By Vicki J. Yiannias
Speaking about the significance and impact of Greek emigration to America in reference to the new documentary The Journey: The Greek American Dream,by Maria Iliou in collaboration with Dr. Alexander Kitroeff, Mr. Michael Jaharis said, “I think the fact that so many Greeks who emigrated to America starting in the late 1800ʼs and early 1900ʼs not only survived but went on to become prominent citizens reflects the Greek ethos. It is very important that we understand the what it took to pioneer this.”
The Jaharis Family Foundation showed regard both for the struggles of Greek immigrants in America and Maria Iliouʼs documentary, which chronicles their history, by sponsoring, together with the Consulate General of Greece in New York and under the auspices of the Greek Archdiocese of America, The Faith Endowment, Leadership 100, and the Benaki Museum in Athens, the filmʼs first screening in the United States at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the evening of May 22.
The documentary received a standing ovation from a full-house audience that included Archbishop Demetrios, Consul General Catherine Boura (who introduced the film) and many other notable guests, including representatives of the foundations and organizations that made The Journey: The Greek American Dream possible in addition to the Jaharis Family Foundation. They are the J.F. Costopoulos Foundation, the John and Margo Catsimatides Foundation, the National Bank of Greece, and the Hellenic Parliament TV Channel.
The documentary was inspired by Ms. Iliouʼs discovery of archival photographs and film footage in more than fifty public and private collections while she was researching her award-winning 2002 film A Friendship in Smyrna.
The Journey highlights the extraordinary trajectory of the Greek American experience while resisting the temptation to recount simplistic stories about the achievement of the American dream or the triumph of the Greek genius,” Dr. Kitroeff, historical consultant for the documentary, told The Greek News.
The Journey tells the story of Greek America from 1890 to 1980. Greek immigrants arrive and settle in America, are gradually assimilated into American society; in the 1970s Greek ethnicity is revived.
Weaving together three threads: history, image, and personal stories, The Journey is a concise and scholarly yet accessible presentation of Greek American history America brought to life by archival photographs and film clips and enriched by powerful and emotional personal accounts.
“The Journeyʼs achievement is that it combines all these three threads effectively and ultimately offers the viewers an insight into Greek American history which is scholarly and emotional at the same time,” says Kitroeff.
Affecting images of shipsʼ passengers, New York harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, immigrant workers on the railroads, the Utah mines, Greek Americans in the labor movement, the Klu Klux Klan, small businesses, World War II, Archbishop Athenagoras, Archbishop Iakovos, and Astoria, New York, are some of the filmʼs high points.
Dr. Kitroeff, who is Associate Professor of History at Haverford College (and the author of Wrestling With the Ancients: Modern Greek Identity and the Olympics, The Greeks in Egypt, 1919-1937, and War-time Jews: the Case of Athens), is a narrator in the film along with Father Robert Stephanopoulos, former US Senator Paul Sarbanes, author George Pelecanos, Dan Georgakas, Greek American Studies Project Director at the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Queens College and author of My Detroit, Growing Up Greek and American in Motor City, poet Olga Broumas, Ellis Island archive director George Tselos, researcher Gus Chatzidimitriou, Dr. Artemis Leontis, Adjunct Associate Professor and Coordinator of Modern Greek at the University of Michigan, and Dr. Martha Klironomos, Director of the Center for Modern Greek Studies, The Nikos Kazantzakis Chair, at San Francisco State University.
Some of the anecdotes of Mr. Sarbanes, George Pelecanos, and Mr. Georgakas, are humorous as well as sensitive Greek Americana, bring levity to the film.
Dr. Kitroeff, who noted that “There are many other aspects to the story this film could not cover and deserve to be recorded and made known,” hopes that The Journey will be seen by as many Greek Americans as possible and that it will inspire them to value their past and contribute in any way possible to other works that will recount their experiences.
The first-ever screening of The Journey: The Greek American Dream took place in Athens in January – February 2007. An accompanying exhibition of photographs was shown simultaneously at the Benaki Museum.
The Athens-based, non-profit Proteus Archive Preservation Project, which produced the film and exhibition, is made possible by the support of the Lucy Foundation, the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation, and The Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation.
Proteus is dedicated to the mission of preserving visual and audio archives related to Hellenic history around the world in cooperation with other cultural institutions.
Watch for The Journey: The Greek American Dream in DVD in late 2007 followed by a book set to circulate next year.
For more information visit: www.thejourneygreekamericandream.org