From Both Sides of the Aegean: Film Review

Anastasios Stefanou/Courtesy War Museum of Greece
While it relates a vitally important historical story, this documentary is too academic to have the desired impact.

Maria Iliou's documentary examines the post-World War I Greco-Turkish "exchange of populations" that resulted in the displacement of large ethnic societies.

Filmmaker Maria Iliou once again examines the catastrophic effects of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in From Both Sides of the Aegean, a follow-up to her previous documentary Smyrna: The Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City which examined the crisis from a more limited perspective. That this film’s subtitle is Expulsion and Exchange of Populations, Turkey-Greece: 1922-1924 gives some indication of its overly academic orientation which uses a vast procession of talking heads—including its “historical consultant” Alexander Kitroeff, a professor at Haverford College-- to alternately moving and stultifying effect.

Although it rehashes some of the material from the previous film, this effort takes a more wide-ranging approach in its examination of the post-World War I Greco-Turkish “exchange of populations” that involved moving some 1.2 million Christian Greeks from Turkey and 400,000 Muslims from Greece. Sealed by diplomatic treaty in 1923, it resulted in a mass displacement of ethnic societies and cultures, the aftereffects of which are still being felt to this day.

It’s a vitally important historical story that has been given scant cinematic treatment prior to these documentaries which will inevitably be paired in home video formats. But the filmmaker undercuts the dramatic impact of her saga with an overly dry approach that frequently results in tedium, especially in the pontifications of the many historians and academics on display. Far more impactful are the personal accounts of the children and grandchildren of those displaced who movingly testify about the travails suffered by their ancestors.

The film’s most powerful element is its copious use of fascinating archival photos and footage of the period which vividly illustrate the day-to-day life of the large populations who thrived in their native regions. And although it’s certainly overused, the original musical score by Nikos Platyrachos, based on songs from the era, adds much needed emotional resonance to the often sterile proceedings.

Destined to be more widely seen in classrooms than theaters, From Both Sides of the Aegean is a nobly intentioned but ultimately ineffective historical primer that fails to render its important themes in fully accessible fashion.

Opens March  21 (Proteas, Proteus NY)

Director/screenwriter: Maria Iliou

Director of photography: Allen Moore

Editor: Aliki Panagi

Composer: Nikos Playyrachos

Not rated, 87 min.