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Short Greek films stand tall

Mona Lisa

Several weeks ago, having only just returned from an extended stay in Greece, I was intrigued to see a story in these very pages about a “Short Greek Film Festival”.  As it turned out, it was just the one-off screening, rather than an entire festival, but there’s no denying that the event itself, held on Thursday, March 25, at Loop Bar, was festive in its spirit and unfolding.


Organised by the team Art of the State (primarily Ange Arabatzis and Jim Koutsoukos), the screening was not officially aligned to Antipodes Festival celebrations, but the timing of it was undeniable (including the fact it was held on Greek Independence Day).


One hundred people milled about the venue’s two screening rooms, as 12 short films by Greek-Australian directors unspooled.  Only several of the films were new, most of them from the last 10 years or so.


As we all know, Melbourne has a large Greek population, with numerous 2nd generation Greek-Australian filmmakers arising from this in the past 25 years, including industry filmmakers Ana Kokkinos, Alkinos Tsilimidos, Aleksi Vellis, and independent filmmakers Anna Kannava, Gregory Pakis, George Goularas.


Most of the feature films that these above filmmakers have made don’t have “Greek” themes in them (apart from the major exception, Head On, and obviously The Wog Boy).  So it is within the realm of the short film where we can find Greek themes being explored.  Or, more precisely, where we see expressions or portraits of the unique hybrid cultural form of the “Greek-Australian”.


Thus, the identity and existential schism of the 2nd generation individual:  in Sotiris Dounoukos’ Mona Lisa, the 30-something son (an edgy Steve Mouzakis) can’t tear himself away from his frail mother (the local Irini Pappas in one of her last roles).  Emotions are frayed, nothing is clear.  It’s the same for the group of cousins in Fotios Vrionis’ Thicker Than Water – an unexpected will breaches open secrets, shaking the group up.  You see, 2nd gen-ers try to be cool, try to be “Australian”, but the past, their heritage, always impacts on them.


And so Christina Heristanidis, in her film Taxithi, follows her parents around with a video camera, trying to capture their lives, their adventures, but all she can experience is confusion and dismay.  No wonder in her other film Scream, she just has several people screaming and nothing else.


Being “Greek-Australian”, this hybrid form, is something we take for granted here in Australia, but living in Greece recently has made me realise how utterly strange this hybrid is, how it really is an unholy (no, I’m not religious) mutation of Greek genes with Australian norms.  Of course, the kids of our kids will barely have a trace of Greekness left in them – it’s just this 2nd generation of Greek-Australians that are uniquely half this, half that.


But if this hybrid creates confusion and tension, it also draws on a perhaps timeless, limitless Greek existential and performative energy – we know how to dance, sing, drink, howl, smash, regroup.


Thus, my favourite film on the night was Ange Arabatzis’ Metamorphosis, where we see a man (an expressive Jim Koutsoukos) “let himself go” – he drinks ouzo, he dances, he smashes the furniture.  All wordless, to some great music by Nick Tsiavos, it is a well-made, stirring Dionysian howl.


And in other films too:  In Conversation with Paul Capsis by Kostas Metaxas is a wonderful portrait of the teasingly transgendered singer Capsis, who clearly revels in his persona and performance;  Crunch by Christos Linou is a very short film featuring Linou himself doing a wild, contorted, but also very controlled, dance;  and Where the Heart Is by Ange Arabatzis and Lilith by Jim Stamatakos go further into the existential condition by canvassing the terrain of tragedy.


But let’s not mis-characterise Greeks or Greek-Australians as capable only of frenzy and tragedy:  the Dionysian is matched by the Apollonian, its qualities of observation, nobility, grace.  We didn’t have Aristotle for nothing you know.


And so, in the program of films, another Sotiris Dounoukos film, Punch, stood out.  Set in Paris, it is a calm, philosophical study of a lonely man, in heartbreak.  Dounoukos is currently in Europe, developing feature scripts – maybe indeed he can make artwork at the level of Theo Angelopoulos or Francois Truffaut in the future.


All in all, this inaugural edition of the “Short Greek Film Festival” was a great success, showing a number of interesting films, and one now awaits its 2011 incarnation, with hopefully a larger program.

© Bill Mousoulis March 2010.
This report first appeared in Neos Kosmos.