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Cinema

Anna Rezan’s “My People” Has World Premiere at 16th LAGFF

June 3, 2022
By Vasilis Papoutsis

One of the most fascinating documentaries in the 16th  Los Angeles Greek Film Festival (LAGFF) was My People, a film by Anna Rezan, a very talented actress and singer who was engaging in her first directorial effort – the result was impressive.

That the film captures your attention from the first scene when you feel that you are walking at Rezan’s side is in no small part due to the captivating music score that was composed by Billy Nikolopoulos in collaboration with Rezan.

As a Greek Jewish filmmaker and the great grandchild of a Greek Holocaust survivor, Rezan talked to six other Greek Jewish survivors who offered gripping testimonies about the horrors they experienced but also testimonies filled with hope about the future and the perseverance of the human spirit. Unimaginable atrocities committed by the Nazis had a devastating effect on the Greek nation and resulted in the loss of one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in the world. Before the war Thessaloniki (Salonica) was home to the largest Sephardic community in the world and the oldest one in Europe.

The film focuses on the Greek Jewish community, but it also expands its reach to historical events that allow the viewer to have a complete picture of the situations that led to the catastrophe. You will witness the Greek army’s brave resistance against Mussolini’s invasion initially and against the Nazis later. The movie depicts the guerilla resistance of the Greek people once the Nazis prevailed and a perhaps little-known fact that members of the Greek clergy and in particular Archbishop Damaskinos raised their voices against the inhumane treatment of the Greek Jewish citizens.

(Photo by Zafeiris Haitidis)

’’It is important to honor the clergy members who stood up to the Nazis and tried to help the Greek Jews even when that was very dangerous,” Rezan said. The project was so impressive that Rezan was able to attract two Oscar winning producers to her team. Kim Magnusson, a two-time Oscar winner, and Mitchel Block producer of an Academy Award Documentary became Executive Producers. Mitchel Block who described Rezan as ‘’a force of nature,’’ said that it was an inspiration to work with such a dedicated filmmaker. And it took a herculean effort by Rezan and her talented cinematographer Zafeiris Haitidis to complete this project as the two of them were for a long time the ‘lone soldiers’ pushing forward with the production. But Rezan says the support of the two Oscar winners gave her “the confidence to persist when it seemed that obstacles were insurmountable.”

Like any independent producer with a limited budget, Rezan had to be creative and fearless in getting what she needed. The film includes an assortment of historical archival footage they would have been able to obtain if it wasn’t for the generous donations of the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive and the Athens Jewish Museum.

Asked what support she received from Greek agencies, she said that she was grateful for the assistance she got from Yiannis Korodemos, the archival director of the War Museum in Athens. But she did not receive any help from the Greek Film Center and when she asked for footage from the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) “the prices they were asking were so high that no independent producer could afford them.”

Giorgos Pilihos, a well-known journalist and historian, offered Rezan material from his family archives as well. Rezan said she had chosen the LAGFF for her film’s world premiere even though she had offers from other prestigious festivals such as Tribeca because “the LAGFF has fostered the careers of many young Greek filmmakers and I wanted to show my appreciation and be a part of it as well.” Another important point in making this documentary was for Rezan to illustrate her belief in love and hope. She believes that the only way to avoid repeating the same mistakes that have caused devastation so many times in the past and unfortunately we see happening again today in Ukraine and other parts of the world, is for people to learn to love each other. Her documentary shows that if people can put aside their religious differences and accept and love others as they are, then humanity’s future will be brighter.

 

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