LOS ANGELES- The Los Angeles Greek Film Festival (LAGFF) celebrated its 10th anniversary with a record showing of 56 films, from the brilliant to the esoteric, all of them worth a second look, with 58 filmmakers in attendance. Aris Katopedis, artistic director, set the pace on opening night when he said: “we feel proud and lucky that we have managed not only to endure as a film festival but also to flourish, learn, and mature in the process.” This year’s festival boasted the largest attendance yet, film goers stepping over the stars on Hollywood Boulevard to enter the historic Egyptian Theatre, headquarters for the festival.
LAGFF culminated with the Orpheus Awards and a screening and North American premiere of the highly anticipated Worlds Apart from writer/director Christopher Papakaliatis. The film presents love sprung from the bitter rinds of economic depression and xenophobia. Three splendidly acted stories of disparate but connected romances include one of a mature couple. It’s an improbable mash-up of romance and tragedy that works. Maria Kavogianni won the Orpheus prize for Best Actress for her moving portrayal of the older woman. Oscar winning actor J.K. Simmons, her love interest, won a special Orpheus. The film, Greece’s No. 1 Box Office success, won the festival’s Audience Award.
The Orpheus for Best Feature film went to Riverbanks from writer/director Panos Karkanevatos. Elegant and mysterious, steeped in love and death, the film focuses on two drifters who meet at a border post between Greece and Turkey. Accepting the prize, Karkanevatos pointed out that “Greece is both a frontier and a bridge.”
Erotica, Exotica, Etc. from director/writer Evangelia Kranioti took the prize for Best Documentary. Golden Dawn: A Personal Affair, by journalist Angelique Kourounis won honorable mention. This stunning film takes us inside the workings and thinking of the new Greek fascism. In a festival notable for excellent shorts, Stagnation from Alexander and Valia Zwart took the Orpheus for Best Short Fiction Film.
The festival honored Jim Gianopulos, chairman and CEO OF 20TH Century Fox Film Corp. with a special Orpheus. Cary Antholis of HBO introduced Gianopulos. In a moving on-film tribute, cinematic notables pointed to Gianopulos’ wide-ranging brilliance on all fronts fueled by his love of the movies. In his acceptance, Gianopulos graciously acknowledged all of the wonderful Greek filmmakers who are making a difference.
Outstanding film selections included: Mythopathy from writer/director/producer Tassos Boulmetis. the cinematic poet who earlier gave us A Touch of Spice. A young man mixes up mythology and reality to create new stories. Boulmetis confesses to finding inspiration in his own life. He told TNH: “story telling is our goal in life. We need stories, and to create our own myths. That makes us human.”
Chevalier from filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari. Six Greek men go on a boat trip and vie in a game to see who will be the best. Tsangari told TNH: “I’m not thinking about the audience. Never. Because that will confuse the audience and me. I enter into a cocoon and I want it to make sense to me. You can’t please everyone. I’m not thinking about art. I’m doing it.”
A special tribute to the late filmmaker Alexis Damianos (1921-2006), showed his Evdokia, made in 1971. This terrific, heart-breaking, funny, sad film focuses on a young prostitute, Maria Vassiliou, who falls in love with and marries and army sergeant. The film has everything, including a wicked pimp and an aging prostitute who reads the cups.
Invisible from director Dimitri Athanitis offers a slice of cinematic realism. This powerful film tells the story of a 35-year-old factory worker who’s laid off from his job without warning. He struggles with rage, loss, financial and emotional ruin. Producer Diamatis Karnastasis said: “I believe this film is Greece today. He could not beat the system. It was too powerful. It destroyed him.”
In Alex and Eve, a romantic comedy from Australia/New Zealand, directed by Peter Andrikidis, shy, handsome Alex, whose family wants him to marry a nice Greek girl, falls in love with Eve, a charming Lebanese Muslim. Suntan from writer/director /producer Argyris Papadimitropoulos. It’s hot, hot, hot, sexy, humorous and heartbreaking. A lonely 40-something, nerdish doctor on the island of Antiparos becomes obsessed with a beautiful young tourist kicking up her heels with her hedonistic friends. All have gorgeous bodies, much in evidence on the naked beach. It’s The Blue Angel (Remember Emil Jannings and his obsession with Marlene Dietrich?) brought up to date.