NEW YORK – Produced by the Greek Heritage Society of Southern California and narrated by Olympia Dukakis, The New Greek Americans is a charming documentary which examines Greek community life from the turbulent years of the 1960’s up to today. Exploring the influence of each decade’s political events on various communities, especially in California, the film presents heartfelt and humorous stories about growing up Greek in the USA.
The film was screened at The 13th Annual New York City Greek Film Festival on October 22, the final screening of this year’s festival, which wraps up with the closing ceremony on October 23.
Successful Greek-Americans from a variety of fields are highlighted as well as the community’s memorable moments of unity on the issues of religious freedom, civil rights, Cyprus, and philanthropy. The love for Greece, the language, culture and, of course, the food was clear among all those interviewed for the film. The question of how the younger generations, second and third generation Greek-Americans, are continuing to keep the light of Hellenism burning brightly through many organizations and activities was also explored. The young people featured in the documentary offer a great deal of hope for the future and though aware that the community in the U.S. is changing, they appreciate their culture and heritage profoundly.
Among the Greek-American celebrities in the film, Rita Wilson, Nia Vardalos, and John Stamos, who spoke about the Greek work ethic, noting that he continued to work in his father’s restaurant even after he was performing on TV in the long-running soap opera General Hospital. He would be recognized as he took orders for burgers, but that is how the Greek family restaurant business works.
TV host and actress Debbie Matenopoulos held back tears as she spoke about her decision not to change her name when she was a co-host on The View. She remembered how hard her parents had worked as immigrants and how much they had sacrificed and wanting to make them proud when they saw the family name on the TV screen.
Archbishop Iakovos marching with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Selma, Olympia Dukakis’ Oscar win, and her cousin Michael Dukakis’ run for president were also among the highlights of the film.
The audience applauded enthusiastically as the credits rolled and many noted the universality of the themes for not just Greeks in America, but all immigrant groups. Of course, many were especially proud of all the accomplishments of the Greek community.
The film’s writer/director Anna Giannotis was among those present at the screening along with associate producer and Greek National Figure Skating Champion Dimitra Korri who also appears in the film, executive producer Shelly Papadopoulos, and cinematographer Philip Georgious participated in a Q&A session with the audience following the screening of the film. Greek actress Eirini Mo moderated the discussion.
When asked what was the most challenging aspect of making the film, Papadopulos told The National Herald that securing the funding was a struggle, and technical issues also because they had started interviewing people many years ago, a great deal of footage was on videotape and had to be converted to digital.
Giannotis, a native of Newport, RI, spoke about how she began her career as an actress working in regional theatres throughout the U.S. Based in New York City, she also began writing and producing plays during the mid-1980’s which led her to Los Angeles in the mid-1990’s. An opportunity to write, direct, and produce three documentary features for the Greek Heritage Society of Southern California launched her career as a documentarian. The first two parts of the series, The Pioneers and The Promise of Tomorrow, respectively, which highlight immigration, assimilation, and success of two Greek-American generations, have received several awards in international film festivals. The New Greek Americans, spanning the 1960’s to the present day, completes the trilogy. As an advocate of Arts-in-Education, Giannotis teaches film making, writing, and acting in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. She has authored several plays for children and one-acts, continues to work as an actress for stage, film, and TV, and currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband Bob Luna, an accomplished musician and composer who also composed the music for The New Greek Americans.
More information about The New Greek Americans and the entire trilogy is available online: https://www.greekheritagesociety.org/.