- The Journey: The Greek American Dream
A work of compelling visual and audial power, The Journey: The Greek American Dream brings Greek American history to mass audiences by means of documentary film. This is public history of high professional caliber, a product of collaboration between award-winning filmmaker Maria Iliou and historian Alexander Kitroeff. The film comprises fragments from a vast visual archive and draws upon contemporary ethnographic recollections to produce its version of the immigrant and ethnic past. Firmly anchored in conventions of historical interpretation, The Journey nevertheless offers no pretense of objective neutrality. The mere invocation of cultural mythologies in its subtitle enmeshes the work in ideology at the very moment of its circulation. In this capacity it inevitably alerts reviewers not to lose sight of its interest in values, urging, that is, critical dialogue with its cultural politics.
The film poses a host of interpretive challenges. A well-researched and historically-informed piece, it raises questions about the reluctance of the filmmaker to probe more widely into the archive and to explore in more depth the issues that she addresses. An admirable work of evocative musical compositions, skillful editing, and artful visuality, it construes a poetic universe whose aesthetic voice distracts from or even competes with the ethnographic voices it hospitably features. One can readily enumerate an array of empirical oversights. Commentary alerts the viewer to the policy mistakes of Archibishop Iakovos (enthroned 1959–reposed 2005), for instance, yet the conflict over language that rocked the community under his reign remains out of sight. Images of war-ravaged Greek immigrants kissing American soil are given due visibility—a reminder that immigrant narratives stand in for national narratives; but counter-memories of deported and persecuted Greek Americans, victims of McCarthyism, and a reminder that nation-states discipline ethnicity are rendered invisible. There are also numerous instances of dissonance between ethnographic representations and corresponding visual referents. Recollections about an ancestral village located in the Peloponnesian interior, for example, are supplanted by images of a dramatic sea-side locale.
But merely to keep enumerating omitted facts is a convenient and ultimately fruitless enterprise. This is not only because the documentary must necessarily rely on partial representation in order to relate a 90-year (1890–1980) span of ethnic history within its alotted narrative time (a mere 87 minutes), but also primarily [End Page 453] because any historical narrative, we now understand, is attached to questions of value and judgement. The obviousness of empirical omissions and poetic license in this work calls, therefore, for an alternative interpretive strategy beyond the trappings of empiricism. The critical task is not to count what is missing, but to account for why certain facts are missing. I ask in particular, why does the narrative understate or even omit mention of the far-reaching intraethnic clashes over the cultural, linguistic, educational, and political direction of post-1960s Greek America when multiculturalism brought these issues to the fore?
One of the reasons, I suggest, is that the filmmaker advances an argument for the public, namely the value of biculturalism. Her rhetorical strategy lies in eschewing debate on complex divisive issues, to endorse instead a preferred way of living. In other words, the option for a polyphonic representation of volatile issues (such as the function and effectiveness of the church in bilingual education) is bypassed in favor of advocating the value of a specific world view, "what ought to be." The argument develops in a twofold manner. The documentary's historical storyline lends authority to the enduring operation of a dual cultural affiliation in Greek America while its ethnographic and visual narratives call upon viewers to recognize the social, moral, and aesthetic value of biculturalism. In this respect, The Journey functions as a heritage narrative, making history while steering its course to underwrite a bicultural Greek American identity. The particular representational modes that it employs—the "expository," the "performative," and the "poetic" (terms I borrow from documentary studies)—work synergistically to demonstrate this position.
The expository mode consists of commentary, titles, and supporting...