I got involved in filmmaking, almost by accident, when I watched a trailer for a Kickstarter campaign that Chrysovalantis Stamelos and Paras Chaudari had launched for a film called “Hello Anatolia.” It was about Valantis’ journey to his ancestral roots in a village outside Smyrni (Izmir) in Turkey.
His family was part of the mass exodus of Greeks who were either massacred or expelled in the 1920s when Greece and Turkey were at war. It was a fascinating story— that time period intrigued me and I thought, what a cool expression of this young filmmaker’s talent— to return to his ancestral roots and want to share the story of what he uncovered. I wanted to support the project.
I gave the project a bit of my own money and also shared it, as much as I could, with my own network. The project was funded and I received my first “Executive Producer” credit on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). Then came the fun part— watching cuts of the documentary, helping arrange interviews, bringing new collaborators on board, skyping with Valantis while he was in faraway Turkey and being a part of the creative process.
Since then, I’ve been involved in two other short film projects— both headed by young Greek filmmakers who sought out my support in one way or another. My response to both of them was— if we Greeks don’t support you, then who will?
Alex Thompson shared his script for Irene and Marie— a short film he wrote about two elderly women and their struggles that stars Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis. I was actually on set for this shoot in Astoria and it was an exhilarating two days for me.
Stefanos Sitaras— a great young talent in Greece, also sought out my support for his short film H, about unfulfilled opportunities. I flew to Greece to be a part of this project as well and have been a part of that process until the final cut was delivered.
I devoted my own time and helped raise money for both projects and also was a part of the production process, learning step by step what it takes to make a film.
Then came the tremendous opportunity to transform a story my father first told me more than three decades ago into a film— the story of the survival of the Zakynthos Jews during the Holocaust. After a random car ride with Steven Priovolos in Hollywood when I shared this story with him, he promised that we would make this into a film— and we’re in the middle of that process now with the short film “No Man is an Island.”
I’ve devoted countless hours of my own time to this project— traveled across the world to meet and interview survivors, participated in production meetings and have spent hours and hours writing ideas, sharing opinions with my collaborators and being a part of the process of creating something beautiful. Obviously, I’m not doing this for the money— there is no money in short films. I’m doing it because I love sharing stories— meaningful stories that hit at the core of who we are as Greeks, and as humans.
I’ve been fortunate to have the guidance on this project of people like Sid Ganis and Alex Siskin, who have been meticulous in the process— knowing very well that they are dealing with an “amateur” producer with very little previous experience, but keen in their desire to support our vision.
I also had the life-changing experience afforded to me by Leon Logothetis when he entrusted me to be a part of the production team for his 13-episode TV show about his trip around the world on his yellow vintage motorcycle called Kindness One. During this trip I was part of the day to day details of what it takes to produce a very complex show.
Along the way I met amazing and talented filmmakers and actors like Alexandros Logothetis, Yiannis Sakaridis, Nicholas Dimitropoulos— each of whom helped shape some basic fundamentals about the filmmaking industry.
From No Man is an Island evolved more stories— stories I learned while doing research and interviewing my own family members. Amazing stories that would be lost with the passing of this generation— not because of their irrelevance, but because so many of them get lost with the passing of time since no one is there to share them.
A story of Greek hostages in Auschwitz who defied their leaders magically came together over a single weekend after I wrote a blog post about the incident. A writer, an award-winning Canadian producer, a director and cinematographer all came together to express their desire to be a part of this project— and another short film project was born. Coming soon— Eleutheromania, about man’s yearning for freedom.
Another story emerged that I first heard from my elderly uncle in Hania— about difficulty decisions and love during Nazi occupied Crete. From a two and a half minute iPhone video that I shot over the Christmas holiday, to additional research and one coincidence after another connected to this story, another film project was born and is now being developed as I write this post. I’m calling this project “My Sweet Canary”— details to follow.
Almost magically— I know, this is all really happening all at the same time (!!)— I was connected with a woman in Northern Greece— an Auschwitz survivor from Ioannina who has a desire to share her story with the world before she dies. I’ll never forget Esther’s words of the day two thousand of her fellow Greek Jewish residents were rounded up on March 25th 1944— and this is what motivated me to hurry and put this documentary project together fast (in addition to her 90 years!)— “Δεν τράβηξε κανένας γείτονας το κουρτινάκι να δει τι γίνεται” (none of our neighbors even pulled a curtain to see what was going on)
I decided recently to “institutionalize” my work in this field and launch Iota Film Productions— a company dedicated to my parents and their desire to share stories with me that they thought would help me develop into the human being I am today. The name is a derivative of the first two letters of their first names— Ioanna and Takis.
I’m excited and nervous all at the same time— it’s something new but something I enjoy doing and something I think I’m decent at. I will focus at first on a few short film projects and documentaries— to get my feet wet and learn the lingo and processes. Who knows what the future will hold for this new venture. I’m optimistic. And although I’m not planning any moves to Hollywood any time soon, I’m excited to get involved in the filmmaking world.
I wouldn’t have reached this point without Chrysovalantis, Paras, Alex, Stefanos— Steven in a major way— and the guidance of people like Sid Ganis and Alex Siskin, Leon Logothetis and the others I’ve mentioned above. But I’m taking the plunge… Hopefully, as the Buddhists say, the net will appear!