NEW YORK – The documentary film Olympia, directed by Cypriot Harry (Charalambos) Mavromichalis, had its world premiere on November 11 at the 9th Annual DOC NYC Film Festival at the SVA Theater in Manhattan. The film is about Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis and follows her as she shares her dramatic life story and dynamic character. Mavromichalis spoke with The National Herald about the making of the film which took about 7 years from the initial idea to the realization. He told TNH that he had invited Dukakis to Cyprus to teach a workshop and they became friends. When Mavromichalis asked her about a making a documentary on her life, she initially refused. He said that “it took 3 months” to convince the acclaimed actress to participate in the film.
Dukakis does not disappoint in sharing details of her life. It is not in her nature to pull punches as her many roles on stage and screen have demonstrated throughout her career, but in life too, she is outspoken and fearless in stating her opinions. In the film, we see her preparing for recent stage roles, in photos and clips from her career highlights, and also in family photographs and home movies.
Her contentious relationship with her mother is revealed early on which her rebelliousness did not make easier as she was growing up in Lynn, MA. Among those who add their comments in the film are her brother Apollo Dukakis, also an actor, and cousin Michael Dukakis, the former Governor of Massachusetts and Democratic presidential candidate. The film also clarified the relationship in a visit to the Dukakis’ ancestral village, Pelopi in Lesvos, where a group of local women noted that everyone thought she was Governor Dukakis’ sister, but no, she explained, they are cousins, their fathers were brothers. She also visited her mother’s village in the Peloponnese and the archeological site at Mycenae, among other areas of Greece and Cyprus.
Mavromichalis has captured the essence of this extraordinary woman, her sense of humor, the spirit that her late husband, fellow actor Louis Zorich, fell in love with and that continues to draw the admiration of the audience for this talented performer. The film is funny and emotional as Dukakis brings us into her story, revealing the struggles from early on and the strength of her character, and her courage to be herself in spite of feeling like an outsider from the start. Her story is especially inspiring not only for Greek-Americans but for anyone who struggles with feeling they don’t quite fit in.
The film is dedicated to Dukakis’ late husband, and the moments between the two onstage and off show the depth of this relationship of true equals. Their grown children’s comments add insight into the relationship and the family. The grandchildren also appear in the film.
Among those present, director Mavromichalis gave a brief introduction to the film, Anthoula Katsimatides who is one of the Executive Producers along with Sid Ganis, the renowned actresses Lainie Kazan and Diane Ladd, actor and director Austin Pendleton, John Catsimatidis who is one of the supporters of the film, George Stephanopoulos and his wife Elena, Atlantic Bank President Nancy Papaioannou, Phyto Stratis, and many members of the community. Before he introduced the film, Mavromichalis also acknowledged the sacrifice of veterans since the screening took place on November 11, Veterans Day, and also the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I.
A Q&A session followed the screening and Dukakis and the filmmakers received a standing ovation as they came forward. She, of course, answered in her usual, straightforward way. Basil Tsiokos, DOC NYC Director of Programming, who served as Master of Ceremonies, led the session with a question about Mavromichalis’ approach to the documentary. The director noted that he and the editor early on did not want it to be a “typical biopic, you have Olympia who is one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met, her brain is just beyond, and it wouldn’t do service to her to do a typical biopic. I just trusted that if I stick around and once we had the footage and started looking at it, it was easy to, it took us three years to edit, but who she is lent us the ability to do it.”
Dukakis then added, “and not to mention your talent,” which received a round of applause.
Tsiokos asked about the yiayias in the village and if she expected her emotional reaction to talking with them, and she replied, “I suspected there was an array of responses I might have, but those women, we walked by them and I thought, I would have grown up with these women, I just wanted to connect with them.”
Among the memorable moments in the film, was when Dukakis won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Moonstruck. Footage of her family reacting to the win and her phone call with her cousin Michael was especially touching for those in the Greek community, who felt as if we too had won alongside her.
When asked about the longevity of her career, Dukakis said that she’s “really not interested in acting anymore, the thing that gives me real pleasure is teaching.” The film includes footage from her classes which certainly demonstrates her passion and her commitment to her students.
Following the screening and the enthusiastic praise of the audience members, Executive Producer Anthoula Katsimatides noted that the film now needs distribution.