Kafedaki with Anne Tsoulis

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Name & line of work?

My name is Anne Tsoulis, I’m a feature film screenwriter and I also direct and produce documentary films.

Where were you born & where do you live now?

I was born in Adelaide, Australia- where I currently live.

Where in Greece do your ancestors come from? 

Both my mother and father came from the same village called Varvasena. From the time I could talk I was made to recite “I come from Varvasena, Byrgos Ilias, Peloponnisos.” I knew my family origins before I knew my home address.  I imagine if I got lost and picked up by the police, who asked me where I lived, I would have said- “Varvasena, Byrgos Ilias, Peleponnisos.”

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on a documentary called ‘From Under The Rubble’, which is a story from Gaza, where I travelled to last year and began shooting.  It’s about the civilian casualty of war and focuses on Zeinat Samouni and her seven children, who saw 48 members of their extended family killed when they were herded into a house by the Israeli Defence Force and then fired upon.

It is their personal experience of what happened to their neighbourhood during Operation Cast Lead that saw the children’s father and four-year-old brother shot in front of them. The oldest daughter was left under the rubble of the house for four days surrounded by her dead relatives before the ambulances were allowed to enter to rescue the handful of survivors. It’s pretty full-on. I am also writing a novel that’s been a work-in-progress for some time and a feature film script set in the Australian outback.

How has your upbringing influenced what you are doing now?

My mother often talked about the horrors of WWII and the Civil War that ensued in Greece. One day my father returned from Greece with a book that was written by one of the soldiers in his troop, detailing the partisan resistance movement that he was part of.

He read out a section that he was named in. It said something to the effect that “Captain Tsoulis lead the troops to the German camp and successfully stole their supplies.”  My mother’s response was “Where am I in that book that I had to stay in the village to look after the children, the old, the sick and ill with no food but the weeds we used to pick that were so bitter that the children would vomit and starve to death.”

I majored in history and her words resonated with me. Yes, where are the women in history and what they had to endure as the ones left behind to fend for the vulnerable? So I am making this documentary as a homage to my mother and all the other women whose role in times of war and conflict are ignored in the history books.

Apart from your family, what Greeks have influenced your life?

In Adelaide we have always had a strong Greek community.  When I was born there were only 750 Greeks in Adelaide and we stuck together. They were very political and mostly ex-partisans and their families. Their stories of resistance to fascism made a powerful impact on me. The culture, the music, the food made me proud of my roots, although, I was a rebellious teenager and it wasn’t till I was older and first travelled to Greece that I embraced it fully.

Do you regard yourself as Hellenic or Greek? 

I am not familiar with these terms.  But in my everyday life I am both an idealist and a pragmatist.

What advice would you give your Greek cousins?

My Greek cousins are fearsome. I wouldn’t dare give them any advice. Do Greeks take advice? I know they always like to give it but not very prone to taking it.

What is the piece of ancestral knowledge you still remember to this day?

My maternal uncle was a royalist and was hung from a tree by my father’s partisan mob. My mother always blamed him for her brother’s death. I can’t imagine what it was like back then in Greece but I know it gave my father nightmares when he slept till the day he died. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night to him singing Theoderakis partisan songs at the top of his voice.

One time I woke up to a thud.  I went into his room and found him on the floor. He told me he was dodging a hand grenade in his sleep. In his later life it was impossible to sleep in the same house with him. His nightmares just got worse and worse and you could understand as many do in their later life, he was reliving the war.

Have you been to Greece?

All my relatives are in Greece and I have a sister that has lived in Athens for the past 35 years, so I go regularly. It is my second home. It’s where I am going to retire. I first went when I was twenty-four and it was like I’d returned home, I felt such a deep connection to it and my relatives there.  The last five years I have been going every year.

What is your favourite Greek food?

I love all Greek food. If someone cooks it, I’ll eat it. I think back when I was young how much I loathed Greek food and now I can’t get enough of it.