New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
“The films this year are very, very good, and we think there is an audience there for quality Greek films,” says James DeMetro, Director and Curator about the 7th Annual New York City Greek Film Festival October 3-16, “This is an exciting year for us… we’re taking some major steps.”
The first major step: the booking of the Ziegfeld, the largest single theater movie house in New York City, and the one with the largest screen. “On October 10 at the Ziegfield is the Papakaliatis movie, “What If” (“An”), which is immensely appealing–a great love story in the tradition of Hollywood romances, but with a Greek twist–should draw in a lot of people. Never before has a Greek film been presented at such large theater in New York, maybe not even in the entire US. We want the night to be special, a congregation of Greeks. And they can bring their non-Greek friends along. I want to see the theater full, people gathering together to celebrate Greek film.”
“Another ‘first’ for the festival is an engagement on Long Island, at the Bow Tie Cinema in Port. Washington. On October 15,” says DeMetro, pointing out that this year’s festival has films that parents can bring their teenagers to, such as “Hello Anatolia”, “Marjoram”, “The Tree and The Swing”, and “Joy”. “These films will generate discussion. They are thought provoking and intelligent. The documentaries are very high quality as well. I hope the audience turns out to support us and the Greek film industry just as they did last year, when we broke all of our box office records.”
Particularly recommended by this writer are two historically significant award-winning documentaries, “Greek American Radicals: the untold story” (Taxisynededisia), and “Kisses to the Children”, both emotionally affecting and artfully made, with great integrity. Both films were also very successful in Greece. The powerful “Greek American Radicals: the untold story”, directed by Kostas Vakkas, screened for 8 weeks in a central theater in Athens–with multiple screenings in cities all over the country, the Thessaloniki Film Festival, (and finally broadcasted by ERT during their recent occupation). “Kisses to the Children”, directed by Vsssilis Loules, was in theatrical release in Athens and Thessaloniki for 10 weeks, screened in many Greek towns, and won awards at film festivals. It is currently in special screenings in USA, Canada and Europe as well as in educational screenings for the students in High Schools.
The success of ““Greek American Radicals: the untold story” shows that despite the current economic and social crisis Greece has a film culture that supports the making of such films at a time when in he US similar American documentaries have a much harder time being seen, Dan Georgakas, labor historian and director of the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Gueens College told the GN about this superb documentary whose purpose is to recover a lost history about one aspect of Greek America, “The film’s success in Greece is very gratifying. It displays many negative stereotypes simply by presenting history as it happened. It film refuses to isolate Greek American experiences into an ethnic pocket…. It puts those experiences squarely into the mainstream of American history. Greek Americans might be surprised at how often Greek Americans have been involved in labor struggles in all parts of the United States.” Georgakas pointed out what we felt to be very important, which is that the film doesn’t try to judge the past, only to remember it. “You could say it is dealing with cultural amnesia,” he said. And it does so most movingly: personal testimonies and interviews with labor historians, newspaper articles, photographs and other memorabilia, evocative songs of the times, such as “Which Side Are You On”, and up-close videos of protests and marches draw viewers into the noise and the tumult, all of the vividly referenced events, like the tragic murder of labor hero Louis Tikas in the Ludlow Massacre during the mining strike of 1913. A must-see; no one should be in the dark about this period.
The deeply affecting memories of Rosina, Iossif, Eftychia, Shelley and Marios, three women and two men who had been “hidden children” aged 5-11 during the German occupation of Greece during World War II and glimpses of their present-day lives, skillfully brought out in one-on-one interviews with the director of “Kisses to the Children”) (”(Filia eis ta Paidia)”) Vassilis Loules, recreate the sealed off worlds in which they were forced to live while revealing events on the outside through sights and sounds, what wasn’t seen, what wasn’t heard. And in the film there is, indeed, a literal silence, about which Mr. DeMetro writes “Particularly shattering is the visit to the concentration camp [this takes place in the present day] when the film suddenly loses its voice and becomes silent, giving stunning new meaning to the unspeakable.” This is a film, like “Greek American Radicals” can’t be circumscribed by description. The specific focus and aura of the deep memories of each of these individuals and how they deal with the memories are to be absorbed by each viewer in his own way; which can be seen as an accomplishment of the interviewer. After a screening of the film at the Center for Jewish History this past summer, the President of the American Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece who is a son of the film’s Rosina, Mr. Solomon Asser, told the audience that this period of his mother’s life was totally new to him. “I didn’t know any of this,” he said, in a surfeit of emotion, “she never told me.” Although Mr. Loules reminded this viewer that Iossif was the only professional poet in this group, all five spoke poetry to me.
“Greek American Radicals: the untold story”, is to be shown at Cinema Village on Oct. 9 at 9 pm, and “Kisses to the Children” is to be shown at the Museum of the Moving Image on October 6 at 7 pm and a screening at the NYIT Auditorium on October 13 at 7 pm (which benefits the Jewish Museum in Athens).
Dan Georgakas, who appears in the film, will introduce “Greek American Radicals: the untold story” on Oct. 9, and there will be a Q&A with its screenwriter Kostis Karpozilos, who also appears in the film. Director Vassilis Loules will host a Q&A after the showing of “Kisses to the Children”, on October 6. (An earlier film by Loules, “A Bright Shining Sun” will also be shown at the festival, on October 7 at Cinema Village).
Mr. DeMetro reports that happily, the 25,000-challenge grant awarded to the festival by the Onassis Foundation was matched. Ambassador Loucas Tsilas, Executive Director of Onassis (USA) stated that the foundation was happy to form a partnership with the festival, and noted “The festival’s mission is in line with our own commitment to present Hellenic achievement through our cultural events programs. Since its establishment seven years ago, the festival has become an event people in the New York City area look forward to, and we proudly endorse and support its mission of establishing a presence for Greek films in New York City.”
“Even in these difficult economic times, Greek filmmakers are creating films that are worth seeing, and critics and audiences all over the world are taking notice,” said Amalia Cosmetatou, the foundation’s Director of Cultural Affairs. “The New York City Greek Film Festival has over the years remained true to its original vision and has consistently selected films that reflect the new vitality in today’s Greek film industry. The festival is at the forefront of presenting quality films from Greece, and the Onassis Foundation’s support is in recognition of this fact.”