Los Angeles Greek Film Festival


Review by Willard Manus

The recently concluded fourth Los Angeles Greek Film Festival
(LAGFF) offered an eclectic--and sometimes controversial--slate of films. Seventeen new works were were screened over a three-day period which included an Industry Program featuring one-on-ones with such film execs as Matthew Buzzell, Terry Dougas, John D. Eraklis and Lynette Howell. The Festival Founders, Angeliki Giannakopoulos and Ersi Danou, presented the Career Achievement Award to Phedon Papamichael, the Greek-born cinematographer whose many credits include Walk the Line, Sideways, 3.10 to Yuma and Knight and Day, starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.
Papamichael was also represented in the festival with ARCADIA LOST, a feature which he directed and shot, working from a script by David Arinello. Shot largely in Greece, the film mixed realism, surrealism and flashes of poetry in telling the story of two American teenagers, the Lolita-like Charlotte (Haley Bennett) and Sye (Carter Jenkins), who seemingly survive a car crash which kills their parents and are left to wander on their own, without water or food, across a bleak, unforgiving landscape, like the young heroes of Nicholas Roeg's 1971 film, Walkabout. (It's more likely that they didn't really survive the crash and that the entire story takes place in the after-life).
A confusing, maddeningly incoherent and portentous script marred ARCADIA LOST and wasted good performances by Bennett and Jenkins, and by Nick Nolte and Dato Bakhtadze, who respectively played A Wandering Sage and The Devil. Papamichael shot the film capably but couldn't save it from disaster.
The festival jury named 4 Black Suits as best feature, with Plato's Academy taking the audience-favorite award. Both were comedies, the former (written, directed and starring Renos Haralambidis) on the goofy, slapstick side, the latter a bitter-sweet look at identity issues in modern Athens (the hero, a proud and zenophobic Greek, is shaken to his roots when he learns that he might be part Albanian).
The other two main features, Black Field and Dogtooth, received no prizes but stirred up the most fuss. Black Field, written and directed by Vardis Marinakis (a graduate of London's National Film School), was set in 1650 and told a dark, powerful story about a young nun (the remarkable Sofia Georgovassili) and a Jannissary (the equally talented Hristos Passalis) on the run from his Turkish overlords. Their love affair, which begins in a bleak, inhuman, mountaintop nunnery and concludes in a dreamscape-like forest, is noteworthy for its many startling, passionate and original moments. Marinakis is a young filmmaker to watch out for.
Dogtooth, which won the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, was directed and co-written by Yorgos Lanthimos. A bold, uncompromising but deeply unsettling fable, it goes behind the fortress-like walls of a suburban home ruled by tyrannical parents who have kept their three children cut off from the world. It's a microcosm of a totalitarian society replete with sadomasochistic sex, torture and mind-control. Some audience members at LAGFF walked out of Dogtooth's screening, others applauded it for its courage. It will be interesting to see what the general public's reaction will be when Kino International releases Dogtooth on the art-film circuit this summer.
LAGGF's best-documentary prize went to COLOSSI OF LOVE, Nikkos Mistriotis' cheeky and hilarious look at the kamakis (Greek for harpoons)--a sub-class of young Greek studs who gained a measure of fame in the 70s and 80s when they began to sexually service the foreign women who flocked to tourist centers like Rhodes and Mykonos on package-holidays. Mistriotis interviewed lots of surviving kamakis and a few of the women they had slept with, nearly all of whom had fond memories of their happy days in sunny, swinging, pre-AIDS Greece.
For more Festival details go to lagreekfilmfestival.org.