The Alexandrians
Metod Pevec

Synopsis

Appearing in the film
Matilda Vidmar / Doroteja Arčon / Lidija Susič / Marija Pirnat / Sabina Šušmelj / Danilo Skomina / Marija Saksida / Magda Ibrahim / Vana Silič / Butros Butros-Gali / Michel Perez / Michael Haag / Dr. Ellis Douek / Claudia Roden / Roger A. Barcilon / Izidor Birsa / Gilberto Civardi / Sonja Gabrijelčič / Vera Sulič / Silvester Furlani / Zlatko Romih / Peter Zorn / dr. Alojz Zorn / Franc Lukežič / Savica Bonutti / Irene Cossutta / Franc Faganel / Nadia Farag Badawi / Margarita Žorž / Pepca Taylor / Zdravka Peters / Charles Peters / s. Martina Arhar

The story
The story about The Alexandrians focuses on a painful, almost exclusively female emigration. Due to poverty and fascist assimilation policy many people, especially youth, left the Vipava valley (west part of Slovenia) before World War II. Men emigrated to Argentina never to return, while women and girls would go to Egypt, mostly to what was then a rich and cosmopolitan Alexandria, where they remained for as long as several decades as wet nurses, nannies and housewives. Many of them returned too late to enjoy their own children and their homes – meant literally, since it was usually their money that paid for their houses.

Wet nurses, nannies, chamber maids, a lady-in-waiting of Queen Farida of Egypt, and the richest foreign lady living in Egypt were all Slovene born Alexandrians. Their grand and sometimes tragic stories describe the challenges that women rose to in times when no one had ever heard of feminism.

About the film
The shooting of the film took two years; it was shot on locations in Slovenia, Italy, Egypt, and Great Britain and in the United States of America. The rights for the library footage on Egypt that was used in the film were obtained from the British Pathe and Global Image. The film includes also excerpts from the documentary film Žerjavi letijo na jug (Cranes Fly South) by Dorica Makuc.

The film was shot just in time to feature the last three true Alexandrians, who had worked in Egypt. Therefore, it relies also on the generation of their children living in the Vipava valley, and on the children they were paid to raise and who are now scattered all over the world. The children they nannied still treasure their childhood memories and remember their nannies for their motherly care and unselfish love with a special affection. To them, the proverbial Slavic warmth has a special meaning. However, what the biological children of those Alexandrians remember most is their yearning for motherly love and their feelings of alienation. Part of the context that relates to the history of Alexandria is explained by Michael Haag, the author of several books on Egypt and in particular on Alexandria.

From the first‐hand
"Dorica Makuc is the undisputed pioneer in the exploration of the life of Alexandrians. She did the most thoroughgoing and hard work, as she carried out her research at a time when the topic was far more inaccessible than it is today. Therefore, her work is an accomplishment, no doubt about it. What
I found truly fascinating in her book was not that a mother left her child at home and went to a faraway land to nurse someone else’s children. When I talked with their biological children and with children that were nursed and brought up by Alexandrians, I realized that motherhood is not an inborn or intrinsic quality of a woman. This is a romantic illusion. A woman can easily give up motherhood or lose her sense of maternity, and conversely, she can live out her maternal feelings with children that are not her biological offspring. It's a given trait, but it can be lived out at a wrong place. Alexandrian nannies shared their maternal love and emotions with someone else’s children in a faraway land, which no doubt left certain marks on their psyche. Sometimes even irreparable harm, we dare say.
This substitution shocked me the most. Namely, when meeting the people who had been looked after and raised by Alexandrian nannies, I found out that they had warmer, gentler memories of their nannies and governesses than of their mothers. It was right the opposite with biological children of those nannies, who as children had never experienced a true mother‐child relationship. /.../ ... The phenomenon of Alexandrian female immigrants makes us realize the change it brought ‐ a woman was no longer just a woman, her place in the patriarchal context changed drastically. She ceases being just a housekeeper, taking care of her children and husband. Suddenly, her role extends to completely new dimensions that had formerly been attributed to men exclusively. Therefore, a woman can just as easily become dignified, rich and independent; taking the reigns in her own hands and making decision on her own. In this context, a woman becomes a revolutionary, outgrowing the old patriarchal model to which she had been confined for so long. However, all this includes both, beautiful things and so‐called deviations."
‐ Metod Pevec, director and screenwriter

Reviews / opinions about the film

"Unforgettable new Slovene full‐length documentary, like those made for television in principle, but actually perfect for the movies ... Very intense from both points of view, and touching in psychological as well as physical manner, like the opening sequence symbolically suggests at the very beginning, cleverly exposing this new piece of national cinematography, just finely "seasoned" with a few acted scenes, a feature‐length documentary The Alexandrians by the acclaimed writer and director Method Pevec ... with an introductory scene taking us from Slovenia and its golden wheat fields waving in the wind, across the Mediterranean sea on the foamy waves to the Egyptian coast and Alexandria; and only later on this symbolic turbulent duality ever so obvious. /.../ An equally important role in terms of excitement and narrative expressiveness ‐ a quality comparable to, say, the unforgettable, award‐winning, ultra‐dramatic feature‐length documentary "Children from the Petriček Hill" by Miran Zupanič) has been assigned to music – it is excellent though minimally present but highly suggestive and extremely effective in its minimalism – an outstanding score composed by last year's winner of the Prešeren Fund Prize Aldo Kumar, who managed to round up this superb mixture blissful joy and misery.
‐ Uroš Smasek, Večer

"For a few seconds, Boutros Boutros Gali is absorbed in thought travelling down memory lane until his memories from early childhood emerge. Then he speaks of his nanny Milena from the distant Slovenia with great tenderness and affection. Milena was his invaluable friend and confidant, and as a child he was more attached to her than to his mother. There are many similar stories of nowadays successful men and women from all over the world, who come from wealthy and noble families that lived in Alexandria and Cairo in the first half of the 20th century, and who were raised by nannies.
Metod Pevec captured them on film."
‐ Katja Željan, Delo

"…Metod Pevec collected their stories, the testimonies of their biological children and the children they had raised as well as explanations by historians and compiled the in a documentary film The
Alexandrians. If you don't mind being on the verge of tears throughout the film, you can see it tomorrow in Divača <http://www.muzejdivaca.si/>. If you are too embarrassed to cry in public, wait until it is shown on the national television. And remember: it is brutal. It is difficult for me to find the right words to describe how brutally sincere, authentic and true it is. There is no moralizing, no poetry. Only testimonies on how real people experienced emigration to Egypt. Beautiful stories. Cruel stories. Everyday stories. Exceptional stories. After decades symbolic metaphors associated with female emigration, of which Prešeren's poem "Lepa Vida" is probably the most known, this films come as a direct blow in the face. It is the voice of real people. Of real people who tell their life stories and by doing so they are voicing also what my grand‐grand mother, my grandmother, my mother and I would have to say. "
‐ Barbara Skubic, http://www.delo.si/tuditi/blog/sluzkinje.html

"The Alexandrians by Metod Pevec is the most moving documentary film produced in Slovenia after
"The Children from Petriček Hill" (2007) by Miran Zupanič . /.../ There is a myriad of stories about
Alexandrian nannies, and Pevec collected a selection of the most diverse and representative ones. The film combines two parallel stories about two cities, Alexandria and Cairo; once luxurious metropolitan jewels, nowadays much more profane, full of dirty city streets, peddlers and beggars. A suitable contemporary contrast to interpretations on what the times used to be like when the two cities were flocked to by a large community of foreigners ‐ regardless of their religion or nationality – not as a melting pot, but as a kind of utopian places of unending tolerance and multiculturalism. Again, this story is neither easygoing nor entertaining; it is a supreme documentary made by a superior team, offering an hour and a half of content that will not sway a viewer into some parallel fantasy film world, but it will reveal the plain truth, the unfortunate reality – authentic stories of which some may have taken a lucky turn every now and then. Those are stories about women who struggled through their walks of life in what nowadays seems almost remote past, but what they left behind, the consequences of their choices and the emotional testimonials of protagonists appearing in the film convey a universal message, the message that cuts deeply even today."
- Agata Tomažič, Pogledi

"This documentary includes enough material for at least five full length feature films... /.../ The emancipation of women is a strong topic associated with female emigration to Alexandria, and so is the common perception of their emancipation in the local environment, which they left behind. The film tackles also these two views, but it primarily focuses on problematic relationships entangled in social and psychological dimensions of immigrant life in Alexandria. At this central point, the film concentrates on unusual, even vast dimensions of poverty, on striking human destinies, and their irresistible, impressive pathos. Metod Pevec, who held all strings in his skilful hands, also appeared for a brief moment at the end of this best documentary he has made so far, and rightfully so."
- Peter Kolšek, Delo

"The Alexandrians fully deserved the award for best documentary film at the recent Festival of
Slovenian Film, and are undoubtedly one of the best documentaries in recent years. Metod Pevec worked on the project for three‐years, and managed to create a magnificent piece of work, presen-ting to a viewer a broad picture of female emigration to Alexandria as well as intimate stories that are so impressive that you can literally feel them."
- Igor Harb, Vikend

“Director and writer Metod Pevec has achieved the almost impossible. Namely, his Alexandrians is a very likeable film, packed with information and visually extremely attractive film, shot with a good sense of wholeness and with a refined, subtle feeling for drama and personal tragedies of the protagonists and their descendants. It is not insignificant that he succeeded, in spite of many obstacles and lack of historical materials, compiled an enviable amount of usable film, interesting, attractive and even emotionally efficient documents. / .. / More importantly, he knew how to pack it up in a mosaic of thoughtful dramatic, often tragic and sometimes fascinating and touching personal and family stories. / .. / Without any pathos and sentimentality, but very sincere, honest and watchable."
- Bojan Kavčič, Stop

director's statement

From the first‐hand
"Dorica Makuc is the undisputed pioneer in the exploration of the life of Alexandrians. She did the most thoroughgoing and hard work, as she carried out her research at a time when the topic was far more inaccessible than it is today. Therefore, her work is an accomplishment, no doubt about it. What
I found truly fascinating in her book was not that a mother left her child at home and went to a faraway land to nurse someone else’s children. When I talked with their biological children and with children that were nursed and brought up by Alexandrians, I realized that motherhood is not an inborn or intrinsic quality of a woman. This is a romantic illusion. A woman can easily give up motherhood or lose her sense of maternity, and conversely, she can live out her maternal feelings with children that are not her biological offspring. It's a given trait, but it can be lived out at a wrong place. Alexandrian nannies shared their maternal love and emotions with someone else’s children in a faraway land, which no doubt left certain marks on their psyche. Sometimes even irreparable harm, we dare say.
This substitution shocked me the most. Namely, when meeting the people who had been looked after and raised by Alexandrian nannies, I found out that they had warmer, gentler memories of their nannies and governesses than of their mothers. It was right the opposite with biological children of those nannies, who as children had never experienced a true mother‐child relationship. /.../ ... The phenomenon of Alexandrian female immigrants makes us realize the change it brought ‐ a woman was no longer just a woman, her place in the patriarchal context changed drastically. She ceases being just a housekeeper, taking care of her children and husband. Suddenly, her role extends to completely new dimensions that had formerly been attributed to men exclusively. Therefore, a woman can just as easily become dignified, rich and independent; taking the reigns in her own hands and making decision on her own. In this context, a woman becomes a revolutionary, outgrowing the old patriarchal model to which she had been confined for so long. However, all this includes both, beautiful things and so‐called deviations."
‐ Metod Pevec, director and screenwriter

Crew

director and screenwriter
director of photography
Mišo Čadež
editor
music by
researcher and assistant director
Barbara B. Stegeman
producer

Data

Year
2011
Genre
documentary
Film format 
Sony EX3 HD 
Video format 
DCP / Blu-ray Disc 
Lenght 24fps 
Length 25fps 
94'59'' 
Sound 
Stereo 2.0 
aspect ratio 
16:9 
color 
color 
language 
slovensko, english 
translation 
ARB, ENG, FR, HR, ITA, JP, KIT, LIT, MAK, NEM, POL, ROM, SLO, SPA, SRB, SVK 
 
 

produced by

Vertigo

Kersnikova 4, SI - 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenija
Tel.: +386 1 439 7080
Fax: + 386 1 430 3530
E-mail: info@vertigo.si


co-produced by

RTV Slovenija

Kolodvorska 2-4
SI - 1000 Ljubljana
Slovenija / Slovenia


ERTU

Cairo
Egypt


Transmedia

Italija / Italy


with the participation of

E-Film

Zavod za kulturmo produkcijo
Kersnikova 4
SI - 1000 Ljubljana
Slovenija


Zavod Menuet

Prvomajska 12
1000 Ljubljana
Slovenija / Slovenia


financed by

Ministrstvo za kulturo Republike Slovenije

Ministrstvo za kulturo
Maistrova ulica 10
1000 Ljubljana
T: 01 369 59 00
F: 01 369 59 01
E: gp.mk(at)gov.si


Fondo Regionale Per L'audiovisivo

Via Asquini, 33
33100 – Udine
Italija / Italy

Tel.: +39 0432 500322
Fax: +39 0432 200825
info@audiovisivofvg.it


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