"You're lucky to get two people at these things, it's the worst time of day on the Hill," an aide said.
Two minutes later, Sens. Claiborne Pell, (D-R.I.) Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.) walked into the 4 p.m. film showing on Cyprus. And then the Ambassador of Cyprus, Nicos G. Dimitriou showed up, followed by House Majority Whip John Brademas and others.
Add the 50 staff people who came to see Michael Cacoyannis' 100-minute documentary "Attila '74," and you have to say the screening was a success.
As it happens, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is considering a $450 million aid bill to Turkey, and just Tuesday a floor vote restored some of the military funds in the package. Pell, a committee member, opposed the plan.
By coincidence, it was Pell who helped find a room for the screening over two months ago.
"This is no formal lobbying scheme," said Howard Lefkowitz, the Los Angeles distributor for the film. "The picture just opened today in L.A., and it's been on TV there, but we've had very little luck getting it into theaters. We like the cause of the Greek Cypriots, and we're presenting it here gratis. It was just an idea that a friend of Cacoyannis had."
Filma as a means of persuading Congress aren't unusual on the Hill, "though we don't often get one by such a distinguished director," an aide said.
And this one is not, he added, being shown as evidence in any sense, but simply as information.
Cacoyannis, famous for "Zorba the Greek" and "The Trojan Women" and other cinema versions of Greek tragedy, rushed to Cyprus from London in 1974 when the fighting broke out. He is passionate about the images he captured there.
"I call it a personal testimony," he said. "I don't say I directed it. You don't direct history."
The London Times has called it "one of the best films ever of history in the making."
There is little shooting and bombing in the picture. There is little attempt to analyze the events in the light of larger power struggles around the world.
Instead, "Attila '74" concentrates on people: President Makarios describing his escape in a commandeered car, a soldier telling how he was shot in the legs and left behind, hospital physicians saying that the Turks tried to keep them from attending Greek wounded, refugees hudding in displaced-person camps.
One moving scene shows busloads of prisoners being returned to their families while luckless relatives hold up photos and cry, "Have you seen my son?" Another shot, especially effective coming after low-key interviews with individuals, shows thousands of people packing the streets and balconies and rooftops as far as one can see, shouring for the return of Makarios. If one had worried that the interviews might have been selected with bias, there was no need to worry any more, for this was not just a mob scene, but a whole city shouting.
"I wish I'd never had a reason to make it," Cacoyannis told the audience in the darkened hearing room. "I wish I had no reason to show it now, still, but nothing has changed there."