NY Greek Film Expo Presenting Eagerly-Awaited Films, May 3-11

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

NEW YORK – The Hellenic Film Society USA (HFS) opened its second annual New York Greek Film Expo at the Directors Guild of America Theater in Manhattan on May 3 with a sold out screening of Cliffs of Freedom, set at the start of the Greek War of Independence in 1821.

The audience lined up eagerly to see the film, a true passion project for Greek-American Executive Producer and Co-writer Marianne Metropoulos, who spent several years developing the story for modern audiences, she told The National Herald in a previous interview.

Directed by Van Ling, who attended the screening, the film features the story of an ill-fated romance between a Greek village girl, played by Tania Raymonde, and a Turkish officer, played by Jan Uddin, at the dawn of the struggle for Greek Independence. Tragedy ensues as her family and her village are caught up in the violence and oppression, leading up to a confrontation during a pivotal battle that will change the course of history. The star-studded cast includes the always impressive Patti LuPone, Academy Award-winner Christopher Plummer, and actors of Greek descent who add a level of authenticity to the film with Costas Mandylor in a pitch perfect performance, Simon Kassianides, a powerful screen presence, and Billy Zane, channeling his villainous character from Titanic, except as the tax collector in the Greek village this time.

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)

Greek-American actor Dennis Boutsikaris makes a cameo appearance as Kolokotronis which drew cheers and applause from the audience. The score of the film, by Cypriot composer George Kallis, was also quite good, recalling old time Hollywood films.

HFS President Jimmy DeMetro gave the welcoming remarks, thanking all the supporters and benefactors of the Film Expo, and introduced the film’s director as well as the directors of other films to be screened during the Expo. Ling thanked everyone and hoped this film will inspire other filmmakers to make more films about the Greek War of Independence and this time period.

In the Q&A, Ling told the audience members that screenings can be requested via the film’s website. He also spoke with TNH at the reception at Brasserie 8 1/2 in Manhattan. When asked what he is working on next, Ling told TNH that he is still working on getting Cliffs of Freedom seen by as wide an audience as possible, but he is also writing.

More information about Cliffs of Freedom and requesting a screening is available online: https://cliffsoffreedomfilm.com.

Filmmaker Joanna James, Chef Maria Loi, Hellenic Film Society USA Associate Director Eva Mallis and Director Jimmy DeMetro. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

The Expo continued on May 5 at the Directors Guild Theater 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. Guests enjoyed delicious Greek appetizers and desserts as well as the opportunity to chat with Chef Loi and the filmmakers, including James, Maria Lafi, Marios Piperides, Nikos Labot, Christos Nikoleris, and Athena Scotes, whose works are being screened through May 11.

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 TNH 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.

The film features James’ 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 included Loi, Lidia Bastianich, and Sylvia Weinstock, among others.

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.

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

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, Loi said, “Don’t be afraid, be yourself,” and she pointed out that she and her team “love what we’re doing.”

Although the film was completed in 2017, James also felt the need to go back and address the #MeToo movement in the documentary since some of the chefs in the film were directly involved with the high profile headlines that emerged.

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

Holy Boom, directed by Maria Lafi, and nominated for two Hellenic Film Academy Awards, was also screened on May 5 at the Directors Guild Theater. Lafi also participated in a Q&A session.

Award-winning director Marios Piperides, filmmaker Karina Logothetis, and Hellenic Film Society USA Director Jimmy DeMetro. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

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, also 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.

The New York Greek Film Expo runs through May 11. More information is available online: https://hellenicfilmusa.org.

Hellenic Film Society USA Director Jimmy DeMetro and director Van Ling in the Q&A session which followed the screening of Cliffs of Freedom, the opening film of the second New York Greek Film Expo. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
The New York Greek Film Expo runs through May 11. Photo by Eleni Sakellis