New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Greece is in social, political, and economic crisis that appears not to be diminishing, with a public image that has suffered, with no prospects for the young, but on an artistic level, Greece continues to produce.With an exhibition of emerging and established artists at the New Museum and coming up at Fordham University, and grants going to Greeks actors, Greek creativity is drawing attention. Jimmy DeMetro, founding president of a new organization, the Hellenic Film Society USA (HFSUSA), talks to the GN about the organization’s plan to increase Greek film production and to maximize attention to Greek films in the US.
“I always say we don’t just project Greek films. We project Greece,” DeMetro said in the interview, “Film has a very a special way of revealing culture. What we do brings Greece closer to all of us. Our mission is not only to entertain but to educate, preserve the Greek language.”
GN: What is HFSUSA all about?
JD: HFS is an independent organization totally and exclusively devoted to promoting Greek cinema. No distractions. No other allegiances. What we are doing has never been done before. Time will tell if we will succeed, but it’s certainly worth trying.
Our mission is both exciting and ambitious. We want to present screenings of Greek films throughout the year not only in New York but also in cities across the US where people don’t have access to Greek films. We want to encourage investment in Greek films and work closely with distributors to get the films shown in the US. We want to serve as a Greek film resource center to academia and non-Greek festivals across the country. And, very importantly, we want to launch a program that will work to restore classic films and do our part in helping save the film culture of Greece.
JD: It’s a little too early to go into specifics and give you details about the actual program, but we want to present an event that will introduce us to New Yorkers, let them know we’re here, alive and kicking. The selections have not been made, but we will be showing important new films and inviting guests from Greece to join us for the screenings.
As with any beginning, there’s a lot of excitement. We have worked the festival scene for many years, and we see this as an opportunity to recharge our batteries, so to speak.
GN: What inspired the creation of this new organization?
JD: I am the founding director of the New York City Greek Film Festival and am very proud of my eleven years of volunteer work there. My colleagues and I felt that it was time we expanded our reach beyond a single annual event, and that is precisely what motivated us to establish the Hellenic Film Society USA (HFSUSA).
JD: I told you this is an ambitious mission. We are not going to be able to do all this in year one. Much depends on how successful we are going to be in raising money and inspiring others to support our goals. But our passion, enthusiasm and commitment are quite strong, and these qualities usually go a long, long way.”
GN: Do you consider the HFSUSA to be an innovation, or a reinterpretation of the NYCGFF—building around some things that have been established?
JD: HFS is a multi-faceted project. It is not only going to be about holding a film festival.
GN: As I understand, there are five phases to HFSUS: screenings of Greek films here and around the country, investment in the making of Greek films, achieving US distribution of Greek films, archival presentation of Greek films, and the restoration and archiving of classic Greek films. What do you estimate is the amount of financial support required to set these goals in motion the first year?
JD: About $180,000 per year. First year will be less since we will not be in full mode until 2019.
GN: Is HFS slated to enter non-profit status?
JD: We anxiously await word from the IRS any day now. We filed slightly over 6 months ago, so we should hear any day now.
GN: Will New York City be HFS’s base of operations?
JD: We are operating from NYC. The plan is to connect with organizations across the country and work with them to present film festivals.
GN: Are there plans to establish an HFS office here?
JD: We work out of our homes, so there isn’t even any office rent to pay. We keep our overhead at an absolute minimum. Everyone who works for the Hellenic Film Society is a volunteer. Only hired vendors get paid. This means that every dollar of every contribution goes directly to fulfilling our mission.
GN: What is your overarching opinion on the Greek film industry after your extended involvement with Greek film production?
JD: This is an exciting time for Greek cinema. Over the past years there has been a reawakening of the Greek film industry, and world audiences are taking notice. It’s incredible that this is happening at a time of crippling economic realities, but it is happening. In the last ten years, nine Greek films have been sold for US distribution.
GN: How does that compare with distribution of other foreign films?
JD: That is more than the Italian or Spanish film industry can claim.Actually,only the French have done better than that. It is true that there has not been a big break-through film for the reborn Greek film industry yet…something like Never On Sunday… back in the 1960s. But it’s going to happen. Maybe the film has yet to be made; perhaps it’s already in the can. Whatever the case, we want to be here when that happens.
GN: HFS aims to encourage Greek film production; will thought be given to influencing the films in relation to their international marketability, aesthetic value, etc.?
JD: No influence at all. We want to set up some kind of procedure where Greek film makers can present their proposals for new films to potential investors in the USA. This is not about control of artistic material. Investors would have to judge the marketability of an individual project on their own.
GN: What other individuals are part of HFSUSA?
JD: In addition to myself, the founders of HFSUSA are George Balafoutis, Vice President (Athens), Vickie Rekoutis, Vice President, Maria Psomiades, Secretary, Eva Mallis, Treasurer. All are long-time veterans of the New York City Greek Film Festival. All serve as volunteers. The actual board is not yet fully established.
GN: Is there anything else you would like to get out to our readers?
JD: Raising money is the hardest part of our job, but it is among the most important. I trust people will respond to our mission and give what they can. In a very direct way, this society belongs to our community. I always say we don’t just project Greek films. We project Greece.
Facebook: Hellenic Film Society USA