NEW YORK – The Hellenic Film Society USA 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 throwback to old Hollywood historical epics.
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, “As a proud Greek-American, I wanted to produce a feature film depicting Greece’s fight for freedom after 400 years of occupation by the Ottoman Turks. This pivotal period in Greece’s history is less known to many, and it tells of the Greek’s commitment and perseverance to achieve freedom or choose death rather than to live enslaved.”
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 and Academy Award-winner Christopher Plummer.
The true stars of the film were the supporting players, especially those of Greek descent who added a level of authenticity to the film as few other elements could. Costas Mandylor as Anna Christina’s father is pitch perfect in a performance that rings true in spite of having to deliver some less than snappy lines. Simon Kassianides is a powerful screen presence in his brief time on screen. One hoped he could have had more to do. Billy Zane also gave a fine performance, channeling his villainous character from Titanic, except as the tax collector in the Greek village this time.
Veteran Greek-American actor Dennis Boutsikaris makes a cameo appearance as Kolokotronis which drew cheers and applause from the audience, delivering a message to rally the Greeks in the fight for independence.
The score of the film, by Cypriot composer George Kallis was also quite good, recalling old time Hollywood films. The stilted dialogue, however, did no favors for the film, and the romance, sketched out in a few brief scenes, doesn’t give off sparks as much as Anna Christina’s passion for the fight for freedom. Uddin’s scenes with Raza Jaffrey as Sunal Demir were much stronger than any of the scenes between Uddin and Raymonde. In fact, the story of how Jaffrey’s character, who, it is pointed out several times, has Greek blood, came to be so vicious against Greeks could easily be a fascinating film on its own.
The film is rated R for the brutal violence which starts from the very beginning of the film and continues throughout. Hellenic Film Society USA 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 Film Expo. Ling thanked everyone for attending and said that he hoped this film will inspire other filmmakers to make more films about the Greek War of Independence and this time period.
Ling also participated in a Q&A session following the screening. When asked why the film was not more widely released, he noted the difficulties of distributing a film not backed by a big Hollywood studio, but also pointed out that the film was now being screened in the most democratic way to get a film into theaters.
He told the audience members that screenings can be requested via the film’s website and clicking on Film Request where they can fill out a form requesting a screening in their area. If enough tickets are sold for the screening, the theater will show the film.
Ling also spoke with TNH at the reception which followed the film screening held at Brasserie 8 1/2 in Manhattan. When asked what he is working on next, he 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.
The New York Greek Film Expo runs through May 11 with screenings at the Directors Guild Theater, the Museum of the Moving Image, and Manhasset Theater.
More information is available online: https://hellenicfilmusa.org.