m working on the script with co-writer Takis Papanastasiou and producer Ioanna Petinaraki of Moving Rooster Productions.

I am also in the process of researching a feature documentary, but as it is at an early stage, I would not like to reveal much about it.

What have you personally gained / learned from this experience?

I made a lot of friends , I learned that I have to stop nagging so much and that punks can do anything!

That's all Stratis. 
Thank you so much for this conversation.

After its screening - in collaboration with CineDoc, at the Athens International Film Festival and at the Volos and Amaliada Festivals, 'Back to the Top' continues its journey to the Tirana, Chalkida and Ierapetra Festivals and will be heading to the Berlin International Film Festival, where it will get  distribution for the theaters in Spring.

For more information on scheduled screenings, 
visit the official Back to the Top page on Facebook

You can find the Greek version of my review here:

    Back to the Top / Επιστροφή στην Κορυφή