GR US

Advancing Greek American Culture

The National Herald

The 13th Annual New York City Greek Film Festival runs October 17-23. Photo: Courtesy of the New York City Greek Film Festival

As someone who writes regularly about the future of Greek America, I often focus on troubling challenges that are not being adequately met. In doing so, I sometimes neglect to fully underscore positive cultural initiatives already in place. To correct that possible imbalance, I want to call attention to three projects of Greek America that deal affirmatively with our cultural health and historical memory.

The specific projects I am spotlighting are not content with celebrating our present prosperity or indulging “feel-good” history conveniently purged of most of its negatives. Instead, they represent forward-looking perspectives that are sensitive to the changing social dynamics of our community, our nation, and our era.

In 1997, Peter Pappas, then director of the Foundation for Hellenic Culture, launched what was designed to be an annual Greek film festival in New York City. It was the first of its kind and from the start, it attracted large audiences. Its success spurred other cities to follow suit. Today, there are major film festivals in various metropolitan centers. Just as heartening are the mini-festivals and film nights now commonplace in smaller communities.

The pioneering Greek film festival of New York ceased operations in 2004 due to the demise of its sponsoring organization. Four years later it was revived with new sponsors and took the name the New York City Greek Film Festival (NYCFF).  Now, in its thirteenth year, from Oct. 17-23, the NYCFF will present nearly fifty films.

Maria Tzompanaki, the current director of the NYCFF, has retained the festival’s promotion of Greek-language films with a core program of 29 Greek-language feature film accompanied by a group of shorts. An innovation for the festival will be presentation of an award for best Greek-language film by a first-time director.

Tzompanaki also has broadened the festival’s scope. Recognizing that film production is now often multi-national as well as multi-cultural, 11 international films with Greek content or made by Greek filmmakers will be shown. This category, like the Greek-language films, includes films made by Greeks in the diaspora, including Greek-Americans. Another innovation is to feature a noteworthy film that has no direct Greek contact. That honor has gone to The Castle, a film directed by Saba Ghasemi that revisits the issues in Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard as manifested in today’s Iran. A description of this year’s program and special events can be accessed at: info@nycgreekfilmfestival.com

The Hellenic American Project (HAP), housed at Queens College, was recently launched by Nicholas Alexiou. Startup funding was provided by the Niarchos Foundation and supportive scholarships by the NYC chapter of AHEPA. Although various archives in the United States contain materials relating to the history of Greek America, HAP is the only archive exclusively devoted to that task. Its long-term aim is to become the prime resource center for anyone wishing to research Greek America’s history and culture. Outreach efforts such as one-day programs, conferences, and visits by students are already occurring.

The soul of HAP consists of personal correspondence, memoirs, literary works, oral histories, press clippings, interviews, and other subjective data. Alexiou stresses that when elders pass away, rather than throwing away old letters, photos, diaries, postcards, passports, self-published works, newspapers, and related matter, their heirs should send them to HAP where they will be available in print and electronically to scholars, journalists, artists, and the public. The perspective in play is that such material is not dated and meaningless but constitute seeds that help root both contemporary Greek America and future Greek Americas.

The collection also contains the official documents of numerous Greek-American organizations. Another intriguing group of records are the various periodic assessments of Greek America prepared by federal agencies such as the FBI and other security services.

HAP welcomes queries from possible donors of materials and anyone who wishes to use its resources (academic affiliation is not required). HAP can be reached at Nicholas.Alexiou@qc.cuny.edu.

Poetry has always played a central role in Greek culture. Since the end of World War II, Greece has produced two Nobel laureates and a dozen Nobel nominees. In the United States, the sparsity of Greek-oriented literary journals has made it difficult to establish a literary community. Some defunct journals that tried to meet that need include Coffeehouse, Mondo Greco, Aegean Review, and Voices. Two years ago, that tradition was revived by the creation of Ergon magazine.

Yiorgos Anagnostou, Ergon’s editor, considers Hellenic culture to be a multi-lane, two-way highway complex connecting diverse regions, not a one-way street of translated homeland exports. With that perspective, Ergon publishes poetry, fiction, translations, interviews, and literary essays.  Initial funding for the creation of this lively forum involved grants from the Modern Greek Studies Association and Ohio State University. Ergon is available gratis on google. Queries about submissions and donations can be directed to  yiorgos.anagnostou@osu.com.

The projects I have described respect and honor our past achievements, but they believe a culture that wishes to endure and prosper must grapple with the givens of the present rather than being immersed in the past. In that sense, they do not advocate for Hellenic culture, they are Hellenic culture. Anyone who desires a culturally viable Greek America can consider them and similar initiatives as guides for what can be done in the here and now.