NY Greek Film Expo Continues: Tasting Reception with Chef Maria Loi, & A Fine Line

The tasting reception hosted by celebrity Chef Maria Loi at the New York Greek Film Expo featured delicious foods and desserts. (Photo by TNH/Eleni Sakellis)

NEW YORK – The Hellenic Film Society USA’s (HFS) New York Greek Film Expo continued with a tasting reception hosted by celebrity chef Maria Loi followed by a screening of the award-winning documentary film A Fine Line, directed by Joanna James, on May 5 at the Directors Guild Theater in Manhattan. Guests enjoyed delicious Greek appetizers and desserts as well as the opportunity to chat with the filmmakers, James, Maria Lafi, Marios Piperides, Nikos Labot, Christos Nikoleris, and Athena Scotes, whose works are being screened through May 11 and with Chef Loi, herself.

HFS Associate Director George Balafoutis gave the welcoming remarks and thanked all those in attendance for supporting the Film Society and the Expo, and especially Chef Loi for the wonderful food.

A Fine Line director Joanna James was among those present and told The National Herald about the film’s journey on the film festival circuit and the importance of bringing the gender disparity in the restaurant business to wider attention.

Celebrity Chef Maria Loi and award-winning filmmaker Joanna James. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

The screening of James’ documentary followed the tasting reception. A Fine Line features her mother, Valerie James, and many well-known women chefs and restaurateurs sharing their stories and their struggles in the male-dominated industry. Moving and powerful, the film is a testament to the passion and determination required for success not only in the restaurant business, but also in life. The celebrity chefs who share their stories in the film include Loi, Lidia Bastianich, Sylvia Weinstock, and Dominique Crenn who announced on May 5 that she is battling breast cancer.

Each woman’s journey was unique and yet all share a love of food, rooted in family and tradition, and also the courage and strength of character to work hard in an extremely competitive industry and with the odds stacked against them. As pointed out in the film, only seven percent of all chefs and restaurant owners in the United States are women. A quote from Bloomberg News also highlights the fact that it is easier for a woman to become a CEO than a head chef.

Valerie James’ personal story is emotional and relatable for so many Greek-American families, eventually leading to her success as a restaurateur with Val’s Restaurant in Holden, MA. She says poignantly in the film that if she had it to do all over again she would for her kids, daughter Joanna and son Christos.

In the Q&A session which followed the screening, Loi encouraged the audience members, “Don’t be afraid, be yourself,” and pointed out that she and her team “love what we’re doing.”

Classic Greek desserts, including baklava and Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts, were also on the menu for the tasting reception hosted by Chef Maria Loi. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

James noted that love and family as well as philoxenia are at the heart of her mother’s work. She also wanted to explore how so many male chefs were taught to cook by their mothers and grandmothers but then women were elbowed out of the kitchen in the restaurant industry. Although the film was completed in 2017, James also felt the need to address the #MeToo movement since some of the chefs in the film were directly involved with the high profile headlines that emerged. Attitudes are changing gradually from the days of all-male kitchens, as awareness and opportunities for women increase beginning in culinary school.

More information about A Fine Line is available online: https://afinelinemovie.com.

Holy Boom, directed by Maria Lafi was also screened on May 5 at the Directors Guild Theater. The lives of four strangers living in the same diverse Athens neighborhood are upended when, on Palm Sunday, a teenager bombs a local mailbox, destroying documents of vital importance to each of them. Generational and ethnic differences add to the tensions in this film nominated for two Hellenic Film Academy Awards. Lafi also participated in a Q&A session following the screening.

The award-winning Smuggling Hendrix was the final screening of the night on May 5. The biting satire about a Greek Cypriot trying to retrieve his dog from the Turkish side of Nicosia is a delightful film. Named Best International Narrative Feature (Cyprus) at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, it moved the audience with its wit and humanity and the depiction of present day Cyprus and the tensions which continue in the divided country.

Director Marios Piperides, winner of the Hellenic Film Academy Award for Best Screenplay for the film, was also present for the screening and participated in a Q&A session along with short film director Karina Logothetis whose Vourvourou, screened before Smuggling Hendrix, also charmed the audience with its creativity and magical realism.

Award-winning director Marios Piperides, filmmaker Karina Logothetis, and Hellenic Film Society USA Director Jimmy DeMetro. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
Filmmaker Joanna James, Chef Maria Loi, Hellenic Film Society USA Associate Director Eva Mallis and Director Jimmy DeMetro. Photo by Eleni Sakellis