The world could learn a lot about the positive effects of television by focusing on Japanese TV. While most of the world, the US in particular, uses TV as a form of escapism and what they wish their lives could be, Japanese TV focuses primarily on self-discovery and its relationships with the world. While many Americans become numb to news and fact based programs that focus only on the negative, the Japanese use TV as a means of creating social awareness and often as a benevolent and provocative tool. Nowhere else is this evidenced as greatly as in the Fuji TV program Unbelievable. The story of Kunkush the cat and his separation from his Iraqi family who fled their homeland seeking safety, is truly a story of global cooperation (https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2016/feb/19/refugee-family-who-fled-iraq-are-reunited-with-cat-video). Grivas Kopti is the Greek national, emigrated to the UK associate producer of this Japanese production about an Iraqi family and their pet, reunited in Norway through the assistance of charities in Greece, Germany, and the US. As a highly sought after and respected associate producer, Kopti was selected to oversee this international story; as a pet owner and lover, the story was deeply meaningful to him. Understanding the difficulties of a new environment and different culture as well as the connection to a beloved pet, Grivas eagerly accepted the somewhat Herculean task of coordinating this production.
Aaron Carty (Co-Founder of Carve Productions and Executive Producer) has experience working with Kopti on other productions and attests to both his abilities and the daunting task of the Unbelievable episode which Grivas oversaw stating, “Grivas has established himself as one of the most talented and accomplished associate producers in the industry. I am proud to have worked alongside him. Unbelievable required him to coordinate the production with Japan as well as travel to with the crew on location and to coordinate translation from Arabic into English. You have to be on top of every possibility in a unique situation like this. Only the most prepared and experienced professional like Grivas has the ability to ensure everything is planned for and taken care of. One misstep shuts down the entire production.”
Kunkush’s family (a mother and her four children) fled Iraq with him, arriving at the Greek island of Lesbes where Kunkush was frightened and became separated from his family. A frantic search was conducted but after several hours, the family had to keep moving with the other refugees who found themselves on this odyssey. As a domesticated pet, Kunkush was bullied by other feral cats and nearly starved. Taken in by a local vet and rescuers, he was eventually taken to a foster in Berlin. Following an international on-line search, he was reunited with his family in Norway. Due to the nature of their leaving Iraq, the family needed to remain anonymous which made the reunion almost impossible…and a perfect story for Unbelievable. Grivas describes the process of telling this tale stating, “A movie could be made depicting the family’s life story and journey thus far. It’s just so moving. In a movie, we’d meet them as characters respectively before the troubles in Iraq started and be witness, as viewers, to their transition and how that changed their psyche, their personality and perspective. Approaching this subject from a TV perspective meant it was all Interview-lead (with the family and volunteers), as well as archive and dramatic reconstruction. It all takes place post-events and our actuality is a mere recollection. That’s the narrative and the spine of the show.” The international nature of this story meant that Kopti’s job was more demanding than any to date. Working in conjunction with the refugee re-homing office and a Norwegian lawyer in addition to the UK crew and the executives at Fuji TV in Japan had Kopti continually guessing which time zone he was speaking with. It also made him aware of many aspects of the people involved in the story as he notes, “There are often so many misconceptions about refugees in the media. We mustn’t forget that they are predominantly women and children. There are many incredibly charitable organizations and volunteers on the ground doing fantastic work and providing humanitarian aid. We don’t hear any positives to come out of the crisis on the news. After meeting the humans behind the headlines, I feel compelled to help more than ever.”
One of the surprising aspects of the show is how social media can be used as a highly informative and positive tool. Kopti has used social media (SM) to great effect on his past work with shows like Celebs Go Dating, Stripped and Stranded, etc. While many discount SM as only a source of negativity, Kopti feels quite the contrary. Grivas declares, “GoFundMe was instrumental in the story of Kunkush. I see social media being used for good on a daily basis. I could give you endless examples. It lifts me to see it used to educate, inspire and expose injustice. The last brilliant thing I saw was the United Nation’s ‘Girl Power’ campaign which fell on the 20th anniversary of The Spice Girl’s hit debut hit ‘Wannabe’ to spread a powerful call-to-aciton on gender equality. I think we can take responsibility for ourselves and our children and how not to use social media negatively. I can’t imagine being in high school now with the pressure of maintaining a facade on social media and potentially fall victim to ridicule from my peers for standing out. It breaks my heart to think what some children endure. It is mostly up to the parents to monitor their children’s use of technology and access to information.”
The Kunkush episode of Unbelievable is moving and heart-warming. It’s difficult to think of a more appropriate title than the one it was given. The amount of work required to coordinate those involved in the story, not to mention those who helped tell the story, is staggering. When prodded to stipulate how he grew from the experience, Kopti states little about the logistics, instead commenting more as an active viewer with, “Spending time with the family after their horrific ordeal, seeing the children being happy and playful and the Mother knowing they are safe, and of course meeting Kunkush face to face, that’s what I remember…not being overworked or sleep deprived. Seeing people from all over the world doing something to help others in need, being truly giving…that’s not a feeling one soon forgets. I volunteer at The Cardinal Hulme Centre in London, an incredibly charitable organization which provides assistance and services to those who are vulnerable, notably women and children fleeing violence and conflict. I felt inspired and grateful after meeting the family in Unbelievable, I was also heart broken. I check in with the Mom occasionally to see how they are getting on.
They’ve settled into a community in Norway and have been embraced by the kind locals. I have a pet Chihuahua called Romeo. The name is so fitting, as he is handsome and a complete heartbreaker. He is my baby. I can only imagine how I would feel if I fled my home in fear and was separated from him.” The next time you decide to blame social media or reality TV for society’s ills, remember Unbelievable telling the story of Kunkush and his family and ask yourself if you have been inspired to do positive things as Grivas Kopti has been.