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Demetro Celebrates 10th Anniversary of NYC Greek Film Festival

October 1, 2016
PenelopeK

 

A decade ago, the first New York City Greek Film Festival opened at Cinema Village, on East 12th Street, an arty theatre beloved for its kitschy ambiance. Last night, celebrating its 10th Anniversary, the Festival premiered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the world’s great artistic venues, and screened the long-awaited Mythopathy, introduced by director Tassos Boulmetis. The film was delightful, the audience enthusiastic, and festival director James Demetro was both relieved and elated.

“Ten years ago our budget was $17,000. Now, it’s well over $100,000,” Demetro  said. He readily admits that the popular festival consistently loses money. “We don’t count profits. We control losses. That gives us a freedom that the businessman doesn’t have. I don’t want the festival to be an elitist event. If I had the money, and if it was up to me, I wouldn’t even charge admission. I would like the films and even the gala at the Russian Tea Room to be available to everybody.”

An English professor, Demetro had just taken early retirement when Stamatis Ghikas of the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce approached and asked him if he wanted to start a Greek film festival. It was strictly a volunteer job. “Film has been a life-long interest. I’ve said repeatedly that being Greek has enriched my life. I felt this would be a way of giving back to my community. So I took it over 10 years ago, and started very cautiously. I would say over the years we’ve been very fortunate – people have supported us – donors, foundations, the private sector, shipping money, and the audience, of course.”

Demetro had been a film fan since his childhood when his parents would take him and his sister Carol to Greek films. “There were Greek films shown in every Greek neighborhood then,” Demetro says, “one or two nights a week. And growing up during the French New Wave, there was a fabulous little theatre with 99 cents admission and all they did was play double bills of films. You could see Fellini and Godard on one night – so that was my education, even more than college.”

He attributes part of the festival’s growing success to timing. “We had just come on the scene when this new generation of Greek film makers was beginning to have impact on the Greek film industry. Suddenly the Greeks were turning out interesting movies, and having some success in Europe, booked in festivals and winning major awards. Unfortunately, there is no audience for Greek films in Greece. This is a tragedy, a serious impediment to the development of the Greek film industry. Of course, there are exceptions, including this year’s Mythopathy and Worlds Apart, a real winner at the box office.”

Demetro has been the driving force behind the festival, and it’s unlikely that it would have flourished without his smarts, enthusiasm, dedication and serious commitment to Greek films and film makers. He’s passionate about wanting Greek film to gain recognition. “It’s a very good year for Greek film. Last year I suffered. It was hard getting films. This year there were more films, many more good films than we could show. We want people to turn out. It is really for them. I know there are so many accomplished young Greek-Americans who have never seen a Greek movie in their lives. They don’t know what they’re missing. I want them to come. I think they’re going to be hooked.”

Demetro seeks out the best Greek films and shows them in the best venues.  “My philosophy: we have to do it correctly. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be doing it at all. We’re all volunteers. We’re not professionals. I think we do a damn good job, especially when it comes to theatres. You’ve got to respect the film – you’ve got to respect the audience. You can’t bring them into a dump and expect them to pay for a film that’s badly projected. So that’s one thing I insist on – the best theatres we can pay for – and that’s the philosophy we’ve been following.”

He’s enthusiastic about all the films, but one double bill is close to his heart. “We’re showing it twice, Athens from Beneath, teamed with 1.4 Miles to Land. A young filmmaker from Berkeley went on a Greek Coast Guard cutter and filmed the crew rescuing refuges and migrants from the waters surrounding the island of Lesbos. It’s the agony and joy of salvation. You can’t see this film without crying.  Athens from Beneath tells the story about people who have lost their jobs, who are suffering while trying to maintain their dignity. This is a program that has to be seen. If it’s not sold out, it will break my heart. It’s the best reason for doing a film festival. It’s that important to me.”

“There’s a developing taste for Greek film. As more and more films become exposed to American audiences, word of mouth helps build an interest that no press agent can do,” Demetro says.

 

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