The 12th Annual New York City Greek Film Festival Comes to a Close

Director Grigoris Vardarinos answered questions from the audience following the screening of his documentary film The Great Fire of Salonica: Birth of a City. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

NEW YORK – The final day of film screenings for the 12th Annual New York City Greek Film Festival (NYCGFF) took place on October 22. Four films were screened beginning with Chinatown: The Three Shelters which was followed by a Q&A session with the director Aliki Danezi- Knutsen and the young actress Phaedra. Three documentaries rounded out the final screenings with Nikos Papazoglou: Me and My Shadow by Mihalis Aristidou and Ioannis Grigoropoulos, Grigoris Vardarinos’ The Great Fire of Salonica: Birth of a City, and Stelios Haralambopoulos’ My Homeland’s Flag Is Blue.

Audience members had the opportunity to vote on their favorite films with ballots handed out at the start of each film and then deposited in ballot boxes following the screening. An awards ceremony will officially close out the event on Tuesday, October 23, with Audience Awards to be presented to the feature and short film winners, and a tribute to the renowned Greek actor Giorgos Kimoulis for his contribution to the Greek arts over the years.

Grigoris Vardarinos’ The Great Fire of Salonica: Birth of a City highlighted the perhaps little-known history of this dramatic event that changed Thessaloniki forever. At the time of the fire which broke out on August 18, 1917, the population of the city was 40 percent Jewish, 30 percent Muslim, and 25 percent Christian and remarkably multi-ethnic with people from everywhere due to the influx of soldiers and refugees during World War I. There were 60 synagogues in Thessaloniki with 45 demolished following the destruction of the fire. The loss of so much of the rich history, the human toll of the fire and its aftermath, and then the ambitious plan by the French architect, archeologist, and urban planner Ernest Hébrard for the transformation of the city were all presented in this impressive documentary. The archival footage, photographs, and interviews with experts and historians highlighted the city before, during, and after the fire with clarity, offering insights into the modern city and the changes that formed its unique character. The audience applauded at the end and many congratulated the director who was present at the screening and participated in a Q&A. Vardarinos addressed the conspiracy theories about the rebuilding of the city, noting that there was some resistance at first among the residents to the plans, but all agreed eventually that a modern, Western-type of city with infrastructure to develop the city into the future was needed.

Vardarinos told The National Herald that the film took six months of research, plus a year to complete in order to release the film for the centennial of the fire in 2017. He hopes to show the film more widely in the coming months and continues to show it at various international film festivals.

The final film of this year’s festival was Stelios Haralambopoulos’ My Homeland’s Flag Is Blue, a documentary highlighting a wide range of topics in the modern Greek experience. From the struggling village of Vourvoura in Arcadia, several stories emerge, highlighting the issues affecting many in Greece from 2003 to 2016 and going back to World War II and the Civil War. The history of Greece as experienced by these individuals, the harsh existence in the mountains that led so many to seek their fortune through immigration to foreign lands, or moving to Maroussi in Athens, the progress of the building projects for the Athens Olympics in 2004, and even the Greek National soccer team’s victory as viewed by the locals are touched on in the documentary. The many voices, including the director as narrator, left some audience members wondering about the lack of focus and indeed, there was enough material for five documentaries at least from the film. Emotionally charged moments including the stories recounted of the harrowing experience of the war, the interaction between the people and the occupying forces, the treatment of the leftists from the village in the aftermath, the celebrations of Greek Independence Day, and the local school shutting down in 2011 after 150 years in operation. The director caught up with the local schoolchildren in 2016, the now young adults were struggling as so many during the economic crisis, and were getting ready to leave the village to seek their fortune elsewhere.

Audience members are looking forward to next year’s film festival.