How Do Animals and Plants Live?

Is it true that translation creates the basis for a new commons? If so, how? The video essay How Do Animals and Plants Live? is an inquiry into the forcible eviction and immediate demolition of the self-organized anarchist-supported migrant squat Orfanotrofeio in Thessaloniki, Greece, in July 2016. An on-site interview with a young West African migrant, detailed exploration of the bulldozed ruins of the old orphanage, and performative translations from a Greek-language children's schoolbook (How Do Animals and Plants Live?) that the filmmakers found (amid the rubble when they broke into the site)—these elements are all interwoven with strikingly relevant yet unexpected visuals sparked by questions translated directly from the book.

Our Take – Small Axe Radical Short Film Reviews by Cole Diment 

How Do Animals and Plants Live? by Ernest Larsen and Sherry Millner introduces us to the anarchist squatting movement in Thessaloniki, Greece that aided the housing of migrants and refugees. The film gives an intriguing view onto the possibilities of anarchist derived film form and a critique of the state and churches efforts to quell the movement. 

The film focuses on a squat in Thessaloniki called Orfanotrofeio and details the memory of the squat via disparate voices including migrants, refugees and our own directors. The squat was built on the principle of horizontal organising using anarchist principles such as direct democracy and community organisation whilst also respecting the creation of councils for different nationalities and levels of citizenship. Larsen and Millner use these anarchist methods – non-hierarchical, distributed and non-coercive power – to form the way they interact with their subject: the documentary doesn’t attain to objectivity, playing somewhat with its subject material. This is anarchism practiced in film form. 

The pertinent critique of housing rights within the confine of the state and the church emerges as a main theme. As within many Western countries, the Church doesn’t pay tax on its possessions and land. The squat at Orfanotrofeio was one such possession of the churches. The anarchist squatters turned the abandoned building into a thriving community centre with playgrounds, education and medicine. However, with the aid of the state, the Church began to threaten the squat and aided its downfall. Larsen and Millner point to the early Christians emphasis on communistic modes of living – All Things in Common – as a mode of hypocrisy in the current association of church and state: collectively, as employees of the state, priests earn 200million euros a year in Greece. Modern day Christianity seems a far shy from its anarcho-communistic roots. 

Perhaps the most interesting metaphor in the film is that of animality to the status of migrants, refugees and squatters. Routinely de-humanised by the state, they are pushed more and more, figuratively and rhetorically, into the position of animality (dirty, unwanted, uncouth, uncivilised). The title of the film attests to this position – how, in the modern day Western state, do migrants, refugees and squatters survive? Larsen and Millner allow these animal comparisons to serve as a source of inspiration however. My mind is particularly drawn to the image of the worm. When cut in two, the dominant, bigger half of the worm continues, holding the potential to grow back into a full worm once more. Is the state is seen as the violator and the migrants, refugees and squatters as the worm, then comfortability in metaphors of animality may possibly hold the key for mental and physical resistance. 

Ernie and Sherry have asked that we show you two links to projects dear to them:

  /  2022
Sherry Millner, Ernest Larsen
26:56:00 mins
Original Language English
Ernest Larsen, Sherry Millner