The inspiring and heart-warming story of the small group of Greek farmers told by 2019 documentary “When Tomatoes Met Wagner” has moved international audiences in every single place it was screened, film director Marianna Economou confided.
The documentary, which was selected as the Greek entry for the Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards back in 2020, follows cousins Alexandros and Christos as they team up with the grannies of a tiny, dying-out farming village of barely 33 residents to cultivate the tomato seeds they have kept for hundreds of years.
“This film has toured the world,” Economou said in a special screening during Evia Film Project – a green cinema festival – in the village of Agia Anna on June 23, 2023.
“It tells an optimistic story, that of a village which is slowly dying out, but people emerge who, in their own way, try to rejuvenate it.”
Greek grannies’ organic tomato recipes exported across the globe
The issue of the desolation of the countryside and the reasons why small communities are not sustainable had been concerning the director for years, when, by chance, she came across Alexandros Goussiaris, the mastermind behind the villagers’ initiative, who introduced her to the daily life of his team of farmers in Elias, Thessaly, central Greece.
The director kept going back to the village to record their everyday activities, to the point that they “started to forget that Marianna was there with a camera,” Goussiaris, who was also attending the special screening, commented.
Among the amusing anecdotes shown in the documentary, is the farmers’ use of traditional Greek music and Wagner’s works, played over speakers in the fields, to create an optimal environment for growing their organic tomatoes – a most unusual practice which gave the film its peculiar title.
“When Tomatoes Met Wagner” continues to show how, against all odds and despite many struggles, the hard-working, yet close-knit community eventually succeed in exporting their jars of organic tomato recipes across Europe, the US, and Japan.
Human relationships highlighted in Greek documentary move international viewers
Besides the narrative around the team’s commercial triumph, Economou believes that the most important element of the film is the human relationships that it observes, which had great impact on the reception of the film on the international.
“Wherever we screen the film, people are moved by the women of the village. They are moved by this project, they laugh, they become intrigued. I think that’s the most important thing and that’s what drew me to [the story] as well. The tomato produce was the opportunity to also talk about other things,” the director described.
As about the team’s original aspirations, Goussiaris noted that the village eventually became even smaller, but its manpower was renewed; their tomato produce has continued to travel; and the community is still having a good time keeping up with the job.