When Sonny Bono, then the mayor of Palm Springs, chose Craig Prater to head the new Palm Springs International Film Festival, it turned out to be the beginning of a journey that has taken Prater around the world.
Recently, The Sun Runner attended the sixth annual Los Angeles Greek Film Festival where Prater served as executive director, and another well known desert personality, Nicholas Snow, of Notes from Palm Springs fame (now at Snowbiznow.com), served as the intrepid director of publicity. The four-day festival, a celebration of Greek culture at a time when the Greek people desperately need something to celebrate, came off flawlessly.
The festival’s theme this year was “Defeating the Crisis Through the Viewfinder.” Though the crisis in Greece and other countries (including ours), may not be defeated solely through artistic endeavor, the creative spirit embodied in the Greek filmmakers present at the festival, came across as triumphant.
“This year’s festival was one of the most successful we’ve had,” said Greek Consul General Elisabeth Fotiadou. “I am glad to see more and more people interested in Greek cinema. The festival’s team did amazing work. The films they screened were very powerful; commented on the Greek society of the past and present; and depicted parts of Greece’s reality in a very sensitive and mature way, sometimes with a bitter sense of humor.”
Consul General Fotiadou was herself, central to the success of the festival. The Orpheus Awards for the festival were presented during a celebration held at the home of Fotiadou and her husband, Dr. Vasilios Berdoukas, in Hancock Park. The couple personally, and warmly, greeted all those attending the ceremony, including international journalist, Brane Jevric, another desert-based media professional.
While the celebration filled the couple’s backyard with filmmakers and festival-goers who wisely purchased a Gold Pass for the four day event, a banquet of gourmet Greek foods, prepared in large part by the Consul General herself, was set out, adding an element of Greek hospitality and a personal touch of class not often found at similar events.
Festival co-founder and artistic director, Ersi Danou, presented a special Orpheus Award to Fotiadou for her support.
“This was the least we could do to express our immense gratitude for all the support she has offered LAGFF throughout the last three years, and for hosting, along with her husband Dr. Vasilios Berdoukas, the Orpheus Awards at her elegant residence,” Danou remarked. “We are forever indebted to her.”
But the films, and those who made them, remained the stars of the festival. Sun Runner favorites included The Palace, a short film from Cyprus and Australia by Anthony Maras (writer, director, editor, and co-producer), that proved to be 16 minutes of condensed, gripping wartime emotion, inspired by true events that took place during the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. One of the best anti-war films I’ve ever encountered, The Palace humanizes the invaded, and the invaders during a brief, but horrific and ultimately tragic, encounter. The Palace deservedly won the Orpheus for Best Short Film.
A favorite documentary, Raw Material, took the viewer into the world of illegal gypsy immigrants in Greece who recycle found metals to survive. Raw Material is an incredible look by Christos Karakepelis into the marginal existence and shanty town life of this underclass of people, at once Greek, and universal.
Apartment in Athens, an excellent Italian film about the Nazi occupation of Greece, won the Orpheus for Best Feature. Directed by Ruggero Diapola, and based on the book by Glenway Wescott, the challenges of the occupation is told through the difficult experiences of one Athenian family forced to host a Nazi officer. Contrasting the inherent belief in Nazi superiority with a Greek family coping with conflicting emotions and experiences brought on by their unwelcome guest, the stay results in tragedy for all.
The Special Jury Orpheus Award went to Wasted Youth co-directors Argyris Papadimitropoulos and Jan Vogel for their film that takes place all on one blazingly hot day in Athens. Sayome, a documentary about a Japanese woman who married a Greek sailor and returns to Japan to renew ties with her family after 35 years of living on Crete, is a heartwarming and ultimately upbeat film that won the hearts of the audience, taking both the Best Documentary and Audience Choice Orpheus awards.
The humor and originality of the comedy, Super Demetrios, was a welcome addition to the festival’s offerings, as the superhero of Thessaloniki (named for the patron saint of that city) takes on evil Captain F.ROM, who has turned the iconic White Tower of that Greek city into a giant frappe, and is bent on turning the OTE Tower into a giant gyro. While the flow of the comedy was at times uneven, the creative spirit behind it was delightful. For the film to be accomplished with a whopping budget of around 2,000 euros, shows a remarkable drive to accomplish super-human feats by director Georgios Papaioannou, the writers, and actors. This is a crew to support and encourage—they may be able to get all of Europe laughing it’s way out of the current crisis.
In amidst the screenings of films were an industry panel and seminar and a touching tribute to Theo Angelopoulos, one of the most respected Greek film directors who was killed this past January in an accident while filming The Other Sea. Actor Stratos Tzortzoglou brought his creative spark to the tribute, which concluded with a screening of what turned out to be our favorite film of the festival, Eternity and a Day.Winner of the Cannes Palm d’Or, Eternity and a Day is nothing less than a heartfelt immersion into the poetry of Greece served up through music, imagery, and language - and the genius of Angelopoulos. It is a film of the mysteries and poetry of the heart faced with both life, and death,a dying poet and a lost young boy, where with one slow pan of the camera, one can go back in time, or across the veil that seperates life from death. When the dying poet and author returns for the last time to the house that holds so many memories for him, he makes the decision he will not leave it to go to the hospital to face his death. Instead, as he nears the end, he asks his dead wife again, “How long is tomorrow?” Eternity—and a day.
Ultimately, the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, represented well by a professional team from the desert working with the board, staff, advisors, and capable volunteers of the Eastern Mediterranean and Balkan Cultural Center, took us past the current crisis in Greece to the indominatable spirit of a people with courage, heart, and a creative spirit that cannot be valued in euros. For me, it connected me with what I love best about Greece—its ingrained, almost genetic, inclusion of the poetry of humanity in its people.
Photo: Actor Stratos Tzortzoglou in a riveting performance during the LA Greek Film Festival’s Orpheus Awards. His performance included the Aeschylian Pathos, an Orphic hymn to Apollo. The performance was directed by Lucas Thanos who also did the music and the photographs from a collection of Gisele Lubsen.