When (Non-)Action Requires Action

A Review of the Documentary ‘Golden Dawn Girls’

‘I would like to see something positive in you’, says Norwegian film-maker Håvard Bustnes to one of his subjects at the end of his latest piece screened at the Nordisk Panorama Film Festival. The young woman is Ourania Michaloliakou, the daughter of Nikolaos Michaloliakos, the founder of the Greek Golden Dawn political party that currently holds 15 seats (of 300) in the Hellenic Parliament. Considering the theme of the film, Bustnes didn’t really have a choice but to confront his interviewees on several occasions. Hence, a heated debate emerges one after the other throughout the documentary filled with a palette of emotions.

Despite the fact that many people looked at the project – also being selected to the dok.incubator programme – suspiciously, Golden Dawn Girls (Hatets vugge in Norwegian, meaning the cradle of hatred) doesn’t accommodate the values and the views shared by the members and the followers of the far-right political party but looks for the why’s and the how’s. How can it happen that a dad doing a Nazi salute is simply adorable and no question is asked? Why don’t facts matter anymore? How come that a hateful attack against foreign and minority vendors is told within the narrative of ‘only a table was destroyed’?

Both the English and the Norwegian title unquestionably indicates that the three ‘girls’, namely Giorgos Germenis’s wife Evgenia Christou-Germeni, Panagiotis Iliopoulos’s mother Dafni Iliopoulou and the abovementioned Ourania Michaloliakou, occupy and greatly influence nearly every second of the documentary. It focuses on the rise of these women in the absence of a beloved son, husband and father, but their withdrawal from the spotlight back to their traditional gender roles when those Golden Dawn politicians are released from prison is also documented. So the titles can be even tactically used to imply the continuing existence of the patriarchal system.

Even though Golden Dawn Girls depicts only a few fragments of reality, a narrative is being developed and the importance of the person(s) in charge should be emphasised. Who controls the narrative actually? For example, Evgenia Christou-Germeni even bosses Bustnes around to film her more with her family instead of asking so many questions about her beliefs and (some severe and sometimes lethal) issues related to Golden Dawn. No doubt, he is given access to a world, and he lets his subjects express themselves and share their own thoughts freely, yet he frequently reacts to what has just been said.

The dynamic between the director and the three women, especially between him and Evgenia with whom he ends up arguing a lot, about the meaning of the word neo-Nazi for example, shapes the content and the style of the documentary – and additionally affects what is included and excluded from the narrative. Interestingly or strangely enough, the Norwegian film-maker was able to attend a few Golden Dawn meetings thanks to Evgenia, even if some of the members articulated clearly he is not welcomed. She dismisses the thoughts that he could cause any problem, but he is usually told what he is allowed to film and what not. From some meetings he is locked out of the building and has to wait on the other side of the street.

Yet he always contextualises the events mentioned in more detail and tries to pressure his subjects to leave their binary demagogic positions. The use of archival footage and the media footage produced during the shooting period introduce the things ‘as they were or are’, but he demands answers whenever he can, though sometimes his attempts remain unsuccessful. Facts are presented and then challenged, an alternative universe dominated by conspiracy theories shown, and his moral compass dictates some of his steps when the interviews are conducted. Taking into account the circumstances, asking a daughter to condemn her father’s actions is legitimate, and the film in fact tries to portray Ourania in her entirety, still some bond and the influence between family members could have been explored more. Yes, these three women proudly talk about their involvement in Golden Dawn’s far-right politics, however, they also live in a patriarchal system that benefits them and provides them with security – not to mention their love for their father, husband or son.

In a world where disinformation and fake news have been spreading at high speed and more and more people feel insecure owing to their financial situations, a solution to their problems, whether it’s a lie or a false promise, could fuel them to support radical views – even act (verbally) aggressively towards others. In his former documentary Two Raging Grannies, Håvard Bustnes has already started the discussion on the constant economic growth and its consequences. That time Shirley and Hinda raised the questions about severe issues, in Golden Dawn Girls, the Norwegian director acts when he thinks an action is required. Even if for only a short period of time, but he proved that it is possible to break out from echo chambers, now it’s time for us to follow him. His latest documentary could start the conversation, hopefully among people from the whole political spectrum.

Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.