By Vasilis Papoutsis, Contributing Editor
The 13th Annual Los Angeles Greek Film Festival (LAGFF) took place at the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, CA and screened 47 feature films. Many first- time directors and 11 women filmmakers showcased films with an emphasis on women’s issues, both the Opening and Closing Night Films were centered around women. MELTEM was the Opening Night feature by Greek-French director Basile Doganis, an examination of the refugee crisis through the eyes of a young woman played by Daphne Patakia.
The UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center educational collaboration returned this year with the premiere of THE RIGHT POCKET OF THE ROBE. The film was directed by first-time feature film director Yiannis Lapatas and it is the story of the emotional attachment that a monastery monk experiences for his dog. Thodoris Antoniadis is the lead actor of the film and he delivered a marvelous performance. Talking to the HNA about the production of the film he said that “I am grateful to the director Yiannis Lapatas for his generosity and the knowledge he shared with us. I also have a very special attachment to my co-star Sissy, the most beautiful dog.” The movie was filmed at the Monastery of Kaisariani in 34 days and despite its slow pace, it is a heartwarming story with an optimistic ending. Director Evangelia Kranioti was a big winner as her documentary “Obscurro Barroco” received enthusiastic reviews from the audience as well as 2 awards, for Audience Award and Special Jury Documentary Award.
Best Documentary Film went to OLYMPIA about the life of the Academy Award Winning actress Olympia Dukakis. This is the creation of director and producer Harry Mavromichalis who had invited Olympia through NYU to do an acting workshop in Cyprus.” Eventually, she came to Cyprus and we spent 2 weeks together. We kept in touch and a year later I came up with the idea for the documentary. I pitched it to her and she said no. For three months I kept trying to convince her and at the end she accepted. Initially, I had full access only to her, not to her children. After a year and a half when I showed her the trailer which she loved, she invited me to her husband’s birthday party and arranged for her children to be interviewed” Mavromichalis told HNA.
As with any passion project in order to start filming, he had to raise money on Kickstarter. He was able to raise the first $100,000 that way. He filmed for 3 years and spent 4 years raising the rest of the money and editing. Anthoula Katsimatides who was Olympia’s student and considers her a mentor came aboard later as an executive producer as did Sid Ganis. And the result is an honest profile of the actress’ struggle to reconcile her American values and the values of her immigrant parents. Dukakis has been a working actress all her life and appeared in a number of films including Steel Magnolias, Mr. Holland’s Opus and of course Moonstruck for which she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her amazing portrayal of Cher’s mother Rose Castorini. Laura Linney, Lainie Kazan and Whoopi Goldberg among others appear in the film along with Olympia’s cousin Michael Dukakis, former Governor of Massachusetts. The screening of Olympia was sponsored by Kelly Vlahakis- Hanks, CEO of Earth Friendly Products.
Closing night film was Nikos Labot’s HER JOB making its West Coast premiere. The film deals with a middle-aged woman’s unexpected empowerment in order to help her struggling family’s dire financial situation. The story is not unique to the Greek crisis and it can easily be adapted to most free market economies. But the acting was very good and Marisha Triantafyllidou was deserving of her Best Performance recognition even though she was not the lead actress in the film.
The Orpheus Awards Ceremony that followed was hosted by Patricia Kara and Elena Evangelo. Emmy–nominated Casting Director and Producer Valorie Massalas was the Orpheus Award Honoree. Academy Award Winner George Chakiris presented the Orpheus to Massalas, who did the casting for some of the most well-known films of our generation such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Back to the Future Part 2, Total Recall and Gods and Monsters.
The festival’s purpose is to celebrate the best of the New Greek Filmmakers and promote Greek cinema to the Hollywood community. Besides the screening of the films it also offers panels and workshops with industry professionals and the filmmaker’s brunch is one of the most popular events where Greek filmmakers can network and mingle, an event that has always been hosted at the Greek General’s Council home and members of the press were always welcomed.
This year was the exemption and members of the press were excluded due to lack of space. The new General’s council home in the affluent coastal city of Pacific Palisades that many Hollywood celebrities call home, does not have enough space to accommodate and the hope is that the festival’s board will seek a new location next year. One of the most important aspects of the festival is the International Project Discovery Forum (IPDF) an incubator program that nurtures new cinematic talent. It was founded by Araceli Lemos in 2013 and the selected projects participate in a forum that includes a 4-day development lab as well as a series of roundtables and workshops free and open to the public.
This year’s IPDF Award went to Elina Psykou for Patrimonial Fears and other symptoms. Best Feature Film went to PAUSE by Tonia Mishiali, Best Short Film to I AM MACKENZIE by Artemis Anastassiadou, Best Audience Award for Feature Film to ½ NEW YEAR by Tom Morash and Best Director to Maria Lafi for her film HOLY BOOM. One of the best films of the festival was KAZANTZAKIS, the true story of one of the greatest Greek authors of the 20th century. Based on his autobiography “Report to Greco” and directed by Ioannis Smaragdis, the film received many negative reviews by Greek film critics but it was well received by the audience in Los Angeles.
Photo Credit: Steve Sasaki/Urbanite Media