NYC Greek Film Festival Kicks off with Boulmetis’ 1968

The New York Greek Film Festival opening night featured the screening of 1968 by Tassos Boulmetis. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

NEW YORK – The New York City Greek Film Festival (NYCGFF), in its 12th year and under the guidance of its newly appointed general and artistic director, Maria Tzobanaki, opened on October 18 at the Florence Gould Hall Theater in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. Opening night featured the screening of Tassos Boulmetis’ acclaimed 1968, a unique blend of fiction and documentary based on the iconic European championship basketball game between AEK and Slavia Prague in Athens that year.

Before the screening, MC Anthoula Katsimatides introduced director Tassos Boulmetis who spoke about his love of sports and how he became a director instead of a basketball star. He described the film as docufiction since it combines threads of history and archival footage with fictional narratives, creating layers of emotion and meaning in this compelling film.

The history of AEK (Athlitiki Enosis Konstantinoupolis, Athletic Union of Constantinople) is inextricably linked to the history of modern Greece. The year 1968, itself is pivotal worldwide, especially when you see the date appear on the screen April 4, 1968, the day Martin Luther King was assassinated, but hours before, in Athens, an athletic victory offered hope to the people of Greece living under the oppressive regime of the Colonels.

The poster image from the program for the Tassos Boulmetis film 1968. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

As 80,000 people watched in Kalimarmaro Stadium, and thousands more listened intently to the game on radio, AEK, the underdog, defeated the tough Czechoslovakian team. The sportscaster Vasilis Georgiou’s memorable voice describing each shot and capturing the excitement and frustration of all those listening was for many as memorable as the game itself.

Recent interviews with Georgiou, the players and coaches of both teams, and ordinary people who were the eyewitnesses of history add such an incredible, human aspect, with humorous touches and inside information most probably never knew about the game, what led up to it, and what happened in the aftermath, creates a compelling film experience. Seeing the players, then and now, express in their own words what went on is especially powerful.

For some, the back and forth between the narrative following the fictional characters, the flashbacks to historical moments, including the Asia Minor Catastrophe and the founding of the team by three wealthy Constantinopolitans, and the documentary aspects of the film were jarring, but gradually, fact and fiction seemed to blend seamlessly as the drama playing out on the basketball court, consumes the characters in the film and the audience watching the film as well. Though the game happened 50 years ago, the audience roots for Greece in the guise of this individual team, even if they happen to be fans of other teams, the moving aspect of the victory never gets old.

Boulmetis has managed to capture the spirit of the time, as many audience members noted, even if they were too young to remember the basketball game, they remembered how it felt to live under a dictatorship, but also how an athletic victory could offer so much to the downtrodden people.

The attention to detail is clear as the film winds its way through history. Even the accents of the actors playing the founders of the team were accurate, according to one audience member whose wife has roots in Constantinople.

In his remarks before the screening, Secretary General of the Ministry of Digital Policy and Telecommunications George Florentis noted how Greece “is an ideal place for filmmakers.”

The New York Greek Film Festival opening night party. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

President of the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce, Markos Drakotos, introduced NYGFF’s newly appointed general and artistic director, Maria Tzobanaki, who pointed out the importance of supporting Greek culture and filmmakers.

Also present were the Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras, Consul of Greece Lana Zochiou, film directors Nikos Perakis, Lucas Paleokrassas, Grigoris Vardarinos, screenwriter Katerina Bei, Members of the Board of the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce, including Chairman of the Board Nancy Papaioannou, and many members of the community.

A party followed the screening with food provided by the restaurant chain Gyro World.

The NYCGFF continues through October 23.

More information is available online: nycgreekfilmfestival.com.