Garlic and Watermelons

The lights of the Olympic Stadium loom above the rooftops of a pink and purple village. Below, women are washing clothes, men peeling garlic, and children are playing in the dust. Prokopis Nikolau sits alone on the cement patio of his wooden shack, looking pensive, sullen. He and the others in the settlement, a deeply intertwined circle of family and friends, are Greek Gypsies. They have lived in this village, built with their own hands, for over forty years. But the Olympics are coming to Athens, and the city is one big construction site. The place where Prokopis Nikolau and his family have lived for generations is now at the epicenter of the chaos. Their settlement is adjacent to the Main Olympic Complex, and they have been informed that their homes will be demolished in order to make room for a parking lot.

Prokopis is a 36-year-old father with two precocious young sons and a new baby daughter. To support his family, he sells seasonal produce from the back of his red pickup truck: garlic in the spring, watermelons in the summer, potatoes in the fall, and holly around Christmas. He also collects and sells scrap metal. When his family is evicted from the settlement where they had lived for generations, his job becomes more difficult. Now, he has to come up with money for rent, water, and electricity every month. He is promised a subsidy from the local municipality, but the money proves elusive. Prokopis takes on a new role: as the unofficial representative of the group of forty families who were displaced to make room for the parking lot. He meets with human rights activists, shares his story with the international media that have descended on Athens in the months leading up to the Olympics, and brings his struggle to the mayor’s doorstep and finally to the courts.

The film Garlic and Watermelon chronicles the lives of Prokopis and his extended family in the year leading up to the Olympic Games. Their struggle to find a new home, to extract the subsidies that they were promised from the local municipality, and to rebuild their lives represents a humble battle against racism and poverty. But their story is bittersweet. While Prokopis deals with unresponsive bureaucrats, family disputes, and several evictions, his wife has a beautiful new baby girl, his sons learn to read and write, and the entire family savors a traditional Easter feast.