NEW YORK – Dannis Koromilas, author and filmmaker, spoke with The National Herald about his book Kalamata '21, released for the bicentennial of the start of the Greek Revolution, and his upcoming film projects. As Koromilas noted, his father “was born in Poliani, Messinia, probably a few houses away from where Papaflessas, the priest/warrior/leader of the Messinians during 1821 was born.”
Koromilas is based in Toronto, Canada, where he lives with his wife Dani (ancestry from Calabria, Italy) and their two sons, aged 13 and a half and 12.
TNH: How long did the book take from idea to publication?
Dannis Koromilas: Kalamata '21 is an anthology, and I selected certain diaries and journals from the 1821-1827 period to reflect what the actual heroes of the time were expressing. All in all, I would say that the development and research was a full year, added to the five years of Greece Year Zero (GYZ) and a continuation of my research for GYZ, my essay film which begins at the 1821 point. The actual writing was six months; in other words, very crammed, honestly, to attempt an epic subject like the Greek Revolution.
And yet, we have been very clear that this is just a springboard of sorts, to move deeper into much more dense and prolific works which Greek historians have tackled. 1821 is the reason that Greece exists, so of course, it is a captivating theme. The problem I discovered was that most Greeks believed they conquered their Ottoman overlords, and became free, in a day. That is what I thought to believe the truth, but that was Greek School in the 1970's.
Please wake up Greeks. If our heroes had won that many battles, 100 versus 1000, a thousand versus 8,000, should not have Greece skipped the European Monarchies, and gone straight for Moscow, and captured all of Eastern Europe? But no, they did not. So this book is what we have deemed a Souvenir Book, to let people launch off of, to gain more knowledge and insight.
TNH: What was your writing process like?
DK: Manic and consuming. I had scheduled a film shoot and interviews at the Kalamata War Museum for July 2020, after visiting in December 2019. But COVID collapsed all those plans, and actually negated our legendary plans in Toronto for the Pan Messinian Celebration of the 200 years, which we celebrate on March 23rd every year. Anticipating the reality, George Vlahakis, the President of the Pan Messinians in Toronto committed to a book version of the film. Of course, it is smaller in scope, and really focuses only on the Peloponnese experience during the war, but with a pandemic taking its toll, both Vlahakis and I struck a balance between the ambitious plans we had, and the pragmatic expectations to do something of merit and tribute. Thus Kalamata '21.
TNH: How has the pandemic affected your work?
DK: The pandemic has had a profound effect on every talented friend I know since last March. The most dramatic influence has been, “what is actually necessary?” A very dear uncle of mine, Koubaro Nick Athanasakos, passed away in the autumn of 2020, (actually, one of the best Spartans the world ever knew) and I was not allowed to physically pay my respects, to someone I thought the world of my whole life. And so when people are hurting for work, money, doctor visits, and then pile on the psychological impact, well, it makes you think, “how important is what I am doing, in the grand scheme of things? Is this timely? Is it necessary? Is it warranted?”
So, to answer your question, this pandemic has had an overwhelming, divining nature to what is created, and what is better left unsaid. The worth of things has become important again, in a resounding way, whether it was that horrible personalities left the world stage in America, and things suddenly became quiet. Politics, and the execution of political things for people, should be discussed and shared out in the open, but the violence of ego and ignorance truly made me personally reflect on what I write, what I share, and how I speak to certain people, when I know they abandoned certain principles, for the sake of, I don't know, “how it used to be?”
TNH: How are your film projects progressing?
DK: Cyprus in Winter is a film that deals with the tragic and unending crisis in Cyprus. I was in Nicosia in November 2019 for the Cyprus International Film Festival, and discovered a treasure trove of archival material for the film. It stalled with the pandemic, but believe me, this is a very important story that I want to tell. The only issue I see is that everyone involved in my narrative, will be absolutely angry. The Brits, the Greek Junta, the Cypriot EOKA supporters, and perhaps even the legendary Makarios supporters will be miffed at some of the stuff that I have exhumed, but no one in the world will be more pissed off than Turkey. And their current leader is the prime example of why the world should be compelled to act quickly when they detect outdated, but popular evil. Erdogan in my opinion is the worst I've seen in decades. Sorry, that is just a peripheral comment.
SPARTAMERIKA is my big one, and I anticipate having it completed by Easter, 2022.
It is in the same vein of my first film, where I neither take any political or ideological stance, but let the newsreels and historical truths unspool. Basically, SPARTAMERIKA is an exploration of how the last 13 presidents of the U.S. stack up, during their time of crisis and conflict and war fare. I was compelled to do this for two very vital reasons. First, Greece Year Zero consumed half a decade of my life, especially the intrinsic and constant balancing of historical and political perspectives, and who might be pissed off? I pulled it off I believe, and ERT played the film for a few years in Greece. That was my validation, for being passionate and neutral at the same time, for a country I so deeply love.
But SPARTAMERIKA is a different beast. This subject matter, America, is not a niche market, or some relegated to page 24 news item on the web. The United States of America is big news, and has been for over 250 years. So I thought, why not use the same dedication, focus, commitment to research and fair filters of what actually happened during those times, and at least produce something with a bigger market than Greece. And that is SPARTAMERIKA.
TNH: What projects are you working on next?
DK: ZΩN. Every man I have ever met in the last 40 years of my life understands this term. The insults from our parents, as we were growing up, were actually patented and universally sealed as a go-to-insult for anyone born between the 1960's and 1980's. So, as I've mentioned earlier, about the responsibility of every writer/director/author/comedian/composer/performer to make sure their new work is relevant during this time, well, this is my payback.
ZΩN is not just a story about the Frat House in the 1980's and early 90's, it is actually a culmination of what went wrong in that system of terrible oversight, and what was incredibly honorable in my own experience, of being involved with, well, borderline animals, in the John Belushi sense. But truly respectful and engaging animals… and none of what came to the surface about the Greek System ever applied to us… My story, and my characters and truth, never delved in the terrible things I read about in the news. Perfection and morally amazing? No. But never abusive or violent. So, ZΩN is my dual project, one is for the sake of remembrance.
And the other is for the sake of comparison, and what was once funny, or allowed. But now, as things unfold, I feel certain that even my own personal, funniest, glorious memories, will be diagnosed in 2022.
My dream cast for this project would be John Stamos, Billy Zane, Angelo Tsarouchas, and Alexander Payne directing… with the ghost and spirit of Olympia Dukakis floating in and out of it. Olympia and I danced together at the Great Greek on Ventura Blvd. in the San Fernando Valley, it was the classiest nights I ever lived in my life.
TNH: Where in Greece is your family originally from?
DK: My mother Toula Koromilas is a living legend in Toronto, but was born in Koromilia, Messinia, Greece in 1944. And since you asked, by 1961, she was already threatening her father that she would never live her life under the brutish older brothers of the house, and was already planning a sense of purpose, way above and beyond Koromilia. My mom actually went to Melbourne first, and was daring, to a level I cannot find about women in Greece during that time. When I repeat this, it is from earnest retellings over 35 years… My mother laid down a gauntlet as a young and talented young woman, and told her own father, (in that time) that she will die in that village, but not in 50 years… she will die in it tomorrow, if he did not sign some paperwork for her to escape to Australia. (other details are omitted, but ultimately she married my father.)
Toula Koromilas is alive and well and living in Richmond Hill, Ontario, and has never complained about her life in public in 77 years. Toula is considered a living legend by tens of thousands of people that crossed paths with her… but I am not making this up. Plus, just so you know, Toula Koromilas was the President of the Pan Messinians in Toronto for a year or two.
My father is Peter Koromilas. Probably the most effective antidote to the enthralling Toula Koromilas, and the best man I ever met.
I know that my own sons, including the one named Peter Koromilas, will someday recognize how amazing and sacrificial parents were, before video.
My father spent his paychecks in Kalamata, paying for English Lessons, and preparing him for America. Between his orders from the bakery, riding on a Vespa with sheer work ethic and goals in sight— deliveries to the Kalamata Prison, to back home to sleep, after leaving Agrilo, Messinia, my father was perpetually working, thinking, loving, planning, engaging, and ultimately arriving to where we are now, him at 77 and loved by everyone, and myself, putting together a book to remind everyone about Poliani and Papaflessas in Messinia, and March 23rd, 1821, when the whole thing erupted.