search facebook twitter instagram close launch

A childhood photo Mathangi Arulpragasam (aka M.I.A.) featured in Matangi / Maya / M.I.A.

An unaccompanied child refugee looks out from behind the wire of a detention center at Moria camp on the island of Lesbos. November, 2015. Photo - Kia Mistilis

Refugee activists from Germany unfurl a protest banner at the port of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece. November, 2015. Photo - Kia Mistilis

Refugees wait to register at Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece. November 2015. Photo - Kia Mistilis

December 13, 2018

It brightened our moods and hearts to receive this email from Kia Mistilis, a photographer and journalist from Athens who saw MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. in a packed house at the In Edit music documentary festival in Barcelona. It reached us just as the film was hitting iTunes in the U.S., U.K. and Canada, and felt like a warm embrace from across the continents. We couldn’t help but share it and spread that feeling:

Kia wrote:

My grandfather went to Australia from Greece in 1915, at the age of 11, as an unaccompanied child refugee. He fled the bombing of his island, Kastellorizo, in the First World War. My grandfather’s siblings were all evacuated by the Red Cross and scattered around the world, and my great-grandmother never saw four of her sons again—only my grandfather who managed to bring her out to Australia as a refugee after the Second World War when Kastellorizo was bombed heavily again and she had fled to a refugee camp in Egypt.

My mother’s parents were poor immigrants from Greece to Australia between the wars. I am not a refugee but even as the grandchild of refugees and immigrants, I could really relate to so much in this incredible film—especially about being an outsider from the mainstream Anglo culture; and as a writer and photographer, about finding and using one’s voice in that context. The scene where Maya’s grandmother tells her to be happy like her and that she should sing, that singing would be a good profession for her, I saw so much of the gentle, wise and loving grandmothers in my own extended family. Their overwhelming compassion, their love and humanity—these incredible elders who have lived through war and tragedy, bearing so much grief and yet maintaining their innate goodness, their light, their gentle power, their wisdom… it literally brought me to tears.

And in other scenes—like after the super bowl performance when Maya’s son says, “I don’t like the Super Bowl” and Maya says: “That’s my boy!”—the whole audience laughed. And we laughed even more at the American media clips of commentators dissecting and criticizing Maya’s middle finger gesture. We were all with you, you should know that.

Maya tells her story, shows her story so well, with such a unique and uncompromising voice. It’s an act of empowerment which I feel will give others the courage to step forward and share their life experiences too. In that sense, it’s also a gift, a great contribution to telling the real stories of our times.

Days after seeing this film it is still reverberating in my head and I intend to watch it again and tell people about it.

Thank you and massive congratulations on a great and timely film!

Love from Greece,


When we wrote Kia to thank her for her email, she told us she had reported on the refugee situation in Greece for the Nation in early 2016. Kia’s report from Lesbos, one of the Greek islands on the frontline of refugee arrivals in Europe, gives us an on-the-ground local perspective in Greece, and insight into why the film resonated for her so much. Kia writes: “Two cultural practices deeply embedded in Greek society—philotimo, honor and respect expressed as acts of generosity and sacrifice; and philoxenia, hospitality to strangers—may explain why Greeks, despite limited means, have been assisting people transiting through their country. Many Greeks also have refugee experiences in their family history. In the last hundred years, Greece has been through two world wars, the 1922 war with Turkey, a civil war, and a military dictatorship, each of which forced thousands to flee.”

More on Kia Mistilis on her website.

MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. is also available on DVD and On Demand in the U.S. Find it here.



Kia Mistillis is a freelance journalist and writing professional with a background in photography. She grew up in the multicultural city of Sydney, Australia and lives in Athens, Greece. Kia loves exploring the world and has traveled widely, documenting people and places as diverse as New York City and the villages of East Timor. Her work as a journalist encompasses freelance contributions to international print, online and broadcast media platforms in the U.S., Europe and Australia.