The annual magazine published by the Schoinoussa Youth Association “Ta Xenia” is out! The 2018 edition includes a brilliant feature penned by Exile Room interns Fjoralba Kokka and Xenia Sotirchou about their experience on the island during the Docs on Wheel event last March. Find a copy or read their article below:

ENCOUNTERS WITH THE GAZE OF ANOTHER

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware” – Martin Buber, Austrian philosopher.

Schoinoussa is said to be instantly enchanting in its simplicity. A tiny island of unspoiled beauty and a predominantly slow-paced lifestyle, it consists of two villages and 21 beaches, populated by a mere 180 residents. Dotted with clusters of whitewashed houses in the typical Cycladic style beloved by Le Corbusier, the island is surrounded by clear blue waters reminiscent of a more primal state of being. At least that’s what people had lead us to believe.

Having been exposed to so much hearsay before even setting foot on the island, expectations were soaring high. Yet, getting to know Schoinoussa first-hand especially through the eyes of the local children, went beyond and above our wildest dreams.

The reason behind this trip was “Docs on Wheels”, an itinerant film program designed by Exile Room and implemented with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Athens. Exile Room is a non-government organization that has been using documentary to build bridges since 2009, when it was first established. Its toolkit includes free documentary screenings and workshops for kids, teens and adults, taught by distinguished filmmakers, aiming to help participants to get to know one another and explore the world around them.

Designed with social issues in mind, “Docs on Wheels” offers insight on a variety of difficult subjects, bringing unexpected films to unexpected places. Schoinoussa was our first destination for 2018, where we had planned on spending a long weekend shooting a short documentary with the local children and watching films at the cultural center with the adults.

But let’s take things from the top. We arrived late at night, rather frazzled from the long journey, as a 10hr ferry ride is the only way to reach the island. Our team, which would soon earn the nickname DOC3, was an all-girl affair: director and sound recordist Christina Pitouli would lead the documentary workshop, while we, the Exile Room media interns, would do everything in our power to help.

The first people we met upon arrival were Schoinoussa’s only English teacher, Sissy, and captain Manolis, who drove a minivan he claimed was exclusively reserved for VIP guests! Our destination was the cultural center, where we’d be boarding and working for the duration of our stay. But first they insisted on treating us to a local “refreshment” in order to toast our arrival. And just like that, we quickly dropped off our luggage and followed them to the local cafe that doubled as a bar, where we were introduced to other travellers. The merry locals made it their business to entertain us, until we forgot all about our weariness.

That first night was a telling precursor to the rest of our trip. The late night outings, the constant flow of new acquaintances and the feeling of companionship became a vital part of our experience. The days would start out with breakfast at the local cafe, where Vassilis would serve us hot coffee, freshly-squeezed orange juice and  arm-fresh eggs. Afterwards we would welcome the children attending the “Future Memories” workshop at the cultural center and attempt to fulfill the first part of our mission: initiating the young participants to the magic of documentary filmmaking. We sped through the theoretical part and then rushed out the door to shoot interviews, visit favorite hangouts, check out their classroom and discover the beaches they loved the most.

For all the natural beauty, the delicious food and the sense of companionship that Schoinoussa had to offer, nothing moved us more than the young islanders’ willingness to practice everything instructor Christina Pitouli had worked so hard to teach them each morning. Workshop participants consisted of 13 kids of all ages – from preschoolers all the way to high school students – who gave up their playtime to put the cameras, microphones, recorders and headsets we had brought with us to good use. And just so you know, rooftop hangouts are all the rage on the island!

We let them take the lead and introduce us to their own private version of the island, filtered through their favorite landscapes, activities and people. The footage the children collected was a precious gift. A short movie we can only hope their future selves will treasure when, after many years of oblivion and nostalgia, they are ready to relive the Schoinoussa of their childhood.