James Demetro on Callas Film & Screenings at the Museum of the Moving Image

Maria By Callas will be screened at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. Photo: Hellenic Film Society USA

NEW YORK – On January 27, the Hellenic Film Society USA presented two screenings of Maria By Callas, the first feature length documentary to tell the life story of the legendary Greek-American opera singer entirely in her own words at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. Hellenic Film Society USA President James Demetro, spoke with The National Herald about the screenings, the film itself, and the Always on Sunday film series which is drawing crowds to enjoy Greek films.

He told TNH, “Something amazing is happening at the Museum of the Moving Image. People are turning out in huge numbers to see the films in the Always On Sunday monthly screening series presented by the Hellenic Film Society USA and the Museum of the Moving Image. One sell out after another. The series has been such a success that we have already reached an agreement to extend it well into 2020 and who knows how much beyond that!

“One of the goals I wanted very much to achieve was to establish a permanent presence for Greek cinema in New York, and Always On Sunday is doing just that.

“People come up to me after the screenings– many of them total strangers. They tell me how much they enjoy the films and they thank the HFS for making it possible for them to see them. This is just incredible to me. People are actually grateful.”

Demetro continued, “One lady last night came up to me and said that she comes to the screenings because she knows she will see something of quality. That’s wonderful to me but also somewhat frightening. We have a responsibility to the public to bring to them the best of what is available. It is impossible to find a film that all 275 people sitting in a theater will love.

Maria Callas. (Photo: Eurokinissi, file)

“Nobody can do that. But you can’t insult your audience’s intelligence by showing junk.

If they can say the film was interesting and worth seeing, that’s more than enough for me.

“Most noteworthy as well is something that happened at the 6 pm show last night. When the names of the benefactors of the Hellenic Film Society appeared on screen, the audience broke out into prolonged applause. I have been working on festivals for more than 12 years, and I’ve never seen that happen. The audience was thanking the people, the foundations, the businesses that pay to make what we do happen. I find that touching.”

Demetro told TNH, “As for the Callas film, what can I say? We gathered to celebrate one of our own– New Yorker, Greek-American, legend. La Divina! Every time she finished an aria in the film, I wanted to applaud. I cry when I hear her sing Vissi d’arte from Tosca. Lots of sopranos do it well. Nobody does it like Callas.

“Nektarios Antoniou, himself a formidable baritone, added substantially to the screenings’ pleasures with his comments focusing on what Callas’ contemporaries had to say about her very special talent. The voice was not always perfect, but the total effect was always mesmerizing.

“Another surprise is the image of Callas that the film projects. Instead of the self-indulgent tempestuous diva that the press created during her lifetime, the film shows an elegant, intriguing woman of beauty, intelligence, and emotional depth. That’s a nice way to remember her. I am old enough to have seen Callas live on stage, but I unfortunately never did. We had many of the recordings at home. I still have those LPs. But watching as well as hearing her sing in the film is more special than the recordings. There is no doubt in my mind that everybody who saw the documentary left the theater with an increased and lasting awareness of what great singing is all about,” Demetro concluded.

More information about the Hellenic Film Society USA and the Always On Sunday film series is available online: hellenicfilmusa.org.

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