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Greek director of historical film accused of “staging migrants drowning”

A video that went viral in many countries purported to show a television crew staging migrants drowning on a beach in Crete. Greek Director Eleni Vlassi was shooting a historical documentary on a beach in Crete when, unknowingly, she found herself accused of staging a drowning of migrants by dozens of websites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts in Europe and North America.

It all began with a video narrated by a Czech-speaking man. A dozen people – including veiled women – enter the water. Five of them seem to simulate a drowning.

The Czech-speaking man “Marek Ch” is categorical: this is a television crew in the process of staging migrants drowning.

“Poor migrants! And that is exactly how it works, what they are playing at us on TV! Is this a scam? The director is shooting a scene of ‘the migrants drown in the sea!’,” a man’s voice narrates in Czech over the video.

video with translation via thevoiceofeurope:

His video spread quickly in the Czech Republic, then across Europe and even to some US Twitter accounts: “Does the media every tell us anything that is true?” one tweet reads.

 

Since July 31, dozens of websites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts have published these images, implying that they show journalists staging migrants drowning and engaged in manipulation.

“Pictures and clips of migrants have been shared widely to manipulate public opinion and generate sympathy. This is one of the first times such a piece of fake footage has been captured by a member of the public as it was happening,” according to one post by The Voice of Europe shared 1,500 times.

According to AFP’s calculations, the video has accumulated 1.2 million views across YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. It was shared tens of thousands of times, first in the Czech Republic, but then through Western Europe and in North America.

The YouTube video was taken down for ‘violating terms of policy regarding misleading content.’

It turns out that the camera crew were not journalists but members of a film project. They were actually filming a documentary about the exodus of the Greeks from Asia Minor in 1922, where hundreds were drown as  they were trying to flee the massacre.

Film Trailer

AFP journalists from Fact Check department found members of the filming crew, contacted the director and even the Czech man who                .

At first glance, the video, about one minute and seventeen seconds long, is puzzling. It shows a group of about ten people in water next to a beach. Most are women. All of them are dressed and veiled, and two of them are carrying large red and white bundles. As the group slowly advances into the sea, five individuals begin to float on the water’s surface, motionless.

These images were shot in late July at a beach in Ierapetra, in Crete.

“The scene is supposed to be in 1922 Turkey”

Contacted by AFP and asked about her version of the facts, director Vlassi painted an entirely different picture.

“…these shots (of Vlassi directing the video) are part of the filming of the historical documentary ‘Land of the Painful Virgin Mary’ and refers to the historical event of the Asia Minor disaster of 1922,” when thousands of Greeks in Asia Minor, chased from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire, flocked to Greece, Vlassi explained to AFP.

“The scene is meant to take place in Turkey, in 1922, when the Greeks fled the Izmir fire. They escaped by sea, and some were drowned,” she added, insisting that these frames “are not about modern migrants.”

Vlassi told AFP that she is “reserving for herself the right to follow a legal course” against the author of the video for defaming her, considering its virality.

The documentary shooting began in September 2017 and finished on July 24, 2018. This scene was one of the last ones to be shot, “between July 20 and 24,” according to Vlassi.

The people filmed in the water, and accused of faking a drowning, “are volunteers from cultural associations in Crete and Cretans of Asian Minor heritage,” she added.

AFP sent to Marek Ch, who later confirmed to the news agency his name as Marek Chrastina, the trailer for the documentary, and on Saturday, August 25 he admitted that his video with the alleged migrants drowning presented the facts incorrectly:

“I rather misjudged the situation and, as I have already written, I am sorry to have posted the video with a mistaken comment.”
 

The man happened to film the scene because he was just having his summer holidays in an area nearby where the historical film was shot. He thought he made a scoop about media manipulation, “fake news” and all these nice stuff conspiracy theorists love to spread on internet…

Full AFP Fact Check story here.

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