Photojournalist Giorgos Moutafis makes his film debut with an empathetic picture of refugees and migrants crossing European borders

The Other Half

Source: Thessaloniki Film Festival

‘The Other Half’

Dir/scr: Giorgos Moutafis. Greece 2022. 72 minutes

A dozen years of photo-journalism on the frontlines of Fortress Europe are condensed into 72 briskly engrossing minutes in The Other Half, an accomplished big-screen debut by renowned photographer Giorgos Moutafis. Premiering in the main competition at Thessaloniki’s documentary festival, this Greek production’s combination of empathetic humanism and formal brio — plus the unceasingly topical nature of its material — should attract festivals and small-screen outlets beyond the Mediterranean country’s borders. 

Overall, The Other Half does manage to find new angles on this well-trodden terrain

Jumping between time-frames and locations (all of them, according to a closing title-card, on Greece’s peripheries), The Other Half is an assemblage of Moutafis’ own footage that plays like the jumbled but vividly-recalled memories of a man who has experienced numerous intense and/or harrowing episodes on both sea and land. In this way, the migrant crisis of recent years is presented through a personal prism. Rather than an objective documentary seeking to educate about the complex and controversial subject of refugees and migrants crossing borders, it is an unapologetically subjective response.

Those frontiers have long been a main professional haunt for Moutafis, an unassuming but engaging fellow who serves as his own producer and cinematographer. Camera-operating duties are entrusted to others, as Moutafis’ hands are otherwise occupied with the tools of his still-image trade. His main creative collaborator is editor Georgia Bempelou — previously responsible for eco-doc Silent Fish (2020) — who generally favours abbreviated shots and scenes. This approach results in a pleasingly unusual, slightly jagged rhythm marked by several effective juxtapositions and transitions. 

Moutafis is no detached onlooker, and the film gains warmth from sequences where he sympathetically converses with the refugees and migrants whose plight he seeks to chronicle. They represent the globe’s long-suffering “other half” of a title, elegantly borrowed from 19th century photojournalist Jacob Riis’ landmark study of Manhattan poverty, How The Other Half Lives.

A 15-minute sequence near the end brings Moutafis more squarely into the foreground. Here — via fixed-camera talking-head close-ups whose composed tranquility contrasts with the rough-edged reportage elsewhere — he speaks in interview with psychologist Theano Polyzogopoulou, who is neither seen nor heard. The resulting “therapy-session” format makes for a slightly awkward, artificial stylistic choice given that Moutafis is himself the writer-director, yet presumably it is this middle-aged man’s preferred way of dealing with the strong, suppressed feelings his recollections have brought to the surface.

For several years, nearly every documentary festival in Europe has shown new works dealing with the topics addressed here. And there are certain images and tropes which, despite their importance and power, have become a well-worn concomitant of the subgenre. One dramatic pullback showing a colossal mound of discarded life-vests, for example, loses something of its intrisincally tragic impact since it has now become so familiar in documentary and photojournalism alike. Overall, The Other Half does manage to find new angles on this well-trodden terrain, not least in its audacious decision to immerse us into the life and eyes of a photographer without once ever showing us the stills which — before this film —have comprised the principal fruits of his hazardous labours.

Production company: Giorgos Moutafis

International sales: Giorgos Moutafis,

Producer: Giorgos Moutafis

Cinematography: Giorgos Moutafis

Editing: Georgia Bempelou

Music: Dimitris Mystakidis