LOS ANGELES – Greek-American filmmaker Demetrios Tzamaras, inspired by memories of trips with his grandfather to Ocean City, MD, created the charming short animated comedy, Bucket Hat, which will be screened at the 16th Annual Athens Animfest, March 26-28, and the 13th Annual Psarokokalo International Short Film Festival, June 2-8, also based in Athens. Tzamaras spoke with The National Herald about Bucket Hat and about his Greek heritage.
He told TNH, “I earned a bachelor's degree in film production from Drexel University in 2014, and moved to Los Angeles shortly after. In my time in LA, I have been fortunate enough to have worked at two major animation studios, Illumination and Sony Pictures Animation, where I earned credits in major motion pictures such as Despicable Me 3, The Secret Life of Pets, the Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse, and others. In 2019, I enrolled in a Masters program in Animation at UCLA. I'm currently in my second year. In 2020, I applied and was awarded an AHEPA National Scholarship to aid in covering the costs of tuition of my education, an honor I am truly grateful for.”
“Bucket Hat is a short animated comedy inspired by the memories I have of trips to Ocean City, MD with my Papou,” Tzamaras told TNH. “Papou passed away in January of 2020, and I began production on this project a week after his passing. It was simultaneously a grieving process for me as well as a true effort to create a funny, heartfelt film that people could enjoy. In making this project, I had the opportunity to apply for the UCLA Matt Groening Animation Production Fellowship to cover the cost of production of this project.”
Groening is, of course, the creator of animated classics such as The Simpsons and Futurama. Tzamaras noted that “Mr. Groening personally reviewed every application himself, and Bucket Hat was one of the projects selected and fully funded by Mr. Groening's fellowship! Another honor that I feel fortunate to have received.”
TNH: Were you always interested in animation and filmmaking as a career?
Demetrios Tzamaras: I was always interested in drawing, and I always loved cartoons, but I didn’t know it was a potential career path until I graduated from college and started looking for work. I went to undergrad for live-action filmmaking, but I got my first job as a production assistant at Illumination, whether they make the Despicable Me and Minions movies! That’s where I discovered that you can make a living drawing pictures and making films, so I started putting all my energy into breaking into animation as a creative force rather than a production management person.
TNH: Where in Greece is the family from originally?
DT: My Papou who inspired the film is from Megalo Chorio, the name of which you’ll see on his character’s shirt in the movie! But we are all from the Karpenisi area. Karpenisi, Klapsi, Megalo Chorio, and Kiraikohori are the specific places we are from. My favorite part of going to Greece is visiting the villages we are from and reconnecting with my roots.
TNH: How has the family reacted to your success and to Bucket Hat in particular?
DT: Everyone has been super supportive. I haven’t seen my family in over a year due to the pandemic, so I couldn’t really show them what I was doing until it was finished. We had a mini viewing party over FaceTime, and it was so rewarding to see everyone laugh and cry in all the right moments. It’s a personal film because it is about my relationship with my Papou, so it’s personal for my family because they all love him and miss him the way I do. It was especially rewarding to see my Yiayia’s reaction. To see her watch Papou move around on screen and be affected by it, and to tell me “it looks just like him” meant a lot.
TNH: After the 16th Annual Athens Animfest and the 13th Annual Psarokokalo International Short Film Festival, will the film be screened at other upcoming festivals elsewhere?
DT: Bucket Hat is also screening as a part of Petit Plan: Americana, which is a program that brings independent film to the people of Greece at no cost, and is designed to educate the youth of Greece on Cinema and culture. That’s happening for free for all of Greece March 29 through April 2. Then we’ll be playing this May in the First Take Shorts Series in Ambler, PA and in June at the Nenagh Children’s Film Festival in Nenagh, Ireland. Psarokokalo will be in June as well. Beyond that, Bucket Hat is currently in consideration at many, many festivals across the world and we’re just waiting to hear if they are interested. My great hope is that people across the world can see the film.
Despite being inherently Greek, I feel like the relationships between the characters, specifically an elder relative speaking one language and the younger relatives responding back in English, are relatable to multigenerational families across lots of different cultures. I will be sharing updates about where the film will be playing on the official Facebook page! People can follow the page to find out more information and see images and videos and other cool stuff from the movie.
TNH: How does your Greek heritage influence your life and work?
DT: During the pandemic I’ve been doing a lot of cooking, and it’s driven me to call up my Yiayia and make her teach me the recipes I grew up eating at her house. So I’ve been reconnecting with the culture through the cuisine, and doing research into why the cuisine is the way it is. That’s been really fun and rewarding. But my heritage is in everything I do. From the way I react to my surroundings, to the values I try to embody and the themes and messages in my work, the tradition and culture of being Greek is there, even if it’s not directly addressed. My family likes to check in on my and see if I’m still holding on to my culture, my “Greek-ness,” and I always tell them “My name is Demetrios Tzamaras, I’m never not going to be incredibly Greek!”
TNH: What are you working on next?
DT: Lots of stuff! I’m currently in production of another film, titled Back Alley Brawl. Radically different from Bucket Hat, this one is an animated action film inspired by American action cinema like John Wick and modern Anime like Hunter X Hunter and Scissor Seven. In addition to that, I am still thinking about the characters from Bucket Hat and may start developing them for more adventures, maybe a series. My dad and I have been talking about doing a children’s book together, and I have tons of ideas for other films and TV series that I am going to keep working on. I post pretty frequently on Instagram about what I’m working on at any given moment so if anyone is interested they can go see what I’m doing!
More information about Bucket Hat is available on Facebook: www.facebook.com/buckethatfilm and IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt13159766/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_1.
The trailer for the film is available on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/516407195.
Follow Demetrios Tzamaras on Instagram: @dtzcartoons
Athens AnimFest Profile – https://athensanimfest.eu/2021/en/movies/232/
Psarokokalo ISFF – https://www.psarokokalo.org/national-competition