The documentary film Philoxenia by Jessica Chriesman makes its film festival premiere at the 23rd Annual Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Alabama, August 29. Photo: Courtesy of Jessica Chriesman
BIRMINGHAM, AL – Filmmaker Jessica Chriesman shared an update with The National Herald about her documentary Philoxenia, highlighting the synergy between the Greek notion of philoxenia (“friend of the stranger”) and Southern hospitality, as expressed through Birmingham’s Greek-owned restaurants. The film features local favorites Ted’s Restaurant, Demetri’s BBQ, Johnny’s Restaurant, The Bright Star, The Fish Market, and Gus’s Hot Dogs.
Chriesman told TNH via email on August 17 that “Philoxenia will be making its film festival premiere at the end of this month during Birmingham’s own Sidewalk Film Festival.”
Philoxenia will be screened during the 23rd Annual Sidewalk Film Festival as part of the Alabama Documentary Shorts 2 Block in the Boutwell Auditorium, Sunday, August 29, 2:45 PM.
The 23rd Annual Sidewalk Film Festival presented by Regions Bank is returning to its Theatre District roots with a festival footprint that includes the Sidewalk Film Center and Cinema, the Alabama Theatre, the Lyric Theatre, First Church Birmingham, the Alabama School of Fine Arts Dorothy Jemison Day Theatre, Recital Hall and Lecture Hall as well as the Steiner Auditorium at the Birmingham Museum of Art. In its 23 years, the Sidewalk Film Festival has showcased the work of more than 250 filmmakers and welcomes 15,000 film lovers to Birmingham annually. Since its debut in 1998, filmmakers from across the country and around the world have come to Birmingham to screen their work at Sidewalk and have been thrilled to discover enthusiastic crowds eager to devour new independent cinema. The Festival continues to thrive with increased submissions, ticket sales, and press coverage. The 23rd Annual Sidewalk Film Festival takes place August 23-29.
In an interview earlier this year, Chriesman told TNH about the most surprising thing she learned about Birmingham's Greek-owned restaurants in the process of making the film. She said: “The sheer variety of restaurants established by Birmingham's Greek immigrants is amazing. I was able to talk to six restaurant owners for this film ranging from Gus's Hot Dogs, an almost 75-year-old hot dog stand in the heart of downtown, to Johnny's Restaurant, a meat and three in the suburb of Homewood which is helmed by a James Beard Award-nominated chef, Tim Hontzas, to The Bright Star which has been family owned since 1907. Sam Nakos, second-generation owner of Demetri's BBQ shares that at one point nearly all barbecue restaurants in Birmingham were owned by Greeks. The reason most of these restaurants don't serve strictly Greek food is twofold. One was to protect themselves from discrimination from people who were not open to immigrants moving to the city and the second was to serve an audience who were not yet used to the flavors of Greece. Ted's Restaurant, which opened in 1973, is one that incorporated Greek seasoning and techniques to its menu early on. As these restaurants became more established they began to return to their roots and added dishes like pastitsio and souvlaki to their offerings alongside traditionally southern foods. As Chef George Sarris, owner of The Fish Market who immigrated to Birmingham from Tsitalia in 1969, says in the film, ‘I don't care how good or bad a chef you are, you're going to put your culture in your food. We take the Southern way of food and we Greek it.’”
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