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Love in the time of… crisis

Documentary to look at fate of romance under austerity

How a piece of graffiti in downtown Athens proclaiming 'Erotas i tipota' (Love or nothing) was the spark for a Greek British journalist and two colleagues to ask people how the crisis has affected their love lives and romances

A couple kisses during an Indignant antiausterity rally at Syntagma square in Athens, May 2011 (Reuters) A couple kisses during an Indignant antiausterity rally at Syntagma square in Athens, May 2011 (Reuters) Economic recession, spiralling unemployment, creeping poverty, suicide – one would wonder with all the bad news out there in "debt-choked Greece", to use a term so beloved of some international news agencies, do people have any desire for love, that most basic, essential and free emotion.

That's what a planned, crowd-funded documentary, Love in the Time of Crisis, is hoping to find out.

The team hopes to hit the streets this summer to hear from people from all walks of life the untold story of the impact of crisis on their relationships: on love, sex, divorce, marriage, dating, domestic violence and sex work.

As one of those involved in the project says, "Things are complicated."

"Statistics don't give a true picture of what's really happening in people's lives. People are getting divorced, but some do it to get the benefits, not because they don't love their partner any more. Others are not having children, but it's not because they choose not to in favour of a career, they just can't afford them," says director/producer Theopi Skarlatos, who works with the BBC in London. 

As she explains, the film will be a platform for people to tell their own stories. That makes sense given the personal nature of the subject of the documentary, but not only.

"For too long people's stories have been told by the international media. Reporters who touch down at 10am and by 6pm want to show the effects of the latest bailout deal or austerity measures. It's not their fault. It's just their job," she says.

While my UK friends were moving on with their lives, buying houses and becoming pregnant, the lives of my friends in Athens – talented, beautiful, strong women – were suddenly in limbo 

–– Theopi Skarlatos

She's also been sent out from London to do features on Greece for the BBC, but with her Greek roots and familiarity with the country, she always saw it as a home from home, allowing her to perceive how a society she knew so intimately was changing so quickly.

Love in the Time of Crisis aims to tell untold story of the impact of crisis on people's relationships: on love, sex, divorce, marriage, dating, domestic violence and sex work

The initial spark for the project came from a piece of graffiti that Skarlatos spotted in central Athens this time last year, while working on a news feature on Golden Dawn.

"Erotas i tipota" (Love or nothing) the writing on the wall said, a message that encapsulated for her so much of what she was witnessing around Athens.

"It summed everything up," she says, recounting how earlier that same day she had been brought to tears by the tragic transformations of Athens' streets.

"We had been filming in a church square completely destroyed by fascist graffiti and migrant children were playing ball, running all over it. They reminded me of myself when I was younger, and in front of me I suddenly saw that square transform from a happy childhood memory to an evil consequence of not only an economic meltdown but a moral and spiritual degradation," says Skarlatos, who grew up in the London but spent many childhood summers in Athens with her Greek grandmother.

The "love or nothing" graffiti got her wondering about the role love played in a society that had been stripped of so much else. Could love survive in such a place?

"So many people feel they are left with nothing. Wages, pensions, benefits have been slashed. My own relatives say they reach the end of the month with just €5 in their pockets. But love costs nothing. And for the lucky ones it's love which remains."

A newly married couple kisses among a crowd of protesters during an antiausterity rally in Syntagma, May 2011 (Reuters) A newly married couple kisses among a crowd of protesters during an antiausterity rally in Syntagma, May 2011 (Reuters) Love in limbo

She had already noticed the stark contrast between the lives of her British and Greek friends.

"While my UK friends were moving on with their lives, buying houses and becoming pregnant, the lives of my friends in Athens – talented, beautiful, strong women – were suddenly in limbo," she says.

Many can't find work and move out of their family homes. Some even told her that the only time they can get intimate with their partner is when their parents pop out to the supermarket.

"They were like adults being forced to live like teenagers. And that was the norm. They were stuck and their life was on hold because of the crisis," says Skarlatos.

The decision to go ahead with the documentary was made with a Greek colleague, Kostas Kallergis, who has worked extensively in documentaries and news coverage of the Greek crisis for the national and global media. Completing the team is coproducer Pallavi Sekhri, an international lawyer and development consultant with experience in the redevelopment of postcrisis societies and women's empowerment.

The most interesting story I heard was of couples that met in demonstrations and especially during the June 2011 indignants' movement in Syntagma square. Another person told of a couple that met at a queue in the unemployment office

–– Kostas Kallergis

As Kallergis points out, the crisis has inflicted some unusual collateral damage when it comes to love and romance.

"Most of my friends go out less and less and, as a result, there is less flirting," he says.

And, as a dating expert, Fanis Rigas, told the documentary makers, young people have also given up on asking one of the first questions that once usually featured in every chat-up attempt.

"People would ask you what you did for a living. Now they don't so much. There's no point. Over 60% of young people are unemployed. People are getting to know more about a person's character as opposed to their bank balance," says Rigas.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing, he added.

Initial research for the documentary has heard about people having not enough money to buy condoms, young students ending up selling their bodies for sex for as little as €30, battered wives with no financial means to walk out on their abusers and women feeling they will never have enough money for a baby as their biological clock ticks away.  

Room for romance

It has also revealed that people are now meeting in the most unlikely places.

"The most interesting story I heard was of couples that met in demonstrations and especially during the June 2011 indignants' movement in Syntagma square. Another person told of a couple that met at a queue in the unemployment office," says Kallergis, who will film the production.

A couple kisses besides a train bound for Athens at Thessaloniki railway station, November 2012 (Reuters) A couple kisses besides a train bound for Athens at Thessaloniki railway station, November 2012 (Reuters) But he warns that there is no general narrative about love during crisis. He's encountered people who split up or divorced after the crisis brought problems to the surface but also couples that have become closer, realising that their true love is the only thing that can embolden and sustain them.

Skarlatos, expressing her personal view, suspects that love may be harder to find, "but when you come across it, it will be shining brighter then everything else."

"That's how I see love in the crisis."

  • While money can't buy you love, it can get this documentary made. That depends on whether it attracts the necessary funds online. The target is to raise £12,000 (€14,000 approx) by May 27 and at the time of writing, 40 backers have pledged almost £6,400 (€7,500), three of them contributing over £1,000 each. If you would like to contribute to the project, then visit the Love in the Time of Crisis page on the Kickstarter crowd-funding website

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