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The Toronto Greek Film Retrospective: A Sanctuary for Hellenic Passion
"These artists are digging- digging for answers. There's a strong will...and there is always (the theme of) hope in these films"

Anthony Perkins in the 1962 film Phaedra 

The Toronto Greek Film Retrospective (TGFR) is an admission-free film festival celebrating Greek cinema and culture, with an eclectic mix of films from the past 50 years. 

“We started the retrospective so we could promote Greek film, culture, and history,” says President of the Retrospective Ted Manziaris. “A lot of people recognize Greece for its rich theatre history, but aren’t aware of our film history. We’d like to showcase some of the great Greek films that have been lost over the years.”

The TGFR is projected to be the largest Greek film festival in the world, and the festival’s hype has been a gratifying recess from the country’s mass negative attention in the international media.

“Greece is really suffering,” says director of the festival Dannis Koromilas. “[We want] to remind them of great storytellers and filmmakers of the past. It’s a healing process- a way to forget the negativity, at least for a weekend.”  

Along with five esteemed Greek films, the retrospective includes two English-speaking pictures. A notable inclusion, Fred and Vinnie (2011), is a dark comedy directed by Steve Skrovan of Everybody Loves Raymound, and written by Seinfeld writer and guest-star extraordinaire Fred Stoller. The festival’s opening film is the critically acclaimed Phaedra, a provocative 1962 drama starring Melini Mercouri and Anthony Perkins.

Phaedra is stunning, an absolute classic- racy and romantic,” Koromilas adds, “ It didn’t do well in North America, because people didn’t buy Anthony Perkins as a romantic character. They still had their image of him from Psycho. I think now people will be very moved by this film.”

As in any period of hardship, the arts is certainly an effectual outlet for catharsis. Ted Manziaris commends the solidarity the festival has inspired in the Greek community. 

“The most exciting thing [during the festival's development] is seeing how the Greek groups in Toronto have come together to support this. If Greeks stuck together and promoted each other like they did in this festival, I think there’d be a lot less negativity.”

The Greek consul general Dimirtri Azemopoulis has been of especial assistance to the festival.

“He is the best consul general this city has ever had. He’s done more to promote and support Greeks than any council has ever done.”

Dinos Voidnicolas, president of the Greek Town BIA, recommended the festival be brought to the Danforth.

“He’s the reason why our numbers have spiked through the roof this year,” said Manziaris, “This festival is going to be the biggest Greek festival in the world, bigger than in Los Angeles, Australia, and even in Greece- we are very proud. We’ve gone from a theatre of 400 to a theatre of 1300.” 

In a country affected by crippling debt, the future of the arts is tentative. Dannis Koromilas states that though Greek filmmakers don’t posess Los Angeles sized production budgets, Greece is garnering significant attention in the film industry.

The new Greek films are darker,” Koromilas states, citing Dogtooth (2009), an Oscar-nominated Greek film, “The desperation in Greece is evident, and the mood of the country is being reflected in the mood of the films. These artists are digging- digging for answers. There’s a strong will…and there is always [the theme of] hope in these films.”

The admission-free Retrospective will take place from July 12th to 15th in the Danforth Music Hall.

Joanna Tsanis writes about culture and comics for the Toronto Standard. Follow her on Twitter: @joannatsanis

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