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Politics

9th NYC Greek Film Festival a Winner

 

NEW YORK –  What makes a first-rate film festival? Innovative movies. Cinema artists on hand to discuss their art. Enthusiastic and critical audiences. The Ninth Annual New York City Greek Film Festival had it all, including gourmet popcorn. According to director James DeMetro, the festival exceeded expectations, going on record as the most successful yet, with almost every showing sold out.

Documentaries were outstanding, as well as feature films that ranged from the experimental to crime dramas, Athenian noir at its peak.

Stratos, directed by Yannis Economides, the artist who gave us Knifer, stars Vangelis Mourikis as the anti-hero, a baker who’s also a cold-blooded hit man. Mourikis, an outstanding actor, compels the viewer with his brooding, expressive face, his black eyes leaking pain. When a neighbor plans to turn an innocent young niece over to a perverse gangster, Stratos spins this amoral fable on its head. Says director Economides: “I’ve always explored themes of the human condition – love, hate and the identity of the neo-Greek.”

Wednesday 04:45, an in-your-face indictment of the economic crisis, evokes a hyper-lurid Athens, a scene of drugs, neon, and violence. A gangster gives a jazz club owner 32 hours to raise the cash to pay off his debts. The film unreels in chapters until the smashing climax atop a roof, a scene of rain, blood, umbrellas and guns, as exciting as an old Jimmy Cagney movie. Kudos to director/writer Alexis Alexiou.

Margarita Manda, director of Forever, filmed Athens on overcast days to create an exquisite film about two lonely people. We see train tracks running like parallel lives. Says Manda: “Often the more you talk, the more you are silent inside.”

In Riverbanks from director Panos Karkanevatos, the Evros River on the border between Greece and Turkey influences the lives of the film’s characters. Andreas Konstantinou, the Mr. Beautiful heartthrob of the film Little England, went for broke, shaving his black hair to create the role of a driven, troubled and mystic Yannis – a sapper – or seeker of underground mines for the army, a modern day Orpheus. Karkanevatos told TNH: “What I’m interested in is people in need, people on the edge.” This is the perfect film-festival drama, one to discuss endlessly over an ouzo after the movie.”

The bittersweet romantic comedy Lovestruck, with screenplay and direction by Thodoris Atheridis proved a crowd-pleaser. Starring Atheridis, Smaragda Karydi and Panagiota Vianti, it’s about the persistence of love beyond death.

Olympia Dukakis narrated Beneath the Olive Tree, a stunning documentary directed by Stavroula Toska. Dukakis gave Toska a translation of diaries kept by women imprisoned in a concentration camp during the civil war and buried under an olive tree on Trikeri Island.

Toska went to Greece to seek the women survivors and film this exceptional doc. Despite being tortured, beaten,and horribly abused, the women bonded to help each other. Said Dukakis: “I’m so proud to have been a part of this.” Toska noted: “We were amazed by the women. They had such a strong sense of identity and made me proud to be a Greek woman.” The passionate and inspiring story deserves to be seen by Greek women around the world.

Nicoletta, a small charmer from director Sonia Liza Kenterman, is also set in the civil war. It focuses on a small boy who treks through a hostile environment with his baby sister on his back to seek help.

Vassilis Loules, an original and exciting documentarian, attended the world premiere of his new And I Also Passed There and Had Paper Shoes to Wear. Princesses, Jesus Christ, goldfish and kings, flood the memories of enthusiastic story tellers as they recount fairy tales from Loules’ home region of Trikala. Loules delights our fancy as he captures a fast-vanishing oral tradition. “I’m interested in body language, faces, gestures and silences,” Loules says. “I would often go to my father’s bicycle shop and listen to stories. Very often it would be snowing – snow falling and stories being told.”Director Valerie Kontakas spent three years visiting the Lyrio Children’s Village near Raffina to create Mana. In 1962, six young girls made headlines when they defied their parents to join a convent and found a shelter for orphaned and abused children.

For an insider’s look at a totally different community, director Marina Denezei penetrated several gypsy camps. In Sam Roma: We Are Gypsies, one gentleman points out: “As humans we are capable of the best and the worst. We live by our wits. We are not lawbreakers but sometimes are forced to steal.”The Festival’s first night, admission-free, showed short films: witty cinematic delights including Mark Sargent’s Behold; Iphigenia Dimitrou’s Cure; Daina Papadakis’ Five Ways to Die; Andrew Ignatiou’s Narcissa; Artemis Shaw’s

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