Dan Georgakas Honored at NYC Greek Film Festival Tribute

NYC Greek Film Festival general and artistic director, Maria Tzobanaki, and Dan Georgakas at the NYC Greek Film Festival tribute. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

NEW YORK – The New York Greek Film Festival Tribute to Dan Georgakas took place on October 20, at the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) Florence Gould Hall in Manhattan. Journalist Vicki James Yiannias, Prof. Peter Bratsis, and film producer Frosso Tsouka discussed Georgakas’ contribution to the presentation of Greek Language films in America. A film screening of A Girl in Black (1956) and a Q&A with Georgakas followed the discussion.

Yiannias noted in her introduction, “Author, educator, historian, and film scholar, Dan Georgakas is one of the founders of the New York City Greek Film Festival. Since the 1980s, he has played a key role in the promotion and exhibition of Greek film in America. He has written extensively about Greek films in newspapers, magazines, film anthologies, film guides, and academic journals. As an editor of the acclaimed Cineaste film quarterly, he established a relationship between Cineaste and the Thessaloniki International Film Festival.”

He is Director of the Greek American Studies Project at the Center for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies at Queens College and has taught film courses at Columbia, New York University, Queens College, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the University of Oklahoma.

Film producer Frosso Tsouka and author, educator, historian, and film scholar, Dan Georgakas. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

Yiannias gave the welcoming remarks and introduced Tzobanaki who thanked Georgakas for his “devotion to the Hellenic ideals and culture, on behalf of the Greeks who love and respect the arts,” and shared “their deepest appreciation for your contribution.”

Tzobanaki continued, “I want to thank you on behalf of all the Greek filmmakers for the wisdom with which you have presented and promoted the art of cinema and last but not least, I want to thank you for all that you have done and that you will do in the future.”

Noting that she first met Georgakas in 2007, at the 3rd Annual NYCGFF, Yiannias said that the discussion they began then, which lasted for hours, continues every time they talk, and she always comes away with new insights and knowledge.

Prof. Peter Bratsis said it was an honor to be honoring Georgakas, a significant historian and ethnographer of labor, Greek American and immigrant labor, cinema, and also a poet whose work has appeared in numerous anthologies of Greek-American poetry. Bratsis also noted that Georgakas was a founder in the East Village of the anarchist group Black Mask in 1967 which eventually evolved into the much more infamous group Up Against the Wall Mother F-ers. “He is important because Dan represents a great evolution in the Greek American life and sensibilities because Dan comes out of the working class like many Greek-Americans, embodies this deep appreciation for the creative capacity, to be human is to create. Dan also understood very early that political action is not only marching in the streets… but first and foremost through art one can have a political impact, and Dan’s poetry is certainly a testament to that and his work in the cinema is influenced by that idea not that everything one does is part of a narrow political project, but the creative capacity expressed in cinema also has political dimensions and that is to be understood and appreciated and studied. The image of Greece and Hellenism could be extended through cinema and the view of Greeks in America changed dramatically following Zorba the Greek and Never on Sunday.”

Author, educator, historian, and film scholar, Dan Georgakas introduced the Michael Cacoyannis film A Girl in Black. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

Tsouka noted Georgakas’ generosity, “sharing everything he knows about the Greeks in America, it’s a lot, the actors and filmmakers from people that do really big productions like Maria Iliou, to someone like me who does a very low budget production, have benefitted from his generosity, and although most of us here know how well-known Dan is in the United States and how much work he has done for films in America, we are not aware of what he has done in Greece and how well-known he is in Greece. I was amazed when I was screening our documentary in Greece to see among the audience, how many knew Dan’s work through the internet and practically every documentary about Greeks in America has an interview with Dan in it and they have been shown on Greek TV and screened in various places. Lately, he has become even more well-known because of the Greek translation of his book on Detroit and for a film that was made in 2014 by Costas Vakkas, screened widely in Greece, called Dan Georgakas: Diaspora Rebel.”

A short clip of the documentary was then screened, in which Georgakas spoke about Cineaste and the future of Hellenism in America. Georgakas’ introduction followed to one of his favorite Greek films: A Girl in Black (1956) directed by Michael Cacoyannis.

Film producer Frosso Tsouka spoke about Dan Georgakas’ contributions to film and the Greek Diaspora. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

A nominee for the Palme d’Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival, 1956, and winner of Best Foreign Language film at the Golden Globe Awards, 1957, A Girl in Black examines sexual attitudes in Greece, a theme Michael Cacoyannis carries forward from his 1955 film Stella. This time the focus is a small island of Hydra rather than Athens and a provincial community rather than a taverna subculture. Entry to the traditional society is provided by two middle-class Athenians, Antonis (Notis Peryalis) and Pavlos (Dimitris Horn), who arrive on the island for a brief vacation. Rather than staying at the town’s small hotel, the two men rent rooms in a private home, a common summertime practice in the islands. Pavlos falls in love with Marina (Elli Lambeti), the oldest sister in the family, but complications ensue.

Following the screening, Georgakas led a Q&A session with the audience. He told The National Herald that his next book will soon be published, early in 2019.

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