On the occasion of the 14th Los Angeles Greek Film Festival that was opened on October 1 by the Secretary General for Public Diplomacy and Greeks Abroad, John Chrysoulakis, Aris Katopodis, Artistic and Festival Director of the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, talks about the organizational challenges brought by COVID-19. Born in Athens, Aris Katopodis studied Chemistry and Film at UCLA, subsequently earning an MBA. He has been involved in the Los Angeles theater scene as a director and producer for over twenty years. He has also worked as a technology Program Manager with various Information Technology industries in Southern California. Katopodis has been Director of Programming at Los Angeles Greek Film Festival since 2010 and Artistic and Festival Director since 2014. In his interview with Greek News Agenda* Katopodis talks about this year’s online edition, the pros and cons of going online and the nine curated collections of films the Festival offers, while he concludes with a dynamic presentation of the post-weird Greek Cinema landscape.
How has the Festival faced the COVID-19 crisis challenges in this year’s edition?
The Coronavisus challenges have upended the schedule and our lives are never going to be the same, before and after COVID-19; we just hope that we all stay healthy and safe. The annual Los Angeles Greek Film Festival - LAGFF - has traditionally been taking place in early June. This year, it’s taking place October 1-15. There is also a minor change of venue. From the iconic, glamorous, and world-renowned Egyptian Theater in Hollywood California, on Hollywood Blvd, the festival is moving Online and On-Demand. In California, as we speak, all theaters are still closed due to the Coronavirus and the virtual world is the only avenue available for the immediate future. It is a double-edged sword. On one hand, we are missing out on all the social aspects of a filmmakers' festival, the networking and everything that comes with it, whilst on the other we have been forced for the first time to explore all available options. These options are wide and interesting. While fully respecting the geo-blocking requests of filmmakers and distributors, it still leaves a significant canvas open to play with. Now, the potential audience of LAGFF supersedes Los Angeles County and stretches from Adelaide to Moscow, Petralona, Voula, Kerkyra, Crete, Glasgow, Baku, Hong Kong, Boston, Houston, you get the idea. Now, what is important is the smart collection of content and the marketing aspect of it. I’m not so sure, how many people in, say, Buenos Aires, Argentina, thought this morning, I wonder what LAGFF has available for viewing from their cool selection of Greek films? The funny thing is that they could purchase a pass and watch over 50 films from Greece, today! So a loss of intimacy, networking but also opportunities for a much larger audience are key challenges and opportunities.
“Not to be Unpleasant but we need to have a serious talk”, dir. Giorgos Georgopoulos (2019)
What are the criteria for your selection and programming?
The criteria have always been to look for the exciting, the new and different. We are looking for directors that take risks, who are not afraid to express themselves in various modes, ways, and tropes. There is always space in the festival for popular blockbuster films, for films that entertain. We do like to cover the breadth of Greek cinema, and all that it can give us. From full-featured films to documentaries, award-winning short films, animation gems, and experimental films, they all find a roof under LAGFF. In every category, though, our criteria remain the same.
“All the Fires the Fire”, dir. Efthimis Kosemund Sanidis (2019)
What are the highlights of this year’s program?
The many curated collections of films: From award-winning short films, FILM FESTIVAL DARLINGS, to major films that capture everyone's imagination in the REALITIES AND FICTIONS collection. This year, there are 9 curated collections of films with 54 films in total that guide you and help you. There are many individual amazing films, but it would not be fair to mention any single one of them. We are proud though that we have over 43 premieres, which means that we have managed to introduce many Greek films to the American market and audience. We are also proud to honor the 100-year anniversary since the birth Melina Mercouri, with an excellent remastered copy of Melina's debut film “Stella” by Mihalis Cacoyannis.
“Postcards From The End Of The World”, dir. Konstantinos Antonopoulos (2019)
Do you help filmmakers come into contact with representatives of the film industry?
During more "normal" times, there is a lot to be discussed about networking and exposure. We call our festival the filmmakers' film festival, as we routinely have 30-50 filmmakers attending and supporting their films. We are trying our best to provide a live and exciting platform to our visiting filmmakers and there are many networking opportunities during, before, and after the festival. Industry professionals attend the festival since we are in the midst of Hollywood and they consider our festival a significant expo of Greek talent. We know of several projects/films that have been initiated, thought of in the very courtyard of the Egyptian theater. It is not uncommon for filmmakers to visit us two to three years in a row and while supporting their films, they also manage to hold professional meetings and establish relationships in the industry. Finally, our advisory board includes Hollywood luminaries, working executives, skilled actors, writers, directors, industry businessmen. They add a unique layer and treasure trove of experience and knowledge that transfers to our festival attendees.
"Siege on Liperti Street", dir. Stavros Pamballis (2019)
What is the impact of the Festival in the Greek community?
LAGFF is one of the few organizations in the Greek community of Los Angeles that manages to bring together film lovers and Greek-Americans from many different areas of LA and many different organizations and different parishes. It has become a focal point of cultural celebration of all Greek Americans in Southern California and it is a perfect event to bring American friends to enjoy and partake and imbue Greek themes, colors, language, music, film and other aspects of culture that are included in this work of art called a film.
"The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea", dir. Syllas Tzoumerkas (2019)
What is the influence of Greek cinema on Americans’ perception of Greece, if any?
This is a very tall order, indeed. One needs to consider that over 90 ethnic film festivals are held annually in Los Angeles alone! From Polish to Asian, to Italian, to Scandinavian, to German, to Canadian, to Eastern European...the film festivals are endless and colorful and yes... many. European art-house cinema is having a very difficult time penetrating the American Market. It always did. Anything with subtitles has a steep slope to climb. On the other hand, Greek cinema has been intriguing viewers since the Lanthimos “Dogtooth” days as this new and fresh "weird" wave, which has lasted for almost a decade now. The Greek cinema of today is much less "weird", much less "Lanthimos centric" and a lot more different. The works of many younger directors grab international awards around the world: Papadimitropoulos, Tzoumerkas, Kotzamani, Lentzou, Zois, Grigorakis, The Boy, Psykou, Frantzis, Nikolakakis, Avranas, Georgopoulos, Mavroeidis, Tsangari, who, along with well-known filmmakers that are very productive like Boulmetis, Athanitis, Perrakis, Voulgaris, Koutras, Giannaris, put together a potent punch and make Greek cinema felt and recognized globally. Strong production houses and distributors like Faliro House, Heretic, Blonde, Tanweer, Argonauts, Horme, Handmade, Odeon, to name just a few, create a solid infrastructure for film production. The recent EKOME incentives, the further build-out of infrastructure, and a deeper bench of the Greek technical teams, all help in making Greek cinema competitive and drive its influence in Europe, and to a lesser degree in the USA, with or without the assistance of the much-maligned Greek Film Center, which is still a significant player in film production in Greece.
"Index", dir. Nicolas Kolovos (2018)
Greek cinema of the 21st century is not the Never On Sunday or Zorba. The Greek cinema of the 20th century, introducing a carefree, maybe a bit tragic, tormented, somewhat stereotypical image and perception of Greece; this unknown, exotic Mediterranean heaven of sun-drenched beaches and ouzo powered characters that have had the strength of surviving into the 21st century. Today's Greek cinema is more ambitious and is taking a lot more risks. It wants to face reality, describe it, and decompose it to its constituents, in a faint hope that we will understand it. It wants to describe real people that live next door, not mythical personas, or a simplistic Manichaeistic universe. The battle between good and evil is too boring, too Disney-esque, better left to the Super-Heroes, who are better equipped, and in no short supply. Reality, its many layers, its uncertainty, its constant agony between consciousness and unconsciousness, between instant gratification and real satisfaction of deeper needs, and the Sisyphean torment of a changing and evolving character is the domain and coin of today's Greek cinema. The degree of its influence on America's and the world's perception of Greece is to be determined by its success. It is certainly honest and forthcoming.
Our efforts at LAGFF are focused on bringing out this wealth of cinematic, cultural, language-driven artworks to anyone in the USA that has a remote interest. We cultivate strong relationships with the top 6 Film Schools of the USA, that happen to be in Los Angeles - USC, UCLA, AFI, CalArts, LMU, Chapman University, and our internship program guarantees an influx of ideas and building of lasting connections. Through the juried-awards, the International Project Discovery Forum lab, and the strong industry ties, we do whatever is possible to make that perception of Greece and Greek film as loud and shining as possible.
Read more about this year’s programe and films here:14th Los Angeles Greek Film Festival: The online edition, “Entwined”: A grounded in reality fantasy film, Giorgos Georgopoulos on a deadly virus and toxic masculinity, Stavros Pamballis on national trauma, family drama and Mediterranean Western, Syllas Tzoumerkas on successfully getting out of quagmires, Nicolas Kolovos on artistic freedom and the power of love in the darkest moments, Konstantinos Antonopoulos on how to build a pocket-size inferno on an idyllic beach, The charmingly uncanny world of Efthimis Kosemund Sanidis
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Special thanks to the Public Diplomacy Office of the General Consulate of Greece to Los Angeles