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Culture

New York City Greek Film Festival 2017 is a Winner

October 6, 2017
Penelope Karageorge

Lights! Cameras! Action! The 11th annual NYC Greek Film Festival 2017 has come to town, along with Greek movie magic. Continuing to grow, the festival is now established as an event that brings out the crowds.

On opening weekend, the Directors Guild Theater was filled at every performance with people eager to see what only Greek film can offer, a unique cinema alive with passion, tragedy, hilarity, and that special sensibility that only the Greek psyche can impart.

Greek filmmakers arrived to join in the gala celebration at Kellari Taverna, including Thodoris Atheridis, director and co-star of Perfect Strangers, hit of the festival, and co-star Smaragda Karidi, a glamorous couple on and off screen

If Perfect Strangers is the Greek cinematic bellwether, Greece has taken a giant leap out of depression and breadlines and into urbanity. This is a witty, wise, disturbing and clever film. The beautiful people, 40ish Greek sophisticates, gather for a dinner party. The women, tall and elegant, wear great clothes and discuss their teenage kids and yoga. But danger lurks in the cell phone, the new Pandora’s box.

When the group decides to leave their cell phones out on the table and share all incoming calls and messages, private lives are exposed. Revelations range from confused sexual identity to the host undergoing therapy to one of the guests as serial lover. In the midst of this, a teenage daughter calls to ask her Dad’s advice on whether she should spend the night with a young man. This is not your mother’s Greece!

But there’s warmth and charm. The group goes out on a terrace to watch an eclipse, drawing close together as they gaze up at the moon. At the conclusion of the film, everything falls back into place. We’re not sure – did this really happen or was it just a game?

Makis Papadimitriou, one of Greece’s most durable and versatile actors, plays Achileas, the beating heart and moral center of Perfect Strangers. In last year’s heartbreaking Suntan, he played the lead, a troubled doctor. In Amerika Square, he performs the role of the warped villain. This film, Greece’s contender for a foreign film Oscar, focuses on the immigrant crisis that’s destroyed a beloved neighborhood. The fates of three people intersect: a Syrian refugee, a tattoo artist, and Nako, a slacker turned killer. The cast is exceptional, particularly Vassilis Koukalani as Tarek, a Syrian struggling for a new life. This powerful, dark film hit home, particularly to several people in the audience who remembered Amerika Square in its glory days.

Could anyone other than Greeks produce a film as wild as Afterlov with star Haris Fragoulis, his long, mobile face constantly shifting from tragic to humorous? For adults only, this film could claim the longest make-out scene in cinematic history, more outre than romantic, But don’t mistake madness for shallow story telling. This modern fable dramatizes the torments of a claustrophobic relationship. It’s not the Weird Wave. It’s just weird and wonderful.

The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity Philoptochos held their annual “dinner and a movie” party. Seventy members and their spouses enjoyed Roza of Smyrna, an intriguing tale of love that begins when a wedding dress stained with blood is discovered . A Romeo/Juliet story of a Greek, a Turk, and a broken romance, it concludes with a heart-breaking reunion. Arriving from Greece, director George Kordellas discussed his film and revealed that he’s now negotiating to have it released in Turkey.

We were impressed and touched by two beautiful documentaries. Border Souls from Takis Bardakos tells the story of Father Christodoulos Ageloglou of the Monastery of the Virgin Mary of Great Protection in Halkidiki, who reached out to feed and nurture displaced Syrian refugees. This inspiring story reveals townspeople who gave unstintingly of their time and energy, offering food along with welcoming smiles. Director Bardakos attended the world premiere of the “film with a heart.”

There are now three million stray dogs in Greece. Dogs of Democracy from Australian Mary Zournazi recounts how the dogs of Athens are nurtured and protected. One particular dog, Loukanikos, helped lead protests. His “conscience barked in our brains” recalled one activist. Said filmmaker Zournazi: “This is a film about hope, helping each other, and reaching out to strangers.”

A special thumbs-up to the hilarious and on-target short, A Hardworking Robber directed and written by Michael Felanis.

The festival runs through October 15. The Greek Film Festival Committee director James Demetro and Aspa Bitis, executive director of the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce, George Balafoutis, Maria Psomiades, Eva Mallis, and Vickie Rekoutis.

Photos: TNH/Costas Bej

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