NEW YORK – December 13 marks the 78th grim anniversary of the 1943 Kalavryta Massacre. Inspired by history, the film Echoes of the Past tells the story of the massacre through flashbacks as an acclaimed writer recounts his childhood trauma during World War II in Greece while a lawyer investigates Greece’s legal claim for war reparations.
Directed by Nicholas Dimitropoulos, written by Dimitrios Katsantonis, and starring the legendary Max von Sydow in his final film role, Echoes of the Past is available on streaming platforms and was released in theaters in Greece and Cyprus where it held the top spot at the box office for two weeks. The film’s executive producer Tom Souleles and writer Dimitrios Katsantonis spoke with The National Herald about the film.
“My parents are both from a small village outside of Kalavryta,” Souleles told TNH. “I grew up hearing the story of what the Nazis did to the innocent people of Kalavryta and the nearby communities in 1943.”
“When my own kids were old enough, my wife and I visited Kalavryta, so that my kids could see the history themselves,” Souleles continued. “This trip occurred in the summer of 2013 (8 years ago!). When my wife and I returned home to Chicago, we decided we wanted this story told both for those still alive who remember the event and for the next generations to understand the horrors of war and fascism.”
“I was fortunate to meet Dimitrios [Katsantonis], and in time, this beautiful piece of work was created,” Souleles told TNH.
“My own father is 90 years old, and I promised myself that I would make this film before he passed. No pressure! My father watched the film for the first time this week on Amazon Prime. It was a painful and emotional experience for him, but he was happy the history is remembered,” Souleles said.
He also shared some IMDb trivia, noting that “the film is one of the most expensive productions ever mounted in Greece,” and “the production employed over 600 extras, including some of my relatives.”
“A life-size replica of the school the Nazis burned down in Kalavryta was constructed on the grounds of the old Athens Airport in Hellenikon,” Souleles told TNH, adding that “the Kalavryta town of 1943 – that the Nazis destroyed by fire – was recreated in the village of Sopoto in Achaea, Western Greece.”
“The film was the first feature to qualify for the new cash rebate scheme administered by EKOME S.A. to encourage film production in Greece,” Souleles told TNH.
When asked how long the process took from idea to realization, Katsantonis said, “Tom first approached me in 2015 to write and produce a feature about the Kalavryta massacre so it took us six years from inception to reality. It might sound like a long time but not so in the independent film sector. Coming up with the right budget (to do justice to the story) and working out the proper financial structure were the main hurdles that we needed to overcome. Tom and Cia Souleles’ financial contribution was instrumental and got the ball rolling in a big way. During the course of the development/production, we were lucky enough to be joined by executive producers John and Pauline Adams, Foss Productions, EKOME (the Greek Production Fund), Cosmote, and ERT.”
When asked how the production team came together and the legendary Max Von Sydow joined the cast, Katsantonis told TNH, “Stelios Cotionis, the CEO of Foss Productions was introduced to me by the film’s director Nicholas Dimitropoulos while I was still in Los Angeles pitching the project to various production outfits. Stelios’ determination and commitment to the project brought me to Greece and with Foss Productions at the helm, we went straight into pre-production.”
He continued: “When I was writing the part of Nicholas Andreou, it was Max I had in mind so once financing was in place he was the first actor I approached via his London-based agent. Two weeks after sending out the script she called me back with the news, ‘Max loved the script and he wants to do it.’ It took me the rest of the day to digest the news! Soon enough, the cast was enriched with three more veteran thespians known the world-over Alice Krige, Tomas Arana, and Yorgo Voyagis who did a wonderful job. That being said, the whole cast proved very talented and extremely hard working.”
Of the most challenging aspect of making the film, Katsantonis told TNH: “Financing was a challenge as it always is with independent productions and more so with period films. Also, the production design was a big challenge, depicting accurately the period, finding the right locations as a stand-in for Kalavryta as it was back in 1943, and last but not least employ CGI when needed to achieve a genuine look. The sheer scale of the film – in the period part we had 600 extras working in the dead of winter – was something to behold and made the job of the director, Nicholas Dimitropoulos as well as that of Foss Productions and its CEO Stelios Cotionis a true Odyssey.”
Of the most surprising thing he learned in the process, Katsantonis said: “Navigating the ‘fog of war’ which almost always produces many versions of the truth while staying close to the core of the historical event. It’s a fragile, balancing act that can cause some derision. Also, history often comes to us with one-dimensional characters, and creating a mythology around them, giving them much-needed layers, is vital in creating a suspenseful film that can stir the audience’s emotions and create empathy.”
Of the reaction to the film so far, Katsantonis told TNH that “in Greece and Cyprus we had a theatrical release and despite the pandemic, we had a very strong box-office run, 40,000 tickets in our first week. Echoes of the Past even managed to beat The Eternals. The film was number one at the box office for two straight weeks. On December 10th, Echoes of the Past became available on Premium VOD in Greece to run concurrently with the theatrical run. In the U.S. market, Echoes can be found in most of the major cable platforms (VOD) as well as Amazon Prime and VUDU.
When asked what he is working on next, Katsantonis said, “I am working on quite a few projects. Of particular Greek interest is The Severed, a supernatural horror film to be shot in Athens, Nicholas Dimtropoulos is directing and we have a couple of big names attached. If the financing comes together, I am also developing a film – Ashen – inspired by an incredible WWII story involving the Jewish community of Thessalonika – a city once called by David Ben Gurion ‘the mother of Israel.’ It’s one of those stories that one is hard-pressed to believe it’s non-fiction.”
Of his roots, Katsantonis told TNH: “My father’s family hails from the island of Andros and Smyrna and my mother’s from the island of Syros.”