On Tuesday 24 January at 19:00 and on Wednesday 25 January at 21:00 the documentary film And I also Passed by There and Had Paper Shoes to Wear, Fairy tales forever (Greece, 2014, colour, 91 min) by Vassilis Loules will be screened in cinema Utopia in the original Greek version with English subtitles. The film is suitable for children.
And I Also Passed by There and Had Paper Shoes to Wear takes us on a journey into the magical world of fairytales. Grandmothers and grandfathers, folk storytellers of rural Greece face the camera and tell fairytales – timeless and universal. Stories of the plains and the mountains that were first told to them when they were children. A documentary film dedicated to perhaps the last people of the land in whom the echo of centuries of oral storytelling lives on. Fairy tales forever.
Director’s note on the film
“And I also passed by there / and had paper shoes to wear, with red tops and toes / and soles full of holes”: this is how the fairytales which people used to tell in the old days would often end. The same ending is given to the fairytales told by the storytellers – perhaps the last of their kind – who appear in the documentary I shot in the villages of Trikala, in central Greece.
Simple folk, shepherds, housewives, farmers, people with strong ties to the earth and the animal world, illiterate most of them but endowed with the gift of storytelling, spellbind us and take us on journeys of the imagination. Passing fairytales down by word of mouth, from grandfathers and grandmothers to their children and grandchildren, the storytellers preserved stories, traditions and legends, songs and verses which would otherwise have been lost. Their storytelling, captured on film, brings to life the farming and stock-breeding traditions of the land; the animals and the plants, the dense forests and the vast plains, the footpaths, the crossroads, the wells and the springs, the dusty roads and the morning mist, the flour mills, the cunning foxes and talking eagles, the fairies, the dragons, the ghouls and the hobgoblins or karkatzália.
So let us embark on a journey into the world of fairytales, as we follow in the footsteps of the young men who set out to seek their fortune or to win the heart of the pretty princess; who come across obstacles along the way; who stand at a three-forked road and choose the most difficult path; who keep “walking and walking…” until they reach strange lands both beautiful and terrifying; who wander aimlessly and lose their way and lay down to sleep wherever they may be when night falls.
Virtues of olden days, back when time went by slowly and an unhurried pace was considered the norm; back when miracles were possible and contemplation was considered a sign of wisdom rather than a waste of time.
Virtues and values that hark far back, to the great epics of Homer, the first storyteller who recorded the oral stories that had come down to his time.
I was born in the town of Trikala in the early 1960s, on the cusp between two eras, in a small, one-story house that opened onto a courtyard which we shared with other neighbors. Next door was my father’s bicycle shop. And on the other side, a coal shed. This was my entire world. A poor world. Stooped, but proud; not bowed down.
In the winter I would often go to the bike shop and sit near the wood stove together with my dad’s customers and friends. An incessant, never-ending rain kept me indoors; and turned me inward. It just kept coming down. And snow; lots of snow; dazzlingly white. I would sit in the warmth of the shop, smelling the oil and grease of my father’s tools, listening to the stories of the unschooled, common folk and letting my mind travel. These were true stories; tales of adventures from the mountain villages and the surrounding plain; legends and fairytales, in which everything was incredible yet possible, strange yet believable. The snow outside kept falling, creating new shapes, just like the new images I kept conjuring up in my mind.
Fairytales were all around us. Fairytales from my mother at home, fairytales from her mother in the village, fairytales from Grandpa, Grandma, my aunts and uncles in another village – there were fairytales everywhere. Fairytales told to children to keep them quiet or lull them to sleep; fairytales to help the grownups endure the endless hours of manual labor in the fields and pastures – baling tobacco, milking goats and sheep, weaving cloth, women’s nightwork to the sound of chatting and singing, or riding in carts to the cotton fields long before daybreak. Fairytales to while away the hours during the long, endless journeys of those times.
Jumping forward, going astray, backtracking – fairytales are a lot like growing up. They’re both made of the same elements, which may be opposites, yet they go hand in hand: thirst for the new and fear of the unknown; the longing to wander and the yearning to return to a warm embrace.
Meanwhile, the world in which I was growing up was rapidly changing. It proceeded very quickly from the culture of oral storytelling to the culture of images, and today it has gone even further, to the information age. The wave of “progress” and “development”, of television and consumerism has swept away everything in its wake: what was wrong with the old era as well as what was worthwhile.
Only a few resisted when they should have; people who appreciated the value of oral tradition tried to record the narratives, to preserve habits, customs, songs and fairytales.
Ι fell in love with oral narratives and fairytales all over again a few years ago. Though up until then a fiction film writer and director, I found myself making documentaries, which involved getting people to talk to the camera, to tell stories. Their ordinary stories of everyday life. But also their other stories – the ones that unfolded amid the turbulence of history.
That was when I began once again to hear old, familiar sounds; to remember the words of my grandparents and the storytellers in my dad’s bicycle shop; to see facial expressions and hand gestures that took me on a deep, inward journey, far far away. And so I have kept to that road. And I have never strayed, especially from the time I too began to tell stories and fairytales to my own son.
And I also passed by there and had paper shoes to wear does not limit itself to recording the words and preserving the oral tradition of the region of Trikala, in central Greece, nor does it merely highlight the wealth of variations on the same fairytale that exists from narrator to narrator and place to place, but it offers something more, something that only cinema can: it brings to light the hand gestures, the facial expressions, the silences, the tension and the body language of the speaker. Precisely those elements that convey the power and individuality of each story teller. The local dialect is especially beautiful in these fairytales, vividly bringing the images to life, while the expressive faces of the elderly storytellers are like an endless landscape which one never tires of observing, admiring, and enjoying.
Watching their faces, listening to their words and letting our imagination run free makes us want to tell fairy tales too. Grown-ups and children alike. Because we all like listening to fairy tales and we all have fairy tales of our own we’d like to share. The grandmothers and grandfathers in this documentary are holding out their hand to us.What do you say? Shall we take it?
P.S. This text and the film itself are dedicated to my son Petros, who took me by the hand and led me back to the magical land of fairytales.