Patmos, Payne, and Paradoxes


By Ioannis Pappos

In Greece for the International Film Festival of Patmos, discussing life's big questions with filmmaker Alexander Payne

Is there a God? Life after death? An apocalypse in store for us? Age-old questions crossed my mind on the ferry approaching Patmos, the Aegean island surmounted by a 1,000-year-old monastery, a fortress that summits the island’s stony landscape and local life. Patmos is mentioned in the Book of Revelation. John the Apostle was here when he got visions he logged in the scariest book of the New Testament. The cave where he allegedly had his prophecies is on the road from the port to the main town, a snaking lane swimming in churches. 

Despite its despotic rulers, Patmos is a destination for nonconformists. Writers, artists, eccentric thinkers and scientists, lots of them openly gay, have been flocking the island for decades. Their symbiosis with the doctrine makes Patmos somewhat of a paradox. Why leather sandals and linen scarves wearing provocateurs (few A&F and Havaianas around) nest under the grand monastery? Are they spellbinded? 

As a gay man and a scientist, I have issues with Orthodox churches and spells, but I am also attracted to paradoxes. So when I was invited to the 3rd International Film Festival of Patmos (IFFP) last month, I welcomed the opportunity to understand the magnetism between creativity and canon. Leaving the fun of the Cycladic islands behind—Patmos’s Chora has one and a half bars—I checked into my hotel and started watching people who watched movies. The setting was out of Cinema Paradiso but the crowd was different. Monks (who launched the festival), artists, locals, vacationers, and media people squeezed together to experience art under the stars.