New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
“This documentary embodies the whole idea of the Festival,” James DeMetro, Director of the Fifth Annual New York City Greek Film Festival told a packed house at the New York premiere of the documentary “The Promise of Tomorrow 1940-1960”, about the Greek immigrant experience in southern California, “it’s about understanding who you are and holding onto it… keeping the link between us and Greece.”
Screened at the Rubin Museum of Art on October 17, “The Promise of Tomorrow 1940-1960”, Part II of a trilogy, “The Greeks of Southern California–Through the Century and Beyond…” produced by the Greek Heritage Society of Southern California, directed by Anna Giannotis, and narrated by Olympia Dukakis, was the second presentation of the Fifth Annual New York City Greek Film Festival.
“It’s fun to be Greek!” said one interviewee in the documentary, coining what deserves to be the Greek Tourist Association’s new slogan.
Scenes of Greek American history in this period– a highlight being the story of the amazing Greek Battalion that fought in World War II–and interviews with Greek-born and American-born Greek Americans telling their own and their family’s stories brought tears as well as laughter–as in the stories that highlighted he duality of being Greek at home and American in the world–as parallel memories of family flooded in, confirming the director’s reference to the documentary as “every Greek American’s story”.
A statement made in the film, “We are not just Greeks; we are not just Americans, but we are a new breed – Greek Americans!” can be seen as the theme of this epic tale, and this New York audience appreciated every detail.
“The audience was very observant and quite wonderful… they picked up every nuance of the film,” Anna Giannotis told the GN in an interview the next day, “It was a thrill for me to be present”.
GN: What would you say to Greek Americans about the importance of films like yours?
AG: We have to preserve the oral histories of each generation, which have their own distinct characteristics. It is important to preserve this Greek American history since little is written about us. If we don’t do this, who will?
GN: “The Promise of Tomorrow 1940-1960” spoke to the Greek Americans of New York as if the story was theirs.
AG: Despite the fact that this film is a culmination of stories by Greek Americans residing in Southern California from 1940-1960, it is every Greek American’s story, i.e. anyone anywhere can relate to the struggle and assimilation of the early pioneers in our first documentary called The Pioneers. The duality of their offspring, the 1st Generation–a theme in “The Promise of Tomorrow”. It doesn’t matter which part of the country you are from, these stories have national appeal and significance.
GN: Do you think such documentaries are also of interest to the American public?
AG: Absolutely. We have screened this documentary to Greek and non-Greek audiences and the reactions have been very positive from both groups. Since the U.S. is indeed a melting pot, many viewers from other cultures have embraced the similarities and differences within their own world. Also several 2nd and 3rd generation Greek Americans have expressed how grateful they are to learn more about our culture.
GN: How long did you work on collecting the material for the film? How long did it take to complete, from start to finish?
AG: We have been interviewing the 1st generation Greek Americans since 2003. Some of the interviews may have spilled over a few years earlier from unused interviews for our previous documentary, Part 1 of the trilogy, “The Pioneers” which chronicles the early immigrant experience and assimilation in Southern California from 1900-1942.
We formally began the interviews in 2003 for “The Promise of Tomorrow” and also began fundraising. I simultaneously began my research and created an outline. The GHS [Greek Heritage Society] formed a Production Committee as we had in Part l, “The Pioneers”, which gave others a voice in what content they felt was significant. I took all the information along with my research notes and created an outline.
We began post-production in 2006-2007 but had to stop operations to regroup and raise more funds in 2007. The economic collapse really hurt us as some funders had to reverse their commitment to help and others couldn’t support us. It was grassroots time, so we rolled up our sleeves and held fundraisers.
GN: It worked!
AG: Yes! The local S.CA Greek Americans once again pulled through and we were able to complete this documentary. No grants, although we tried. We also reverted to our original plan to have 3 one-hour segments. The Greek Heritage Society Board had reversed that idea with a notion of only two segments and Part 2 would be 90 minutes. We couldn’t raise enough money to complete a 90-minute film, so I proposed we revert to the original idea of 3 parts to get Part ll completed, which of course decreased our budget since we were now dealing with an hour-long segment.
GN: How did you solve that dilemma?
AG: I suggested rather than have the project collect dust while we painfully tried to fund it, let’s get it done, sell DVD’s, and have screenings to raise funds for Part lll which will include the time frame from 1960-present day. The Board agreed.
It was a good decision, not only economically, but also artistically. I now had a chance to include wonderful stories of the first generation in “The Promise of Tomorrow” that may have been eliminated if we had to complete the project from 1940-to present day in 90 minutes.
The timeline: 2003 began interviews, fundraising; 2003 began research; 2006 completed interviews and narration; 2007 began post production and after 4 months had to stop; 2007-2008 fundraising only and reworking script and documentary to a one hour project; 2008-2009 resumed post production; October 2009 completion.
GN: Who provided you with suggestions for whom to interview?
AG: The interviews were based on the particular subject that was presented in the story. We began with veterans relaying their accounts of their service in WW II. Members of our production committee suggested individuals to be interviewed. I was very fortunate to meet a gentleman in San Francisco, Andy Mousalimas, who had documented a very complete account of his experiences in the Greek Battalion and later OSS [Mr. Mousoulimas was present at the screening]. There was also a gentleman living in southern California who served, George Verghis, and Angelo Lygizos from northern California came to interview along with Andy.
GN: You mentioned at the screening that the history of the OSS was classified until 1985.
AG: Yes, and I felt that these wonderful, courageous soldiers should be included in our documentary specifically because they fought in Greece and helped the Partisans during the German occupation.
GN: How did you obtain the photographs?
AG: Photographs were provided by the interviewees and their families. We also had access to archives in the southern California communities. Individuals from several communities: Long Beach, Pasadena, and South Bay had organized photographs from the early 40’s through the 60’s and that was very helpful.
GN: The film is very well edited. How did you decide what to leave in and what to remove?
AG: I directed the editing but also had a very good editor, Rich Uber, who edits features. He is very astute and not only knows how to create a visual transition and after effects, he is also very sensitive to the narration and story through line. We enjoyed working together and have done so for both docs: “The Pioneers” and “The Promise of Tomorrow”.
The greatest challenge after researching and writing the narration is choosing what to leave in and what to cut. Sometimes it was very painful. But I had to always remind myself that the flow of the story was most important. Getting to the heart of the matter was a consistent process and I was constantly reworking and cutting the interviews and of course using photos or footage to cover the edits while keeping the flow and allowing the viewer to breathe.
Anna Giannotis is currently completing a screen adaptation of an autobiography by Helias Doundoulakis.