Nicolaos Demourtzidis’ documentary,’Istoria’, chronicles his Alzheimer’s-stricken grandfather’s trip back to Greece for one final goodbye.
The evolution of ‘Istoria’
Greek-Australian Nicolaos Demourtzidis works in his family’s hardware business in Adelaide. He hadn’t planned to make a film. He planned to help bring his papou to Greece for one final trip. His grandfather, Elias, was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Mayo Clinic defines Alzheimer’s as “a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions.” Papou Elias, a Greek expat, was losing his short term memory, and his thoughts went to memories of times long gone — dark stories that people tend to try to forget. With his long-term memory sharp, these thoughts clouded his mind. He had to go to Greece one last time, to make peace with the past — and one final goodbye. The doctors warned against it. Papou wanted to go. So the family fought on, and ultimately prevailed. Nikos explained.
“We knew we had to get him there, to give his soul some closure. He knew he was going to lose all his memories, and eventually his life. We decided to video him there because we needed to capture his story before the disease took over. It was important for us to learn more. We couldn’t risk losing our history.”
Papou’s final trip
Papou Elias traced his roots to Pontos. He came from tough stock, as his family survived the “population exchange” and began a new life in the mountains of Florina, about 120 miles from Thessaloniki.
He survived World War II and the Greek Civil War, though his family experienced multiple atrocities. Due to the war, several family members met gruesome endings, though Papou Elias never learned the details. Nicolaos said that part of the reason they wanted to take the trip, was to uncover those details, which would bring closure to these long-open wounds.
“My grandfather’s father was ditched off a cliff. His brother was killed in the Civil War and buried in a mass grave. His mother and step-mother also met with tragic endings. No one knew the details, and this haunted him. It was important for us to find out, and answer these questions for him, so he could be at peace.”
‘Istoria’ the documentary
Through friends and acquaintances in Australia, and then genealogy experts in Greece, they began to put the pieces of the puzzle together, and finalize the trip details. The doctors reluctantly gave clearance. Nicolaos, his father Peter, and his mother, Athena, knew they were taking a big chance, but went forward. They accompanied Papou Elias back to his village of Pelargos. They couldn’t plan for what was going to happen there. They captured it all on film — the travels, the conversations, including the emotionally-charged revelations of what happened to Papou Elias’ family members, and even finding their final resting places.
The touching, and often gut-wrenching story has captured the attention of people around the world. ‘Istoria’ was first screened in October 2015, to 700 viewers.
“The theater had to open more screens to accommodate the number of people.”
The film won the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Festival Best Documentary Award in 2016, and Best Documentary Award at the London Greek Film Festival in May 2017. It also screened this summer at the Cyprus International Film Festival, and this month at the 11th annual New York City Greek Film Festival.
Unfortunately, Papou Elias succumbed to his disease before the film was completed. ‘Istoria’ portrays the effects of wounds of war, and captures a family’s history. Ultimately, it’s a loving tribute to Papou Elias, through which he will live forever.
Watch the trailer for ‘Istoria’.
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