THE DIRECTOR REMEMBERS
The following excerpts can be used before film screening, so that students understand the creator’s motives and intentions.
..the idea for the movie came from Nikos Katsiotis, an actor at the National Theater. When we were in the USA, he recounted a bunch of rugged people who parcicipated in the celebrations for Thessaloniki’s liberation in November 1944. They were holding a banner reading “Barefoot Battalion.” This was, he said, a group of children that used to
loot German warehouses during the Occupation. They distributed food and other supplies to people starving, while at the sam time they supported Resistance…
…The only professional actors in the film were Nikos Fermas and Maria Kosti (the interpreter, Alexandra). Most children, either protagonists or supporting actors, were found in orphanages and welfare programs…
…Apart from Thessaloniki, the other city where filming could take place was Naples, which bears a funny resemblance due to its seacoast, narrow alleys and roads. These two cities seem to have a similar atmosphere. At first, I considered the option seriously. But then I thought, “Why shall I do this? For what reason? Let me check first Thessaloniki and then I’ll decide.”
…63 out of the 66 children, starring in the film, were found in correctional facilities in Athens and Thessaloniki. During filming, these children stayed at a hotel and were accompanied by a guard. They never caused a problem. I had converted an underground building into something that looked like an old church or a catacomb. This served as
the film’s hideout of Barefoot Battalion. Whenever I filmed there scenes that didn’t involve children, I would send them away: “get out of here,” I would say, “go upstairs, get out and play in the sun, don’t stay in here, in this rubbish filled dungeon”. At first, they would listen to me and leave. Soon afterwards, though, I would see them return: one after the other would creep back. In time, I realized that they felt the basement as their home! This made me feel awkward.
…Barefoot Battalion is the movie I love the most. I have put all myself into it. Even the film’s opening credits have given me more satisfaction than anything else I did, They expresses my personal poetics. Distinct from the rest of the movie, the opening credits function as a singular poetic utterance within the overall creative context. The
scenes included were not part of the script. I came up with them after the filming. This was because of the children that had enchanted me. I came to love them as if they were my own children. And they loved me back. So, I felt I had to do something. I had to give to children prominence in the film. This is how the opening credits sequence
came about. In the early 1970s, when the film was screened again in Thessaloniki, a significant number of young people watched it. It was a great success. After the screening, two or three children, starring in the film, approached me and said how touched they felt.
…When filming was over, I collected raw footage and went to the USA. Before editing the film, we had to clean it off the dirt. The camera (an American 36 mm Bell & Howll, a 1924 model!), had gathered dust inside as Thessaloniki was full of dirty roads at the time. In the USA, the film was screened in a special event organized for members
of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. For two hours I have been answering the audience’s questions. They couldn’t believe how the movie was filmed with such poor technical equipment. Columbia’s sound recordist, for example, couldn’t believe that the movie was dubbed after its filming!
…My background on and my relation to Neorealism is grounded on Russian theater. Up until filming Barefoot Battalion, I hadn’t watched any Neorealist films. During the Festival of Edinburgh, I stayed at the same hotel with Vittorio de Sica. After watching my film, he said: “If you had filmed this movie before Bicycle Thieves, you would have been a De Sica already!”