Sunflower Seeds

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Antonis Tolakis

What motivated you to make this film?

A year ago, I had information from the Greek Council for Refugees that hundreds of homeless children, who were all immigrants and political refugees from Afghanistan, lived in a park at the center of Athens. Among them was Sayid, a twelve-year old boy, who worked all day selling sunflower seeds in the city’s suburban parks. The first time I saw him I felt that I had my main character. In his eyes, I could see the lost innocence of our world.


Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

Film never ceased to be an expensive art form, demanding a lot of money. This is why the word “financing” is always in every cinematographer’s lips, worrying about the future of his work. In addition, the uncertainty that is created by the vagueness of the Greek economic crisis makes financing more prominent and complicated.
Nevertheless, my documentary ‘’Sunflower Seeds’’ was an independent film ; a camera and a microphone was enough –  but at the same time lots of passion, courage and thought was put into it. Because it’s not the easiest thing in the world today to recount the story of adulthood of children, political refugees, who live on the border of absolute poverty thrown in a dangerous and foreign country.

Amid the social turbulence and the increasingly fascist violence prevailed in Greece in 2012, to make a film like that  was  not the most unhazardous thing.  Filming my documentary was an adventure, a challenge. I followed the children approximately for four months and every day we had the same fear, to not come across the fascists .
The problems went on additionally with the distribution capabilities. The national TV denied to broadcast the film.
The way out was finally found by the film festivals abroad. After the award at the 8th Sole luna Festival in Palermo and the official participation of  my film ‘’Sunflower Seeds’’ at the 26th Amsterdam International Documentary Festival, I found distribution in Greece (Cinedoc), and the support of Greek Film Center. There is one more alternative opportunity for distribution via the SOCIAL IMPACT MEDIA AWARDS (SIMA).


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

The film explores issues like child labor, poverty and unseen violence, a “systemic” violence that is inherent in every society, even if we don’t see it. This is something in the case of the Greek economic and political crisis, which easily and quietly gave birth to the new fascist ideology. “Sunflower Seeds” is most of all a film about the abrupt coming of age of these underage political refugees, who are trapped in our country.
Underneath the film there was always a thought: We can’t say that we love our children if we don’t love the others’ children.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

What the term “systemic” violence exactly means.
And what about the cultural conflict, the global refugee issue, discrimination, racism and xenophobia?
Why is it that we cannot truly love our children when we don’t love the others’ children?


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?

TV frequently shows pictures of refugee boats that have sunk in the last years in the Mediterranean sea. The people who die or have to be rescued in such events, are trying to get into Europe, seeking protection and a better life there. But Europe’s political leaders continue to draw a hard line when it comes to the EU’s asylum policy. The refugee problem is to them an attack against the “Fortress Europe”.

In this context, Greece remains a ‘’country – bridge’’ for  economic immigrants and political refugees who desperately seek to reach  northern Europe. Hoping for a better world in the rich north, they put themselves in danger and finally they  get trapped in Greece, a country plagued by a financial crisis, increasing unemployment and  intense uncertainty for the future.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

If anything, in «Sunflower Seeds», the reality was so powerful that it surpassed me, disarmed me and drove me to a more detached filming. Across from me I had twelve year-old boys, who lived a drama every day; their abrupt coming of age, their innocence, all lost in a critical moment in their lives. And I couldn’t do anything more but to keep the moral stance of a cinematographer who categorically denies taking emotional advantage of his subject.

So, there is an unquestionable need to understand that morally we neither should stay quiet nor avoid dealing with a problem. It is also crucial one should not fall into a sentimental situation and think that by doing that they do their duty as good citizens. Beside the moral issue, it is important we take action. And the right action is nothing but a combination of thought and sentiment all together, described in the Greek word “pathos.” I don’ t know if “pathos” can motivate us to solve utterly any problem, or to change the world, but it certainly can change the way we think about it. And this is the first important thing before we attempt to take any action.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):


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