Georgetown University Hosted a Conversation with Mimi Denissi

December 8, 2022
By Dr. Christopher Lamb

WASHINGTON, DC – The Modern Greek Studies Program and Hellenic Association of Georgetown University hosted “A Conversation with Acclaimed Actress/Author/Director Mimi Denissi on Art and Cultural Diplomacy” on December 5 in the McGhee Library of Georgetown University’s Intercultural Center.

Georgetown Professor Ismini Lamb posed questions to Ms. Denissi about her career in theater, her recent award-winning film on Smyrna, and her activities in support of cultural diplomacy. Denissi is one of the most celebrated actresses, producers and directors in Greece, the author of six immensely popular historical dramas, the star of over 25 television series, and the host of popular talk shows in which she interviews her guests in four languages. Her movie, ‘Smyrna’, winner of six Hellenic Academy Awards, will be shown in 700 theaters across the United States on Thursday, December 8 as one-night only Fathom Events release.

For an hour and a half, Denissi enthralled the audience with stories from her life and career. The attendees were amused to hear that Denissi grew up wanting to be an academic while her sister yearned to be an actress, but the opposite happened. Her sister entered academia and Denissi by happenstance entered theater quite young when she was asked to play a role simply because she looked the part of the young girl in question. Professor Lamb wondered if it would be hard for Denissi to identify a favorite role she has played given her many accolades in theater and film. But no, Denissi responded, her favorite role of all time was quite clear. She enjoyed playing Filio in her recent film on Smyrna more than any other because of how much she admired the women of Smyrna. They were well-to-do, multilingual, cosmopolitan, and quite sophisticated, but also incredibly strong and not ashamed to do manual work or whatever was necessary to safeguard their families and continue on after tragedy struck.

Acclaimed actress and filmmaker Mimi Denissi, third from right, posed with audience members and Professor Ismini Lamb, at left, at Georgetown University. (Photo: Chris Lamb)

Denissi explained her major aspiration for her film on Smyrna. The main insight she hoped people would take away from the film is that we are all human beings deserving of kindness and dignity, and that we all have a role to play in preventing or restraining man’s inhumanity to man. When asked how she would respond to those who ask whether we should dredge up memories of such sad events as the demise of Smyrna and the Asia Minor catastrophe, which happened so long ago, Denissi insisted it was important to know the truth about history. Denissi said it was disappointing how little people know about the genocide of Christians in Asia Minor. Some people are familiar with the Armenian genocide, but not the fact that all Christians, Armenians, Chaldeans, Greeks, and others were murdered and driven out of Asia Minor. Even many Greeks are not familiar with this part of their history. Denissi argued that if we do not know the truth about such horrible events it will be more difficult to prevent them from happening again.

Acclaimed actress and filmmaker Mimi Denissi with a copy of The Gentle America: George Horton’s Odyssey and His True Account of the Smyrna Catastrophe by Ismini Lamb and Christopher Lamb. (Photo: Antonia Sames)

Denissi also answered questions about cultural diplomacy. She is an unofficial ambassador of cultural diplomacy for Greece due to her many awards from international organizations and her role as President of the Ecumenical Hellenism Foundation since 2018. Lamb and Denissi discussed the Turkish actors in the Smyrna film and whether the movie would find an audience in Turkey. Denissi hoped so but doubted it given current attitudes among Turkish government leaders. Denissi mentioned Prof. Lamb’s recent biography on George Horton, the American diplomat who was present when Smyrna was burned and later wrote a true account of the event. It took Lamb about a decade to complete the biography and Denissi the same amount of time to do the research, script writing and to raise funds for her movie on Smyrna and complete it. Denissi joked that she and Lamb probably would not be able to vacation any time soon in Turkey as a result.

Left to right: Antonia Sames, Chris Lamb, Joey Mavrogiannis, Ismini Lamb, Mimi Denissi, and Matthew “Zito” Zuppas at Georgetown University on December 5. (Photo: Nick Kerner)

Denissi considered her film on Smyrna the most important and most successful project of her long career. However, in response to a question from the audience, she shared that she was not ready for retirement. Her next project will be a production about the suffering of Thessaloniki’s Jews during World War II, a topic Denissi thought the Greek population needed to be bettered informed on.

Dr. Christopher Lamb is the co-author of the recent book, The Gentle America: George Horton’s Odyssey and His True Account of the Smyrna Catastrophe (Georgias Press, 2022).


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