By Vasilis Papoutsis – West Coast Correspondent
LOS ANGELES – The LA Greek film festival concluded its five day run at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood with the spectacular Orpheus Awards ceremony, honoring two hugely successful Greek-American professionals in the entertainment industry and giving out top awards in each category of the 35 films shown.
The two honorees were Evan Spiliotopoulos and Kary Antholis. Evan Spiliotopoulos the successful screenwriter of Hercules, who has also written numerous animated films for Disney, shared the story of his high school teacher asking him to tame his imagination. But he said he made the decision not to follow her advice. He spoke of his subsequent struggle for more than ten years after he arrived from Greece with no connections in the industry. While he was enduring constant rejections he made another decision, to stay here and follow his dream rather than go back to Greece. He eventually was able to break through and make his first movie deal with a major studio.
His advice is ”do not allow other people to tame your dreams.”
Kary Antholis is president of HBO Miniseries and Cinemax Programming responsible for Golden Globe and Emmy winning projects such as Mildred Pierce, John Adams and From the Earth to the Moon. He is also an Academy Award winner for his documentary ”One Survivor Remembers” about Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein. Through her experience, he was better able to understand his mother’s suffering while growing up during the Nazi occupation of Greece that also claimed the life of his grandfather who was killed by Nazi collaborators.
The festival opened with Pantelis Voulgaris’ film ”Little England,” a tragic love story of two sisters who fall in love with the same man and the devastating effects on all involved. It also shows the sacrifices that the women of Andros made as they had to carry on the family life while their husbands were absent for long periods of time working on the ships.
The festival closed with Panos H. Koutras’ film ”Xenia” that was warmly received at the 2014 Cannes film festival. It is the story of the two brothers’ emotional trip to reunite with their father after their mother’s death.
The two brothers are also the faces of the new immigrants in Greece, born to an Albanian mother and living in Greece under an uncertain legal status. They are also the targets of racist attacks. The younger brother is also pushing his older brother Odysseas, an aspiring singer, to audition for a spot on the popular talent TV show ”Greek Star.”
Even though their plans do not always fall in place and the movie runs a bit long, at the end it provides a spark of hope that the brothers will be fine.
Top Jury Orpheus award for Best Feature Film went to Yannis Economides’ redemption drama “Stratos.” The award for Best Short went to a film by Basile Doganis, ”Citizen Day” examining racial and class issues in France.
”Agora,” a superbly produced documentary, won the Orpheus award for Best Documentary at the festival. It chronicles the Greek financial crisis through testimonies of bipartisan finance ministers, foreign economists and experts from the EU. It shows the violent encounters of members of Golden Dawn with immigrants and most importantly it shows the pain and suffering of the Greek people, devastated by the crisis. The despair of the father who has nowhere to house his child, the elder Greek who loses his job and cannot find another one while moving from place to place, too proud to ask his friends and family for help.
Among the high caliber films shown at the festival that made impressions were, Asteris Kutulas’ film ”Recycling Medea,” a fascinating motion picture adventure. Kutulas; cinematic canvas mixes ballet dancing with opera music composed by the iconic Mikis Theodorakis, narration, images of youth protests in the streets of Athens and a character inspired by Anne Frank. Visually stunning and masterfully choreographed by Renato Zanella, the dancing vividly conveys an array of feelings ranging from love, hate, revenge and ultimately Media’s denial of the unbearable crimes she has committed.
Another is ”A Night in Athens,” Angelo Tsarouchas’ one hour stand-up benefit performance at the Michael Cacoyiannis Foundation theater in Athens, Greece. It is a hilarious take on Angelo’s challenges growing up Greek in Canada and includes stories about his Greek mother to which almost all of the Greeks growing up in the Diaspora will make an immediate connection. Also portrayed are his adventures from his visit to Greece where he filmed his documentary. The audience will be laughing during the entire performance. For complete info on all the films, visit the festival’s website at www.lagff.org.
The festival has grown tremendously in the nine years since its inception and this year it expanded to five days. Most importantly, the quality of the films has noticeably improved. In his closing remarks Festival Director Aris Katopodis said, ”This year we are proud to host 42 filmmakers and 35 films from all over the world,” and continued, ”LAGFF has reached a milestone with an attendance that boasted a double-digit rise in patronage.” He went on to thank the sponsors and audience for their support and invited everyone back for next year’s festival, the MEGA 10th year celebration scheduled for June 1-5, 2016. I look forward to it!