The historic, Mediterranean city of Famagusta, Cyprus, carries a dark and peculiar secret. Its seaside suburb, once a bustling tourist resort and commercial center, is now a forbidden zone. This wasteland of abandoned hotels, churches, schools, homes and businesses has remained an open wound for its former residents who stand outside the barbed wire fence longing to return home. They have been waiting for a long time. The Varosha district of Famagusta has been held captive for almost half a century. A long stretch of golden sand beach and turquoise water juxtaposes the strip of crumbling highrises and armed Turkish troops who stand guard around Varosha’s perimeter. The story begins when this post-apocalyptic landscape in paradise becomes a filmmaker’s lifelong obsession. Vasia Markides, a Greek Cypriot who grew up in Maine, heard countless stories of this lost paradise from her mother, who said goodbye to her Varosha home during the 1974 war that tore Cyprus in half. Born on the island’s divided capital, Vasia had never had contact with the Turkish Cypriots who lived in the north, until one day in 2003 when Turkey loosened restrictions at the checkpoints. Vasia was able to travel north for the first time, a day that would prove life-changing. Almost two decades later, after countless years spent filming her decaying ancestral city, she finds herself on an unexpected Odyssey to reunite divided Cypriots and turn this forbidden zone into a thriving ecocity, raising Famagusta from the ashes and inspiring the world.
The feature length documentary, WAKING FAMAGUSTA, contains two stories in one. The film will tell Vasia’s personal story set within a broader struggle to reclaim and rebuild the occupied Cypriot city of Famagusta, and its neighboring ghost district of Varosha, as a thriving ecocity.
The first half of the film will highlight her explorations and discoveries as a Greek-Cypriot returning to the island after many years in the state of Maine.
Her mother, Emily, a professor of permaculture and sustainability, always held tightly to her dream of returning to her home in Varosha. Inspired by Emily’s wisdom and teachings, Vasia gathers a small team of diverse and fiery people, and together they attempt the impossible – to reclaim this decaying, golden beach resort town and transform it into a sustainable ecocity.
The documentary’s first act uses home and news footage to show Vasia’s first trip across the green line when she witnessed the ghost town in person — a day that changed her life’s course. During many recurrent trips that began in 2003, she rolled dozens of hours of video material that ended up becoming part of her thesis film, Hidden in the Sand.
During this time, she went through a huge shift in perspective. Meeting Turkish-Cypriot poet, professor, and architect, Ceren Bogac, helped Vasia understand those who lived on the other side of the divide. Ceren grew up in the shadow of Varosha’s bombed out remains, and shared Vasia’s obsession with it. Over coffee, the women discussed dreams of a new generation of Cypriots, scheming a way to bring Emily’s lofty idea to life. As the team quickly expanded, they found themselves on the brink of creating a shining model of ecology and peace in the troubled region.
For several months, cameras recorded the lightning momentum as Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot urban planners, engineers, economists, permaculturists, entrepreneurs, activists, architects, and artists came together to revive Famagusta. Much of the second half of Waking Famagusta chronicles the dizzying spiral of events that launched the project, leading to 2017, when a solution to the problems in Cyprus seemed imminent. Rather than focus on the negative or the political, this documentary highlights possibilities of profound social and ecological change in a historic city situated at the crossroads of three continents.
WHY THIS STORY, WHY NOW?
The story of the Famagusta Ecocity Project will have universal appeal since film festivals and digital platforms now seek out content that illuminates the troubling effects of climate change, while also offering solutions. Earth is reaching a crisis point, a treacherous point of no return. The Famagusta Ecocity Project could be a vital example of how to reverse the damage we have done to our planet. The dramatic narrative this documentary captures can give hope to an audience which can see that what we have achieved in Cyprus can be replicated anywhere.
WAKING FAMAGUSTA is a global call to action that fights hopelessness, unites divided people, and improves communities so that humans can coexist in harmony with nature. If any city can be the starting point, it is Famagusta.