New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
Congratulated for the great success of the 12th Annual New York City Greek Film Festival (NYCGFF), Maria Tzobanaki, new director of the NYCGFF said “I greatly thank all the Greek filmmakers whose creative spirit supports Greek cinema, and we are grateful for their insistence on continuing to produce culture through film. I promoted the cultural interlinking of Greece with the Greek American/American public through film, but many people are to be credited for the success of the festival.”
“Maria’s particular sensitivity to each aspect of the industry, her reputation amongst the community and her dedication and passion drove us to success and offers a bright beacon for future success and growth as well,” Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce president, Markos Dakotas told the GN, “Part of what the Chamber endeavors to accomplish is to help build the film industry in Greece. We would like to create a platform through which film makers in Greece can have access to film makers and financial backers here in the US and in Europe. Although, the films expose the public to a Greek voice and to Greek culture, the film makers need financial access to make their voices heard. If HACC can help them achieve these goals as an industry then we would have in effect helped provide needed jobs and opportunity in Greece.”
Indeed, we look to a bright future for filmmaking in Greece, as George Florentis, Greece’s Secretary General of the Ministry of Digital Policy and Telecommunications, in his important address at the Opening Ceremony of the festival, expressed Greece’s unwavering support for this important cultural institution and spoke of the modernization of the legislative framework for digital productions in Greece so that they are competitive and can fulfill their potential.
Attendance at the 10 features and 15 short films of the festival, which ran from October 18-23 at the Florence Gould Hall Theater of the French Institute Alliance Française, exceeded expectations. The sizable contingent of directors, scriptwriters and actors who traveled from Greece to introduce and take questions about their films and to be on hand throughout to meet and talk with their audiences added substance and a sense of immediacy to the entire festival.
The NYCGFF is presented in cooperation with the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce (HACC) and the Hellenic American Cultural Foundation (HACF).
On October 18, at the Opening Ceremony of the festival prior to the screening of director Tassos Boulmetis’ 1968 (’94), centered around the AEK basketball team, MC Anthoula Katsimatides, introduced Boulmetis who talked about his film. Markos Drakotos spoke next, thanking all the participants in the festival–with special thanks to past director of the HACC, Stamatis Ghikas, for “bringing the festival to the Chamber,” to Maria Tzobanaki and Aspa Bitis [Executive Director of the HACC] “who are the future of the festival,” and “worked well into most nights, sometimes foregoing sleep all together,” and to Nancy Papaioannou, who was the first female president of the Chamber, our first Chairwoman, and now the first member of the Advisory Board. Papaioannou, he said, is a ‘tour de force’ “for making things happen for the community and for the Chamber through her tireless efforts in promoting the Chamber and now this festival.”
“We had to rebuild 12 years of work, dedication and faith in our audience in a short period of time,” as well as build a stronger foundation from which the festival could grow,” Dakotas said, “I believe that we accomplished this and more. This was the first time that the NYCGFF had the audience vote for their favorite feature and short film. This is what helps define a true festival.”
Drakotos thanked the festival’s major sponsors, such as Southern star, Athas Ioannou, and Clay Maitland, who is always there to help not only the Chamber but the Greek community any way that he can,” and the Onassis Foundation and the Niarchos Foundation, who did not sponsor the festival this year but are appreciated “for all that they have done, not just for the Chamber all these years but for the entire Greek community, over and over. Greeks and Greece are indebted to these great foundations and we can never thank them enough even if the support is not direct.” Lastly, Dakotos thanked both Consuls General as well as their predecessors for their continuous support.
Dakotos went on to introduce Maria Tzobanaki, “a brilliant actor, an incredible personality. She has worked so hard in putting this festival together.” Tzobanaki spoke eloquently of her passion for Hellenic culture and explained why it is important to bring Greek films to the U.S., referring to The New York City Greek Festival as “a Trojan horse” bringing a strong Greek presence into the most powerful city of the world in the arts and cinema”. She also announced the creation of an international sector in the 2019 NYCGFF for cinematographers from all over the world.
effort to show are the salvation of Greece. We are all responsible for this,” she said, urging the audience to applaud the hard
work and faith of the creators and all those who “insist on their dream of Greek cinema under such adverse conditions.”
On October 20, I was honored to introduce the Tribute to Dan Georgakas, the first of the New York City Greek Film Festival tributes to be paid to an exceptional personality related to the art of filmmaking. After introducing Maria Tzobanaki, who expressed her admiration for Georgakas’ matchless knowledge and his significance in bringing attention to Greek film, I noted that author educator, historian, and film scholar Dan Georgakas is himself a “first”, playing a key role in the promotion and exhibition of Greek film in America since the 1980s, a founder of the New York City Greek Film Festival, and as an editor of Cineaste the acclaimed film quarterly, establishing a relationship between Cineaste and the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, Saying that Dan and I first met to discuss Greek film at the 1st Annual New York City Greek Film Festival in 2007, ended up talking for hours, and continue that discussion with fresh enthusiasm every time we talk, however, I am one of many
on the receiving end of his generosity toward the promotion of Greek film, as Dan constantly informally shares his knowledge and judgments with people involved in writing about and making Greek films.
I introduced Peter Bratsis, an editor of Situations magazine currently teaching at BMCC, who placed Dan’s film work in a broader context. Bratsis said it was an honor to be honoring Georgakas, “a significant historian and ethnographer of labor, Greek American and immigrant labor, cinema, and a poet whose work has appeared in numerous anthologies of Greek-American poetry.” Dan is important because he represents a great evolution in Greek American life and sensibilities, he said, because Dan comes out of the working class, and like many Greek-Americans, he embodies this deep appreciation for the creative capacity. “…Dan understood very early that political action is not only marching in the streets, that first and foremost, through art, one can have a political impact. Dan’s poetry is certainly a testament to that, and his work in the cinema is influenced by the idea that cinema also has political dimensions to be understood and appreciated and studied.” Giving the examples of Zorba the Greek and Stella, which present different views of Greeks, he explained that the image of Greece and Hellenism can be extended through cinema.
Frosso Tsouka, producer of the films Greek American Radicals and Ludlow, spoke and showed clips from Kostas Vakkas’ 2014 documentary, Dan Georgakas, A Diaspora Rebel, for which she was production manager. Tsouka noted Georgakas’ generosity in sharing everything he knows about the Greeks in America with actors and filmmakers, “not only with those doing really big productions, like Maria Iliou, but with someone like me who does a very low-budget production.” Dan is very well-known in Greece, as well, said Tsouka, noting her amazement that so many at the screening of Dan Georgakas, A Diaspora Rebel knew Dan’s work through the internet, as “practically every documentary about Greeks in America shown on Greek TV and screened in various places has an interview with Dan in it, and he has become even more well-known there since his book Detroit, I Do Mind Dying was translated into Greek.”
Georgakas introduced Michael Cacoyiannis’ A Girl in Black (1956) one of his favorite Greek films, and held a Q&A about the film and his work after the screening.
As observed so many times, Georgakas’ humor and perfect timing kept his audience in thrall throughout his description of Girl in Black and the Q&A that followed, inspiring everyone—from young career-in-film hopefuls to film cognoscenti—to seek him out afterwards. Georgakas punctuated the Q&A with an amusing historical tidbit about Cacoyannis and Lambeti meeting with Spyro Scouras, when he was president of 20th Century Fox. Seeking to lure Lambeti to Fox, Skouras described the dazzling star-making treatment she would undergo if she accepted his offer to come to Hollywood, bringing Lambeti to kick Cacoyannis under the table saying, “Get me out of here!”
In an exceptional atmosphere of closeness and enthusiasm between festival participants and their public, the
12th Annual NYC Greek Film Festival Closing Ceremony Cocktail Party on October 23 celebrated this banner year for the NYCGFF and the numerous milestones reached under Tzobanaki’s guidance. The festival’s first-ever Audience Awards were presented. Director Nikos Perakis’ Success Story, about how power can corrupt character, was the favored feature, receiving an award of $5,000, and My Mother, The Tobacco Grower was the favored short film. Fiona Georgiadis, the lead actress of Success Story, her first film, accepted the award. Note: Today, Tzobanaki told the GN that Perakis subsequently gave the award money to the festival to share with an emerging director whose work will receive the Audience Award at the 13th Annual New York City Greek Film Festival.
Finally, a collection of clips of Greek actor Giorgos Kimoulis’ theater and film performances was shown and he was presented with a Special Recognition Award for his contribution to the Greek arts over the years. Kimoulis gave a stirring speech about the great importance Greek Americans play in promoting the Greek film industry.
A discussion of the films in the 12th Annual New York City Greek Film Festival are to follow.