New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
“No one has ever tried to present a Greek film festival online in the USA until now. It is immensely risky, challenging, and expensive, but it is also exciting and energizing. My colleagues and I couldn’t resist going national and bringing Greek films to new audiences across the country. The potential is mindboggling,” Jimmy DeMetro, founder of The Hellenic Film Society, USA (HFSUS) said to the GN just before the opening of the HFSUS Virtual Film Expo (June 10-20).
“The on-demand format allows the HFSUS to bring Greek films to a national audience for the first time.Until this year, the Hellenic Film Society USA presented the HFSUS Greek Film Expo in various area theaters. We knew we couldn’t disappoint our loyal fans, so we took the bold step of creating a virtual film festival,” says DeMetro.
GN: When theaters closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic you were particularly disappointed because the films selected had collectively earned an unprecedented number of Hellenic Film Academy Award nominations.
JD: Yes. The current film season is a very strong one for Greek cinema. There are quite a few high-quality films among new releases that deserve to be seen. Our virtual festival offers a total of ten films; eight of them are brand new. Five of them are US premieres.
GN: Which of the films in the festival speaks to these COVID times?
JD: It’s interesting that you ask which film speaks to these COVID times. In what has to be a most curious coincidence, one film does just that. It’s got a very long title “NOT TO BE UNPLEASANT BUT WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT SOMETHING SERIOUS”. It is a sophisticated black comedy directed by one of Greece’s most compelling filmmakers, Yiorgos Georgopoulos. A womanizer is diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease that is fatal to women. In order to help the development of a vaccine, he has to trace his former partners, hoping to find the one with the original strain. How’s that for timing? Uncanny, right?
GN: When did you make the selections for the 2020 HFSUS Expo to be held in theaters in June?
JD: The films in our online festival are the ones we were going to show in theaters in June. We had been working on choosing the films since last November when we were at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival.
GN: Was it difficult to get any of them?
JD: Only one production company refused our request to give us their film for digital presentation. The company was okay with a theatrical showing but not with a digital presentation.
GN: Are Greek filmmakers pleased that you’ve found a way to keep their work in the public eye?
JD: Most filmmakers want their films to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. They realize that in the current predicament we are living through, the only real chance of that happening is through digital platforms.
As I sit for this interview, I have no way of knowing how large an audience we will be able to draw. But I do want to add that filmmakers will receive a substantial screening fee every time their film is watched. This is absolutely fair. Filmmakers are the behind the scene heroes. Without them there would be no film festival.
GN: How did you choose MADALENA out of all of Aliki Vouyiouklaki movies?
JD: Throughout the year, people at our screenings ask us to bring back old classic films. This is usually very hard to do. Subtitled prints are not readily available, and often there are complicated rights issues that make negotiations difficult. We chose Aliki Vougiouklaki‘s MADALENA for several reasons. It is unquestionably one of the most beloved comedies of Greek cinema. It is an early Vouyiouklaki film, made while she was still a fresh and alluring presence in Greek film. In honor of the movie’s sixtieth anniversary, Finos Film has issued a beautiful digitally restored print of the film. Its black and white cinematography glitters, and the music by Manos Hadjidakis is terrific. I must add that Finos Film has been so supportive. They wanted this to happen for Greek Americans and they saw to it that it did.
GN: Are any of the films first-time work of the directors?
JD: Several films are feature film debuts for their directors. DEFUNCT, by Zacharias Mavroeidis; THE SIEGE ON LIPERTI STREET, by Stavros Pamballis from Cyprus; A SIMPLE MAN by Tassos Gerakinis; and MELTEM, by Basile Doganis. They may be first films, but they are so accomplished, so professional, one would never guess they are the work of first-time directors.
GN: Which one do you like best?
JD: You’re looking for trouble when you ask me to talk about the films in the festival and which one I like best. I can go on and on about each and every selection. Let me say that we at the Hellenic Film Society are very selective when it comes to the films we show. We refuse to pick up a film simply because it’s available. We take our responsibility to our audience very seriously. Nobody is going to like every single movie. we choose, but at the same time nobody is going to feel cheated because we’ve thrown a film at him or her that insultsthe intelligence.
DEFUNCT (Apostratos), winner of the Audience Award in Thessaloniki, is about a young man who moves into his grandfather’s house in an ultra-conservative Athens suburb and tries to reboot his business. He discovers a family secret that will change the way he looks at life.
FANTASIA, directed by veteran Alexis Kardaras, recreates the seedy Athens nightclub life of the 1990s. It stars the lovely Rena Morfi, lead singer of the popular group Imam Baildi. This is a musical drama, full of gorgeous songs, easy to watch.
MELTEM is actually in French though shot on the island of Lesbos. A young Parisian woman travels to the island to sell her deceased mother’s house and put everything that is Greek behind her. Her chance encounter with a Syrian refugee searching for his mother radically changes the course of the trip.
THE SIEGE ON LIPERTI STREETswept the Thessaloniki festival last November, winning five best picture awards. The director is a Cypriot who studied film at NYU. He’s made a terrific Greek movie with American savvy, about a desperate father who picks up a
gun and decides he’s going to fight to prevent his family’s home from being repossessed.
A SIMPLE MAN focuses on a father who is trying to stop his headstrong daughter from becoming involved with a dangerous fugitive. The first time I saw the film, I was absolutely drawn into it. It’s terrific, taut filmmaking, with one of the best screenplays of any Greek movie this year.
The last of the new films is the strangely titled ZIZOTEK directed by Vardis Marinakis. Stunningly photographed, it features a remarkable performance by a nine-year-old boy. The plot centers around an abandoned child who befriends a mute loner. This is the quintessential festival film. It is unforgettable. It’s the kind of film that resonates in the viewer’s mind, and the strange ending is a stunner.
There are two more films.ADULTS IN THE ROOM, by master filmmaker Costa-Gavras, is a political drama by a director at the top of his form. And the modern classic JAMAICA, directed by Andreas Morfonios, is an unassuming little drama about two estranged brothers reuniting. It’s the kind of movie that stirs the audience, touches people in the heart.
GN: Will you hold a vote on the films?
JD: Online viewers will be asked to cast a thumbs-up vote for Audience Favorite. There will also be a juried award given for Best Performance in a festival film.
All films shown have English subtitles. The films are available 24/7, July 10 through 20.
Only ADULTS IN THE ROOM is limited to three scheduled performances.
Full information and tickets available at www.hellenicfilmusa.org