From the documentary My Rembetika Blues with filmmaker Mary Zournavi in the background and legendary musician Stelios Vamvakaris, seated at left, and Jim Sclavunos, at right. Photo: Courtesy of Mary Zournazi
NEW YORK – Award-winning Greek-Australian filmmaker Mary Zournazi spoke with The National Herald about her documentary film My Rembetika Blues which is being released in the U.S. by Documentary Education Resources.
According to Zournazi’s synopsis, “My Rembetika Blues is a film about the power of music and what makes us human. Rembetika music or the Greek blues is a music of the streets and a music of refugees. The film explores the heart and soul of Rembetika music through peoples’ stories of love, loss and belonging.”
“Rembetika developed its roots from migrant experience,” Zournazi continued. “My grandmother was one of the 1.2 million refugees who fled the Smyrna disaster in Turkey in 1922 and arrived at the Port of Piraeus in Greece. She, like many, became part of a movement of people, and of tradition, which saw the birth of Rembetika. Through its rawness and unique style, Rembetika provides one of the world’s foremost musical accounts of migrant experience.”
“Through my grandmother’s story, I narrate a personal account of the depth of longing and belonging that is part of the migrant life,” Zournazi said. “By weaving together different stories and interviews, the film looks at the legacies of history and migration, and how music can connect people in times of struggle and in times of need.”
“Drawing on the parallels of the migrant and economic crisis in Greece, the film explores the revival of Rembetika today, and how it continues to convey everyday life and struggle through the fusion of street music, hip-hop, and other influences such as Byzantine music and the Blues,” she noted. “The film documents peoples’ memory and experiences that are often left out of the chronicles of history. It is a universal story about love, life and music.”
When asked how rewarding it is seeing the film finally being released in the U.S., Zournazi told TNH: “Yes, it’s a great privilege and joy to be able to screen the film in the U.S. I think it will appeal to a variety of audiences from Greek-American audiences to more general audiences interested in music and the blues.”
About the effect of the pandemic on her work, Zournazi said, “I was lucky to have finished the principal filming in February 2020. Just as the pandemic started… And the film has been a great solace to me in the first year of lockdown as I was editing the film during this period, and it allowed me to keep connected to this world of music and people and characters. I think without the film, the pandemic may have been a lot harder for me.”
“The pandemic has actually affected the theatrical screenings of the film and so mostly it has screened at online festivals, but now it is starting to be screened in cinemas,” she noted. “I will be premiering the film in Athens May 7 at the Greek Film Archive.”
When asked what she is working on next, Zournazi told TNH: “Yes, I am very excited about the next couple of projects – one will be a hybrid documentary/fiction film – what I’m calling an Australia Road Movie to be co-written with the Man Booker Prize author Christos Tsiolkas.”
“And a new documentary set in Greece and around the world… I won’t say too much yet about this film, but only that I think audiences will like it and it involves different animals,” she said.
Zournazi’s multi-awarding winning documentary Dogs of Democracy (2017) was screened worldwide. She is also the author of several books including Hope – New Philosophies for Change, Inventing Peace with the German filmmaker Wim Wenders and, most recently, Justice and Love with Rowan Williams.
My Rembetika Blues received the Gold Remi Documentary Award at World Fest Houston International Film Festival in Melbourne in 2021. Also in 2021, the film was screened at several film festivals around the world including the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, San Francisco Greek Film Festival, Nevada Women’s Film Festival, Parma International Music Film Festival in Italy, International Film and Television Festival SIMFEST in Romania, and EATSA Art & Tourism Film Festival in Portugal.
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