Yanis Varoufakis rose to global notoriety as the leftwing economist who resigned as Greek finance minister in 2015, after refusing to sign a bail-out deal being pushed on Greece by the mighty Troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Now a highly influential and outspoken author, whistleblower and activist, Varoufakis is the subject of a new six-part documentary series from filmmaker Raoul Martinez.
In the Eye of the Storm: The Political Odyssey of Yanis Varoufakis explores the many overlapping crises of late-stage capitalism: reckless austerity, attacks on democracy, climate breakdown, environmental destruction, mass migration, Brexit, the EU in crisis, rise of the Right and the looming spectre of fascism.
Ahead of its global release, Maxine Betteridge-Moes spoke to Raoul Martinez about his choice of subject and the successes and failures of the political Left.
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Tell me more about what drew you to Yanis Varoufakis and why you wanted to make a documentary about him?
I wanted to do a series related to capitalism and democracy and the various crises that we’re facing as a civilization. I’ve thought for a long time that economic literacy is very low and it’s a huge obstacle to democracy working well. I knew that to reach a broader audience I would have to hang it on some kind of journey, some kind of personal hook, to get to people who aren’t interested in economics.
I went to an event at Brian Eno’s studio where Yanis Varoufakis was speaking alongside [South Korean economist] Ha-Joon Chang. Yanis spoke with such eloquence and humour about economics and about capitalism. Something in my brain said: ‘this is how I do what I want to do’.
I looked more deeply into his journey and I was incredibly impressed, not only by the fact that he’s obviously a very bright man with deep expertise in economics, but he really has shown incredible courage as a politician and a rare breed of someone who isn’t there to increase their own power and consolidate their own position.
If improved economic literacy could help democracy, how do you hope to draw people into this series who perhaps wouldn’t otherwise be interested in its subject matter?
First and foremost Yanis is an incredible communicator. He comes up with these beautifully structured answers which are some mix of incredibly profound and insightful, funny, personal and touching.
As a filmmaker, you want to tell an engaging story. A few responses to the series have underscored the fact that it sort of unfolds like a thriller. That’s really what I was going for. I think Yanis’ story in transitioning from academic to politician and then becoming finance minister for Greece, and battling with the Troika of Europe is inherently dramatic, and it really did end up as a story of one man against major institutions.
Parallels have been drawn between this series and other documentaries including Knock Down the House (which tracks the rise of US politician and activist Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez) and The Fog of War (the Oscar-winning documentary about former US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamar). What makes this series unique?
One is just the real significance of [Varoufakis] actually coming to power and seeing still how difficult it is to implement a progressive, even a mild to moderate progressive Left platform. There’s something tragic about the story, but I’m hoping it is deeply informative and something that we can learn from and adapt our strategies to.
The series is split into two parts: the first three episodes are really focused on [Varoufakis’] journey as finance minister, and his rise and fall. The second part looks at what happened in Greece as a microcosm of something much larger. And to understand that, we need to understand the broader dynamics of capitalism, democracy and the various crises that we face globally.
The Left has had its successes over the decades, but it's also a depressing story of failure in many respects. And I think part of the series is really to grapple with that reality and ask: what do we need to do?
What audience did you have in mind when you created this series?
This series is really for anyone who is concerned with the state of our societies, who feels that our institutions are not working as they should, and who feels that our democracies are failing to tackle the problems that we’re facing as a society. It’s for anyone who wants to understand capitalism and the direction we're going in more deeply and perhaps to find some hope and some possible solutions.
I think the most important thing is that we stay in touch with reality and we see things as they are. In this moment in history, to be in touch with reality is to realize that things are going to get worse in many ways. There absolutely are things that we can do and that we need to do, urgently, but let's not immediately reach for hope; let’s allow the sadness and shock and gravity of our situation to really settle.
There absolutely are things that we can do and that we need to do, urgently, but let's not immediately reach for hope; let’s allow the sadness and shock and gravity of our situation to really settle.
In the Eye of the Storm: The Political Odyssey of Yanis Varoufakis premieres in the UK with screenings of two episodes and a live interview with Varoufakis at The Prince Charles Cinema, Leicester Square in London on Tuesday 13 February from 6.00 to 8.30pm.
The EU premiere will be held at the Babylon Movie Theatre in Berlin on Friday 16 February from 7.30pm to 10.00pm.
For more information and to purchase the series upon its release on 15 February, please visit the series website.