New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
Greek cinema aficionados have an opportunity to indulge this weekend. The Hellenic Film Society’s New York Greek Film Expo begins in Manhattan, running from May 3-5, and moves the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, and the Manhasset Theater in Nassau County through May 11. No need to worry, Greek language films are shown with English subtitles.
The Expo’s lineup of 9 award-winning and critically acclaimed feature films, documentaries and shorts were chosen to resonate with audiences of all nationalities, Jimmy DeMetro, a founder of HFSUS told the GN, at the beginning of the following interview. “We anticipate high demand for all screenings and encourage you to buy tickets soon so no one is disappointed… There is much to see. We are looking forward to a successful New York Greek Film Expo. This is our second year.”
JD: Greek cinema continues to turn out stories about human beings with recognizable worries and ambitions. If I recall correctly, there isn’t a single computer to be seen in any of this year’s films. That’s kind of refreshing, isn’t it?
Topical offerings reflect the Greek and Greek-American experience with films that capture the current political and social transitions in Greece, the life stories of 20th century cultural giants, and a documentary that explores women’s issues.
One of our films that explores women’s issues is HER JOB, a big winner at the Hellenic Film Academy Awards just a few days ago. It won the Best New Director award for Nikos Labot and the Best Actress award for Marisha Triantafyllidou. Maria Filigi was named Best Supporting Actress. That’s a pretty impressive achievement. It is a wonderful and timely film about an underappreciated housewife who is forced to take her first job to help support the family. Even though what she does is menial labor, it affords her a sense of self-esteem and personal empowerment.
HOLY BOOM—the film with the strangest title—is a thoroughly engrossing drama that focuses on a multi-cultural neighborhood in Athens, showing how the lives of several area residents are affected by a senseless act of teenage vandalism during Holy Week.
JD: Greek filmmakers are trying their hands at new genres. Evidence of that trend is REFUGE II, directed by Christos Nikoleris. This ‘terror in the woods’ film packs quite a few jolts and surprises.
GN: I’ve always looked for a Hollywood epic about the Greek War for Independence. I see there is a film, and you’re showing it, CLIFFS OF FREEDOM.
JD: CLIFFS OF FREEDOM, a love story set against the backdrop of the Greek War of Independence, has wide appeal. Many people want to see that film. It is a Hollywood-style production that takes place at the start of the Greek War for Independence in 1821. That’s a period that hasn’t been extensively explored by Greek filmmakers and certainly not by Hollywood. At the center of it all is the sublime veteran actress Nena Menti who plays a nosey neighbor who brings together the various story lines. The director, Maria Lafi, makes a most impressive directorial debut with this film, definitely worth seeing.
GN: I have liked many Greek documentaries, at which I think Greek filmmakers excel. Will I see any this time around?
JD: We are featuring three wonderful documentaries. LAST SONG TO XENITIA, directed by Athena Scotes, is a touching account of a remarkable 103-year-old woman’s return to her village in Epirus. We have Tom Volf’s stunning MARIA BY CALLAS, about the great Greek American diva. And A FINE LINE is director Joanna James’s tribute to her mother Valerie, who beat the odds and became a successful restaurateur. Maria Loi is one of the celebrity chefs featured in the film, and she will be hosting a tasting reception prior to the screening.
GN: We’re also getting a chance to see something I missed at the Tribeca Film Festival, SMUGGLING HENDRIX.
JD: Yes, in response to public demand, we are presenting Mario Piperides’s Tribeca winner SMUGGLING HENDRIX, and KAZANTZAKIS, directed by Yannis Smaragdis.
GN: Was it easier or more difficult to get films together this year?
JD: The Hellenic Film Society USA which sponsors the Expo is a new organization, but I have been organizing this kind of event for many years as have most of my colleagues. We try hard to book the best films available to us and always keep in mind the importance of balancing our offerings. It’s good to have films that appeal to a broad range of tastes. I think we’ve done just that this year, and signs point to strong public response, something I am most grateful for.
GN: Of course, getting films is only part of the effort. What else are you encountering?
JD: It’s important in this kind of undertaking to focus on the positive and work on bringing in people to
see the films. However, it is foolish to ignore the signs of trouble ahead. This year, more than in any other previous year, I became painfully aware of the escalating costs of presenting a film festival in New York. Theater rentals have skyrocketed. Insurance, security, screening fees, advertising– everything has gone up. This worries me because there is a logical limit to what we can demand from our audiences. The Hellenic Film Society does festivals in other cities as well, and I can tell you that the costs in New York are just about triple what they are elsewhere. It’s hard to ignore this harsh reality.
GN: Did any film speak to you especially?
JD: People always ask which is my favorite film. That’s a question I really can’t answer. If a film is in the Expo, I like it, otherwise we wouldn’t be showing it!
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is the lead supporter of the Hellenic Film Society USA. The New York.
Greek Film Expo is made possible with generous support from the Onassis Foundation USA. Additional support is provided by the Kallinikeion Foundation.
Full information and tickets including to the Opening Night Reception are available online at www.hellenicfilmusa.org
(The website will post up-to-date info as to whether a particular
film is sold out).
Tickets to every screening in Manhattan, Manhasset and Astoria will be available at the box office at show time.