New York.- by Carol Forget
For decades, one way Greek immigrants made a living in America was to open diners and coffee shops — enterprises involving long hours of hard work, usually shouldered by family members and others who have recently arrived.
Alana Kakoyiannis, a 29-year-old Astoria-based filmmaker, shows that the torch is being passed to a new group in her short documentary, “Cosmopolis,” debuting Wednesday, Sept. 19 as part of the weekly NewFilmmakers screenings at Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan.
The idea for “Cosmopolis” came to Kakoyiannis in 2005 while she was taking classes at Hunter College, working toward an MFA in integrated media arts, and exploring social issues in works of nonfiction. Even before Manhattanʼs venerable Moondance Diner, built in 1933, was threatened by real estate development and relocated last month to La Barge, Wyoming, Kakoyiannis worried that diners were disappearing, and with them, a fragment of Americana.
And there was the matter of a certain stereotype. “Growing up as a Greek American in a suburb of Pennsylvania, whenever people heard my last name, they asked me if my dad owned a diner,” Kakoyiannis said. He didnʼt, but by acknowledging the impression many Americans had of Greeks, she found an entry point into her project.
Kakoyiannis put out some feelers and eventually made contact with Costas (Gus) Kaloudis, the owner of the New York Diner for the past four years. The diner is a royal blue and silver-sided eatery wedged between a Sunoco station and a Best Buy parking lot on Northern Boulevard in Long Island City.
Kaloudis, in his early 30s, bought the place after it languished on the market for two years. He is a rarity and he knows it — the son of a diner owner who is willing to work as hard at the restaurant business as his father did. In an interesting twist, Spiros Kaloudis, Gusʼ father, is now his sonʼs chef, and figures prominently in Kakoyiannisʼ film as a showman and philosopher.
Happy to find a location where the booths, stools and other 1949 interior details were still intact, Kakoyiannis shot on location off and on for three months. In the process of getting to know the regulars and a handful of the 17 employees, there were some humorous encounters, especially in the beginning. “I wanted to make a film where I was kind of a fly on the wall,” said Kakoyiannis, who quickly learned that a camera in a diner is an attention magnet. “I had a lot of footage where people are like, ʽIs that Channel 4?ʼ”
The title, “Cosmopolis,” referring to a city filled with people from around the world, seems apt for a film that in fewer than 10 minutes warmly portrays an intimate “melting pot” of multi-national New Yorkers, chewing harmoniously together under whirling ceiling fans.
Woven in between is the story of upward mobility offered to Mexican immigrants, who are in the right place at a time when most first and second-generation Greek Americans have moved away from restaurant work. Felix Molina, for example, once made deliveries for Kaloudis, and is now his partner and the heir apparent to a diner and lunch truck dynasty.
Having explored one dinerʼs inner workings, Kakoyiannis would like to make a feature length film about diners in general. “I think thereʼs a lot of beauty in diners,” she said, “in terms of their architecture and also in terms of what goes on inside.”
Recently back from a summer in Cyprus where she worked on her MFA thesis film, Kakoyiannis awaits word as to whether “Cosmopolis” will be included in this yearʼs Queens International Film Festival (Nov. 8–11).
*** Queens Chronicle