"Film art," insist Ersi Danou and Angeliki Giannakopoulos, the founders of the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, "has the unique ability of communicating new trends, commemorating, and bringing awareness to old and new issues that demand attention. It encompasses other forms of art, such as theater, visual arts or music, and creates opportunities for spreading into various cultural areas such as education, communication, journalism, tourism, gastronomy, fashion, etc."
Danou and Giannakopoulos (who both hail from Greece and have carved their niche on the American and Greek stage and screen) founded the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, in essence to champion the ever-burgeoning Greek cinema. They were inspired by the spirit of their homeland, the small and severely economically-challenged nation which continues to thrive as a wellspring of cinematic creativity.
An ancient Greek aphorism says that there is no bad thing without a good. In other words, crisis also brings opportunity. Paraphrasing Danou, she says that in the current climate of crisis in Greece, now is an especially prolific time for Greek film and filmmakers. Creative projects are born of questioning the norms of society and ask, "What will be our legacy?" This atmosphere has induced a particular self-reflection and study of identity- whether individual, cultural or national. Emerging Greek artists dare to face the truth of their situations, which is exemplified in the 2010 festival lineup of films.
Themes of identity and finding one's place run deeply throughout the multifarious Levantine communities in western society, and are central to the work of the Levantine Cultural Center. Correspondingly, the non-profit, independent LAGFF's mission is to promote Greek cinema, to foster cross-cultural exchange, to serve as a link between Greek and American communities, and to bring together Greeks from the Diaspora. The festival embraces not only Greek culture, but also the Mediterranean, Balkan and Middle Eastern cultures with which Greece is historically connected.
Motivated by an evolutionary trend in Greek cinema—both in and outside of Greece—Danou and Giannakopoulos have positioned their organization at the crux of this creative movement. Since its inception, the festival has quickly become Hollywood's foremost Greek cultural institution, and has claimed its place in the foreign film festival world. LAGFF's success and notoriety has sparked other film festivals to also feature Greek cinema, thereby effectively helping to carry out the mission of Danou and Giannakopoulos.
The festival team works with its membership society throughout the year in preparation for the coming year's festival. LAGFF Society members (who receive an array of benefits and opportunities all year long) assist with operational costs, which have become increasingly challenging to meet. Nevertheless, in the face of drastic economic struggles, LAGFF continues with unwavering determination its work in the production of the fourth annual film festival, which launches a three-day cinematic odyssey the second weekend in June.
This year's festival premieres 17 films from Greece and filmmakers of Greek descent worldwide. The festival's red carpet opening gala (replete with Greek cinema, music and cuisine) takes place on the evening of June 11th at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood with the U.S. premiere of Black Field (dir. Vardis Marinakis). Set in 1650, this is the love story between a runaway nun with the shocking secret that she is a man, and an Ottoman Janissary warrior. Said to be thought-provoking and visually stunning, this film transcends gender and delves into matters of identity, loss, and restoration.
The weekend-long program will include a wide array of films—from shorts to dramas, comedies, and documentarie—about Greece, set in Greece, and/or by filmmakers from Greece or of Greek heritage. The festival weekend will also include a panel discussion and a tribute to a prominent Greek-American director; then culminates with a closing night Orpheus Awards ceremony and the U.S. debut of Plato's Academy (dir. Filipos Tsitos). A bored and nationalistic Athenian shopkeeper regularly harasses the city's Albanian immigrants until he discovers that his missing brother is Albanian. As his Greek pride crumbles, the film poignantly portrays racial tension and attitudes toward the immigrant influx in what used to be a homogeneous society.
The Los Angeles Greek Film Festival commences June 11th at the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, and will run through the 13th. Screening passes go on sale May 21. Visit the LAGFF site for more info and complete film listings.
Mischa Geracoulis is an LA-based writer and Associate Editor of the Levantine Review.