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Documentary Series On Greek America comes to VOD and DVD
The Greek-American experience has found its way on film and TV over the decades. Numerous films, most notably “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, have portrayed the culture to varying degrees of popularity. In this mix of works on the subject, documentaries are sometimes eclipsed by their fictional cousins. But it’s the documentary that provides a level of truth and representation that essentially makes it timeless in what it records. Now, an epic, award-winning documentary series on Greek America – produced by the Greek Heritage Society of Southern California and hosted/narrated by Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis – brings that timelessness to VOD and DVD.
The trilogy – entitled “The Greeks of Southern California: Through The Century and Beyond” – actually began just over twenty years ago when the GHS envisioned an historic project that would document the history of Greek Americans in Southern California, from 1900 to the present day. Then President Zoye Marino Fidler and Board Members John Gregory, Gus Dalis, Philip Georgious and Harry Ratner met Anna Giannotis, a playwright and actress. Giannotis came onboard and Part I, “The Pioneers (1900-1942)” went into production. It premiered in 2002. Eight years later part II “The Promise of Tomorrow (1940-1960)” was released followed by the final segment “The New Greek Americans (1960 – 2018)” which was completed in early 2019.
The result is sweeping and momentous, moving and sometimes humorous, edifying and all-embracing. And although the films focus on the Greeks of Southern California, “we wanted to be inclusive so all Greek-Americans throughout the US and immigrants from any background could relate to our stories,” says Giannotis. This is most certainly true of the films as the universality is part of their appeal.
The films weave their way through interviews and a treasure trove of archival photos and footage. Each segment takes us through a different generation’s experience. Beginning with “The Pioneers” we are taken through the journey of the first Greeks to settle in the West Coast at the turn of the 20th century, their challenges of assimilation, their struggles to make a way of life, and their efforts to build the first community. “The Promise of Tomorrow” carries us through the mid-20th century as it focuses on the first generation children of those pioneers. This is a generation that navigates the duality of two identities, Greek and American. It’s also a generation that builds upon the foothold of the “American Dream” of their predecessors, achieving success in a wide variety of areas. Finally, the third installment “The New Greek Americans” introduces us to a second generation that must steer a course through the challenges of preserving their culture and identity in an age of changing times in America.
One of the more remarkable accomplishments of the films is how they observe key events in both American and Greek history through the eyes of these Greek-Americans. We are taken through two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights era, Vietnam, the invasion of Cyprus, and the war in Iraq to name a few. These are people who served and participated in significant moments in history and these moments have shaped and transformed them.
The breadth and scope of the history the films cover are a testament to some painstaking and revelatory research. “I did a lot of reading during this time period and communicated with notable Greek-American authors and historians who were very generous with their time,” says Giannotis. The production team plunged themselves into copious archival research from libraries, churches, and other organizations and the results are rich and unparalleled. “We realized there is no other organization or production company that has chronicled in depth the history of the Greek immigrant experience in any geographical area,” says Shelly Papadopoulos, GHS president and executive producer on two of the films.
Then, of course, are the participants themselves. They are energized by the opportunity to tell their stories, bringing to them humorous anecdotes and heartfelt testimonies. “If you believe energy is tangible, the love and pride that permeated throughout these stories was very real to me,” says Giannotis, “and I have been told it is very present in our films.” Indeed, it is so. And amongst the participants are some well-known Greek-Americans, from the arts and entertainment to professional sports; from politics to business; from the sciences to academia; and everything in between.
The films have made their way through festivals around the world, winning awards at several of them such as the International Panorama in Thessaloniki, the Boston International Film Festival and the Beverly Hills Film, TV and New Media Festival. They have also been cited two “Awards Of Excellence” from the Film Advisory Board, Los Angeles. They’ve also been screened at universities and institutes throughout the US.
At the end of the day, it is the extraordinary effort of the filmmakers, the GHS, and the community that brought the films to fruition. “I was honored to work with some of the most talented, giving, passionate, and dedicated board members and crew,” says Papadopoulos. “These documentaries were truly a labor of love.”
As for the future, the GHS is embarking on an ambitious and historic effort – an oral history project, in collaboration with the Basil P. Caloyeras Center for Modern Greek Studies at Loyola Marymount University. The project will house online over 500 interviews, photographs, footage, and written materials that document the Greek-American history of Southern California. It will be available to the public next spring.
In addition to writer/director Anna Giannotis and executive producer Shelly Papadopoulos, the team includes producer Antonia Lianos; executive producers Zoye Marino Fidler and Harry Ratner; director of photography Philip Georgious; editor Hughes Hall; associate producers Demetra Koris and Cynthia Spears; and composer Bob Luna.
To get started watching these award-winning films, go to: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/ghs where you can rent or buy them for digital download. They are also available on DVD at https://www.greekheritagesociety.org