New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
The new Hellenic Film Society US (HFSUS) first Greek Film Expo ran from April 27-May 3,
an entertaining interlude. The program of six well-selected films by Greek filmmakers ran sequentially at three venues, beginning at the Directors Guild Theater on West 57th Street in Manhattan on Friday-Saturday April 27-28. The Expo program proceeded to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria on April 29, and closed at the Bow Tie Manhasset Cinema in Manhasset, May 1-3. The program of six films suggests that compact film programs could be a new approach.
The GN caught up with HFSUS director, Jimmy DeMetro, for his update on the Expo.
JD: The Greek Film Expo was a huge success, and I am most grateful for that. There have been Greek film festivals in New York for twelve straight years now, and I think audiences realize that the Greeks are making very good films that are worth seeing. Also, even though Expo is a new film festival, all of us involved in the festival have been doing this kind of work for many years. People know us and trust us. We have earned a degree of credibility over the years. They know we will only select the best films to show, films they can relate to and enjoy.
Generally, I don’t like to make the film festival my personal event. This is not Jimmy DeMetro’s film festival. There are many people who work hard to make it a success. But people do know me, and they associate me with Greek films. I think audiences understood that this was a new beginning for me and for my colleagues, and they wanted to be supportive of our new venture.
I thank George Balafoutis, Maria Psomiades, Eva Mallis, and Vickie Rekoutis, my associate directors, for their hard work and dedication, integral to the success of HFSUS and the Greek Film Expo.
GN: At the HFSUS Greek Film Expo you said, “Greek films now are very different and more accessible to a wider audience.” Please elaborate.
JD: When the golden age of Greek cinema in the 50’s and early ’60’s collapsed, Greek films took a turn toward auteur filmmaking. That itself, is not a bad thing, but in Greece it led to a lot of self-indulgent, esoteric filmmaking that had little or no regard for its audience. In retrospect, I can say that it hurt Greek filmmaking because it lost much of its local audience. Television was coming on the scene at the same time, and lots of people stayed home to watch.
Today, the best of Greek cinema is focused on people and social realities. There are no super heroes, no aliens. Very few car chases. There are some notable exceptions but in general there isn’t much of an audience in Greece for Greek films today. Filmmakers aim at distribution beyond Greek borders. Actually that’s the only way many can recoup production costs.
GN: It seems that US distribution of Greek films is picking up. Is that true?
JD: That is definitely true. Nine Greek films have been sold for commercial distribution in the US in the last eleven years. That’s a good number, but you must understand that the foreign language market is in crisis here. So-called “art” theaters are closing or booking mainstream American films.
GN:Economics force owners to do one or the other.
JD: Here in New York where costs of opening a film are so high, we are seeing fewer and fewer foreign films. When they do open, they are in tiny theaters. Distributors can’t afford to advertise. Often, I read a review of a film in the NYTimes and I have to check on the internet to try to find out where it’s playing. When is the last time you saw an Italian or Spanish film in New York? Even the French are having trouble with US distribution. If there is no star in the film, you may not get to see it here. It is now more than ever up to festivals and museums and film societies to screen these films. The market is in streaming and in video on demand.
GN: What was your favorite film this time around?
JD: That’s like asking a father who his favorite child is. Can’t answer that. If a film has been selected, that means I like it. I think Jamaica, which won our Audience Award as most popular film, is an example of commercial moviemaking at its finest. People loved the film. It made them cry, it made them laugh. It touched them in a special way. All of us have lost people we loved and had to carry on without them. How can you not relate to such a film? POLYXENI, on the other hand, represents the new maturity of Greek cinema. It is masterful work. Great production values. Meaningful, interesting plot. Great acting. The star of that film, Katia Goulioni, won our Alexis Mouyiaris Memorial Award for best performance in a feature film. BLUE QUEEN is a smartgenre piece, a jewel heist film not common in Greek cinema. TOO MUCH INFO CLOUDING OVER MY HEAD represents the new wave of independent Greek filmmaking. It was made for an astonishingly low 16,000 Euros and looked like it cost millions.
GN: The HFSUS may be in the early planning stages for a collaboration at the recently restored Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland. Is there news on this?
JD: I can’t say much about this other than it is likely to happen. Stay tuned.