The history of documentary film on Greeks in the United States has yet to be compiled. This fact is all the more curious when we recognize that from the very first moments that motion pictures came into existence Greeks were recorded on this new media. Brief fragments of such moving images along with a select array of still images all report that such early films were made.
By documentary film I mean specifically those full-length programs that attempt to accurately present the history and experiences of Greeks in the United States. A number of these films focus on individuals as a means of understanding the collective experience of Greek-Americans.
No systematic collection of these films can be found anywhere. In the hope of stimulating interest in this unique historical resource what follows is my own annotated list of Greek-American documentaries. Obviously this account is limited only to those films I was able to discover. Other films may certainly exist. All of these films can be ordered directly from the filmmaker, distributor, producer, or via inter-library loan through your neighborhood library.
I have also omitted all films produced by the Department of Television Ministry (GO Telecom). This department was once part of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America's Office of Print and Digital Media. This now defunct branch department issued some 100 films documenting an unprecedented number of religious and social topics between roughly 1988 and 2002. This singular Greek-American self-exploration on film deserves its own full and independent accounting.
One last caveat. Of the documentary films cited below, I must report, I have not seen each and every one. Following the notion that the study of these films must begin somewhere and that someone must write the first survey I have simply included all films I could locate.
If you believe this effort is ill-conceived, let me again stress that no one is gathering any of these films into one unified collection. As a consequence there is absolutely no assurance whatsoever that any of these films, no matter when they were released, will be preserved for future generations.
Just for the sake of clarity I would like to first discuss a feature film that is often mistakenly said to be a documentary. Released in 1963, Good Night, Socrates / Kali nikta, Socrates written by Maria Moraites is a black and white 34 minute 16 mm. feature film. Directed by Stuart Hagmann, this film's story line is described as "a man reflects on a spring of his boyhood, when as a ten-year-old he saw his aunt and grandfather receive a 40-day eviction notice because of an urban renewal project … describing the last service held in the neighborhood Orthodox Church, and picturing the family on Easter as they leave their home on Socrates Street" (www.angoleiro.com/s.cgi?l=G).
All the scenes in Good Night, Socrates were shot in Chicago's Halsted, Harrison, and Blue Island district that once formed the core of that city's original Greektown. Since the majority of buildings seen in this film were leveled in order to build the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois, visually much in this film is historically invaluable. From our perspective in time, scenes of Greek storefronts and interiors, long-shots of the street vistas, and even footage of the wrecking ball knocking down buildings gives a unique poignancy to this film. Taking all this into consideration it is not too difficult to understand why many Greeks in Chicago, mistakenly insist Good Night, Socrates is a documentary.
I first saw the 1974 documentary film, Memories and Conversations, on October 29, 1976, at the Modern Greek Studies Association conference in Chicago, Illinois. This documentary was produced by Peter Chechopoulos and directed by Hans Schaal and is "an autobiographical film portrait of the producer's father and mother, Jim and Helen Chechopoulos. It is a comprehensive study of a second generation Greek-American family."
Internationally recognized film critic Gene Siskel said of this film that, "… Clearly, Jim and Helen have survived and enjoyed life because they have each other. And though we never see them kiss, it's obvious they are as much in love as two hard-working people will permit themselves to be. Director Hans Schaal has given us an American family without glitter and without bitterness. By the end of this straight-forward film, we know Jim and Helen — their past and their ritual present — as thoroughly as we know some of our best friends. That's a terrific accomplishment for any movie."
In 1980, the Hellenic Horizons organization of Grand Rapids, Michigan, received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. "The Greek American Family: Continuity Through Change," a museum exhibition was one facet of this award. First presented at the Grand Rapids Public Museum for nearly a year, the project also had a touring component that traveled the country for over six years. The touring panels eventually were accepted by the St. Photios Shrine as part of their permanent collection and are in storage in St. Augustine, Florida.
During the project two videos were made: one on the making of the exhibition itself and the other on culinary traditions in the home. While these films were shown in Grand Rapids, I am not sure if they were ever aired outside of that city. The Grand Rapids Public Library (111 Library Street N.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49503-3268) holds these two films along with the unaccessioned material collected during the course of this project's field work.
In 1981, Doreen Moses's film, A Village in Baltimore: Images of Greek-American Women, was released. This film is described as "A documentary set in Baltimore's 'Greektown,' focusing on assimilation of four Greek women into American society. Issues explored include traditions, marriage, professional goals, and views of American society." These were Greek immigrant women from the island of Karpathos who arrived after World War II. I must confess I have never seen this film or Ms. Mose's next Greek-American documentary.
In 1984, Moses along with fellow-filmmaker Andrea Hall released One on Every Corner: Manhattan's Greek-owned Coffee Shops. The New York Times (28 March 1985) concisely described it as a "48-minute movie [which] looks at the ethnic traditions and values of the Greek-Americans who own and work in these traditions."
I have never seen Colette Piault's 1985 film, Let's Get Married. Filmed in Ano Ravenia, Greece, in the summer of 1983, this picture's subject matter, we are told, involves "Eleni who … met Demetrius while on holiday in Greece. … This observational film [documentary] follows their Greek-American wedding day and is a kind of 'family film' shot by professional filmmakers" (www.der.org/films/lets-get-married.html). This film was financed under the auspices of France's Centre national de la recherché scientifique. This means we have a Greek-American marrying a Greek in Ano Ravenia with French filmmakers documenting the event at the expense of the French tax payer!
References abound for The Greeks, a 1986 film by the Center for Learning Technologies of Albany, New York. While the film is part of the "New Immigrants" series, I have never seen this documentary.
In 1988, Every Island Has Its Own Song was researched and filmed as a joint effort between the Bureau of Florida Folklife and station WEDU of Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida. The project was underwritten by a National Endowment of the Arts, Folk Arts Program grant. Dr. Nancy Michael was the project folklorist. Originally conceived as a film about Nikitas Tsimouris (1924-2001), a traditional tsabouna, or Greek bagpipe, player who lived in Tarpon Springs, the film became something of a community study as well.
If this sounds odd, it is because the Bureau of Florida Folklife operated under the impression when the grant was applied for that they would be in total charge of the project. Since WEDU co-signed the grant they wished to have equal share in the final product. Happily Dr. Michael was diplomatic enough in her work with WEDU that the film does not suffer in the least.
In large measure this film does focus on Tsimouris as a folk musician. His life as an immigrant, his family and community beliefs and values in a Florida setting, all see balanced representation. In typical fashion, academic experts are trotted out to serve as authorities in interpreting the action and lives of Greeks in Tarpon Springs. Excellent scenes of Greek music and dance should after nearly 20 years serve as fond remembrances for those involved in the original project.
Coincidently, also in 1988, filmmaker John Cohen released Pericles in America (www.johncohenworks.com). This is another film I have not seen. The All Movie Guide description reports: "Greek-American clarinetist Pericles Halkias has received the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts and is responsible for trying to preserve traditional Greek music forms both in the U.S. and in Greece. Part of the film concerns the musician and his family, who lives and celebrates their Greekness in Astoria, Queens. Another part of the film is a docudrama concerning a young Greek-American who returns to Greece in order to find himself a bride in his parent's native village. The docudrama is filled with exactly the kinds of music the clarinetist is trying to preserve and shows it being performed in the context of everyday Greek life" (www.allmovie.com/cg/avg.dll).
Other Voices, Other Songs: the Greeks, a 1989 film by Sari Sapir and Bernice Olenick, examines the roots of Hellenic music while also telling something about Greek culture in America. Filmed in Greece and America, the musical performers one sees are the Contemporary Greek Ensemble, Sophia Bilides, Mandala Folk Dance Ensemble and a group only described as "Greek Band of the Middle East Restaurant." I have never seen this joint Sapphire Productions/WGBH (Boston) film.
In March 1990, the film The St. Photios Shrine: Our Plymouth Rock was released. With the famed Greek-American actor Alexander Scourby as narrating host, the viewer is shown the Avero House site and presented with the history of the New Smyrna Colony. In just eighteen minutes the viewer is offered a quick review of the nearly 240 years of Greek involvement in eastern Florida. An amazingly well done production given the brevity of the film. This is a valuable film for anyone seriously interested not only in the history of Greeks in North America but how the Avero House now serves as a historical monument to our collective past on this continent.
In December 1997, production on the documentary Hellenes of Minot and Hierarchal Service Highlights September 20th 1997 was completed (email@example.com). This film records the "Diamond Jubilee of Orthodoxy, 1921-1997, of the Hellenes of Minot, North Dakota." For many years this was the only Greek Orthodox Church in North Dakota. In 1997, I wrote a five-part series on the history and experiences of the Greeks of Minot, North Dakota. No Greek-American newspaper or magazine was, then, willing to publish such a long account on such a small parish.
In April 2000, the National Herald (volume 3, issue 131) did publish a single feature article on the Minot Greeks; but given all the editing of information, no mention was ever made of the video. The title I gave this feature article was "The Lost Children of Hellas." The editor at that time saw fit to change the title to "North Dakota Greeks Find Novel Ways to Cover Religious Needs." I had written about how the parish was driven out of the Archdiocese, but the title made it sound as if everything was just fine. Rather than face serious and enduring problems within our community, we are simply ignoring them in the press and elsewhere in a flurry of meaningless pleasantries.
As part of the overall Minot series, I had written a review of their documentary. The review was never published. Editors, at the time, simply could not understand why I would write such an in-depth and lengthy review of this tiny community. Much has changed in the last ten years.
Greek Orthodox parishes in places such as Fort Worth, Texas; Great Falls, Montana; Appleton, Wisconsin; Pueblo, Colorado; Kankakee, Illinois; and other rural towns and cities across the nation have had to face a situation where fewer and fewer Greeks resided in their home communities. Many other Greek Orthodox parishes remain in existence only because of the ever increasing numbers of non-Greek American converts. Surprisingly not all Greeks or Greek-Americans are happy about seeing these converts in their home parishes. The tensions and realities of the vast majority of these Greek-American rural parishes are not being offered in the pages of the Orthodox Observer.
This is why documentaries and extended historical accounts of communities such as Minot, North Dakota, are vital for our basic understanding of contemporary Greek Orthodoxy in North America. The difficulties faced by Greeks in Minot are not isolated events. Greek-Americans in communities such as New York City; Asbury Park, New Jersey; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Salt Lake City, Utah; Huston; Texas; or Los Angeles, California, must come to understand that the smaller parishes are in dire straits, culturally as well as financially.
Being small does not mean being insignificant. This is often difficult for Greeks to understand. The vast majority of Greek Orthodox churches that belong to the Archdiocese fall in the range of the medium to small parish. Greek festivals, individual wealthy Greeks within any given parish, and fully paid buildings hide what can only be understood as a growing crisis.
Hellenes of Minot and Hierarchal Service Highlights is a film divided into three sections. Life-long resident James Maragos wrote the script for the first section which is a historical overview of the community. Important historical events of the St. Mary Greek Orthodox Church of Minot see not only discussion: they are augmented by photographs of innumerable members of the parish. Care is taken in this section to recall as many of the individual priests, chanters, and parish members as could be remembered. The very effective use of a 1957 audio recording of a Sunday service is included.
The second part of the film showcases extensive excerpts from the September 20, 1997, Hierarchal Liturgy and Memorial Service. This part of the film is as long — if not longer — than the historical introduction. A good question to ask at this point is why feature such extended excerpts from the service? First, this entire event was held to honor all the Greek founders of the parish. So those who attended did so to see old friends and family members in order to joyfully recall the past.
The other aspect to this long section of the film is its non-Greek audience of viewers. You can be sure that Greek Americans everywhere who have had documentaries made of their communities hand them out to all their non-Greek friends and business associates within their hometowns. Scattered among the Protestants and the unchurched this is how the Greek Orthodox faithful demonstrate and exhibit their religion to others. For those in big cities it is difficult to understand that Greeks are still challenged on the basis of their faith. Various individuals in North Dakota, Colorado, Iowa, rural Illinois and elsewhere have reported to me how non-Greeks frequently ask them if they are Christian or if they are Catholics or somehow Jewish. It is far too easy to dismiss these questioning individuals as simply isolated ignorant people.
The other point to recall is small towns are just that, they are small. You make an enemy there and it is not someone you can readily avoid. So the ardent Hellenes of Minot like those of Pueblo and elsewhere readily gave these videos to their friends, neighbors and business associates as a means to offset any potential misunderstandings. Proud of their ancestors and sustained by their religion the Minot Greeks are to be commended for this film.
In 1998, The Greek Americans saw release with George Veras as the writer, producer, and director. Narrated by Rodger Caras, this film has a star-studded cast of prominent Greek-Americans who each after their own fashion report upon what their heritage means to them. Among those interviewed are Charles Moskos, Senator Paul Sarbanes, George Tenet, George Stephanopoulos, Gus Pagonis, Billy and Lisa Zane, Peter Diamandis, Olympia Dukakis, Ike Pappas, Adriana Huffington, John Defterios, John Stamos, Alex Karras and Peter Sampras (www.verastv.com).
Based on the success of this documentary film, Veras went on to release Greek Americans 2: Passing the Torch. Narrated this time by Ike Pappas this film is a continuation of the first extending the story to include "topics such as the maintenance of the Greek language, Greek women, passing on the heritage from second to third generation and more stories of the success and struggles."
When I first saw these two films I did not especially like either one. It seemed to me that all the director/writer had done was assemble a group of wealthy successful individuals who said little more than it was wonderful to be Greek. After viewing these films, again, I must say that is still my reaction.
Yet, all these individuals are quite sincere and as the American folk saying goes: "who can argue with success." It is a fundamental truth of the Greek American experience that as a group we have succeeded economically and socially well beyond anyone's predictions. Not only should this not be ignored it should be studied in much greater detail than this film allows. I found it especially disturbing that in neither film is there any definition or even general agreement on what it means to be Greek in North America — it's just "special," somehow.
And here is where the insidious dimension of the 'struggle and success' school of Greek-American Studies resides. We face once again this issue of 'happy talk" versus reality. Being Greek in North America is not only about being economically or socially successful. The 1970 Bureau of the Census report is the one pointed to as evidence that Greeks have overcome all obstacles to gain at the very least middle class and often higher social status in North America. What other evidence has been compiled to prove this point? Just the bragging of our fellow Greeks? No one has ever failed or failed for long in Greek-America? How much pain and suffering does that claim really hide?
In 1998/1999, Angelike Contis released her outstanding documentary From Hip Hop to Zeimbekiko. This film showcases the story of the Hellenic Dancers of New Jersey preparing for and then presenting their 25th anniversary performance. This is a unique film for various reasons. First it deals with Greek traditional dance in North America. Next it reports upon the generational mix of those Greeks born in this country who ardently maintain their traditions of dance and music. This performance group includes individuals born of the 1890 to 1920 wave of immigrants as well as the children of those individuals who immigrated after World War II.
Contis never interjects herself into the film. The participants tell their own stories about what this dance troupe has meant to them in Greek, English and mixed Greek and English with subtitles in English when appropriate. The transformation from seeing the dancers practice in shorts, t-shirts and Nikes to their performance in traditional costumes is stunning. Finally, without question Mrs. Eleni Tsakalos, the director of the Asbury based dance group since its inception, is a true cultural hero. If you are looking for a positive and powerful look at how Greeks are unquestionably maintaining their traditions in the United States this is the documentary to see (firstname.lastname@example.org).
As for the film-maker, Angeliki Contis reports she was "born in Virginia, bred in Vermont, [and for the last decade has been] based in Athens." As various sites on the Internet attest, Contis is an independent documentary director and journalist. Contis graduated from Harvard in 1994, with a bachelors in Social Studies and then for the next three years worked for Geovision, Inc. the Boston-based video production company. Contis has several other films to her credit such as 24 Hours in the Village (2001) and Muttumentary (2006) which she undertook with her own funds. Contis is currently the film critic for Athens News and her writings have appeared in publications as diverse as Fodor's, Odyssey Magazine, Cineaste and HSToday.
Angeliki Contis is a Greek-American filmmaker to watch.
The 1999, A Tribute to the Greek Women Immigrant Pioneers is a terrific film. Greek American history is presented through the experiences and considerable accomplishments of an array of extraordinary immigrant women. As the website description reports, this film is "a portrait of the stalwart Greek women who came to America before World War II and inspired the generations to follow their lessons of citizenship, family, faith and love of learning" (www.ahiworld.com/tribute.html). Produced through the contributions of John and Doris Rigas of Coudersport, Pennsylvania, this film is a production of the American Hellenic Institute Foundation ($25.00 + $2.00 s/h, phone: 800-424-9607).
The 2001 film The Greeks of Southern California: E Protopori is a well meant film that fails to achieve historical accuracy ($25.00 plus $5.00 p/h from the Greek Heritage Society of Southern California, 4477 Hazeltine Avenue, Sherman Oaks, California 91423, phone: 818-386-1942). This film suffers so often from fundamental historical misinformation that it is difficult to classify this picture as a true documentary. While all Greeks are hypersensitive to any criticism whatsoever I am forced into making this harsh statement due to the film's blatant self-aggrandizement.
From the introduction we hear that: "Most [Greek] immigrants grabbed any job. Nothing was too menial. A few of the more adventurous aspired to something better than the overcrowded eastern cities such as New York and Boston. As Ulysses embarked on his odyssey the true Greek pioneers in America headed due west. California the natural attraction of this land and its temperate environment became a magnate for the early Greeks."
This is an open conceit and has absolutely nothing to do with the actual facts of Greek migration to the United States. Non-Greeks as well as Greeks not living in California are left with the obvious conclusion that all Greeks who did not go due west are not true Greeks. Go read any of Helen Papanikolas' articles and books and you will find that according to the United States Census more Greek immigrants lived west of the Mississippi River before World War I than any place else in North America. This had to do with available jobs and labor agents not the daring of some Greeks and the spineless sloth of others.
This issue of Greek labor agents needs a moment's clarification. The film's narrative states the California Greeks went there specifically to get away from the Greek labor agents. Leonidas Skliris was among the most notably of all Greek labor-procurement agents and he was based in Salt Lake City. Arriving in Utah sometime in 1898, Skliris, was known as "Czar of the Greeks", and is noted in all published accounts as directly aiding the arrival of vast numbers of Greek immigrant laborers to the American West.
Another statement, also made in the introduction, that the early Greek immigrants "threaten the established system" is a witless fiction so off the historical record I don't really know what the filmmakers intended this comment to mean.
Then we have the legendary "No Rats, No Greeks" story that sees discussion in this film. This is the reoccurring claim that a sign was placed in an American restaurant which read "John's Restaurant, Pure American. No Rats, No Greeks." Theodore Saloutos' landmark history Greeks in the United States is the primary credited source for this legend (see Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964: 269). I say legendary because although Saloutos cites as the source for this story the Chicago-based Greek newspaper the Saloniki in its December 27, 1924 issue no other source has ever confirmed this news story. Given that so many writers have referred to this quote you would have thought someone would have bothered to track down this original story to see exactly what the broader context was in 1924. No one, to my knowledge, has ever searched out the original Saloniki article and written about it in the Greek-American press.
To his credit Professor Saloutos prefaces his citation of the "No Rats, No Greeks" by his own eye-witness testimony: "I recall as a youth frequently passing a lunchroom on Third Street in Milwaukee called "Twentieth Century Lunch": the sign in its window read "Operated by an American."
In The Greeks of Southern California we hear in the narrative two claims: "a central California newspaper carried the following advertisement — "John's Restaurant, Pure American. No Rats, No Greeks." And then meaning to compound this story we learn "it was not uncommon to pass a restaurant window and see a sign that read, "Operated by an American." What sources are the California Greek filmmakers using here?
Saloutos contends that the Saloniki story spoke of "[a] Santa Rosa, California, newspaper … advertisement." Santa Rosa, California is located in Sonoma County which is in northern not southern California. How did they know this really happened?
Naturally, one would think, the film makers would have gone to the community and had someone say on film: "I saw this sign" or "my father told me about this sign." This does not take place. In fact this omission also underscores the wider failing of the oral histories seen in this film. All the interviews lack bite or real content. All we hear is that "Oh, we had a hard a life but we succeeded." Or versions of "We worked for only dollars a day," "A number of us had to live in one house," "We worked very hard." At this point in time I believe it is fair to ask — well, so what? Every immigrant group to the United States not just the Greeks of southern California had those kinds of experiences.
Where are the testimonies that report, "I saw the sign that said No Rats, No Greeks?" Where are the reports of Greeks striking or being driven from their jobs by the bosses? Where are the stories of Greeks being killed in unsafe working conditions? I can find such accounts in the American press, why couldn't the makers of this film?
Finally, to cite just one more glaring historical error, it is asserted in discussing the Greek War Relief Association that "over 2,000 Greek clubs" sponsored this umbrella organization. It is then stated that "it is estimated that a third of the Greek population were saved from death due to the efforts of the GWRA." Then, immediately afterwards without a pause we hear, "The AHEPA was instrumental in this war relief effort by supplying nearly 90% of the man power for this enormous task." In three sentences we go from 2,000 groups unifying to aid Greece to AHEPA doing 90% of the real work. This just can not be true.
And what is really sad here is that AHEPA has contributed so much to Greece and on behalf of Greek-America, since its establishment in 1922 that this kind of underhanded historical thief is beneath its collective dignity and in point of fact sullies its good name. Other historical errors and misrepresentation could be cited.
Over the last five years I have been traveling around the country visiting various Greek-American communities. It has been my experience that the vast majority of Greek-Americans in their 30s and 40s know absolutely nothing about Greek or Greek-American history. While these individuals are for the most part economically successful and college educated they equate being Greek solely to speaking Greek, attending church, and knowing Greek kinship. Certainly individuals will know something of their parent's or grandparent's village or region of Greece, often including some historical odds and ends passed on as oral traditions. But little else.
This film is filled with an odd mixture of truth and unsubstantiated legends. It has also reduced the effectiveness of the oral history testimonies into near worthless sound bites used merely to booster some kind of 'struggle and success' self-view.
The next film in the Greek Heritage Society of Southern California (GHS) series, The Promise of Tomorrow, is currently in production. It will highlight the first and second generation of Greek Americans and the changing face of the community … Olympia Dukakis will return to host the documentary, with additional narration by John Kapelos, as the documentary explores the way in which the Greek community has become an intricate part of American history while maintaining a strong and unique Greek identity" (www.pahh.com/ghs/).
When one considers the contributions and enduring achievements of the Greeks in southern California it is disturbing to see their collective heritage reduced to a shadow of its real documented self.
Utah's Greek Americans is, in my estimation, the best community documentary ever made on Greeks in the United States (KUED7 University of Utah, September 2001). The key factor here is in the interviews with local Greek-Americans born in Utah. Children of the Greek pioneers of the 1880 to 1924 Massive Wave of Migration offer their own thoughtful heartfelt recollections of their parent's lives and experiences growing up Greek in North America. No computer generated graphics are needed to tell these tales.
No internationally known billionaire or Hollywood star of Greek-descent graces this film's narrative, just average hard-working people. Individual testimonies are offered by Rev. Fa. Peter Alex, Elaine M. Bapis, Nick M. Bapis, Mary Papasideris Chachas, John A. Chipian, Mary K. Diamant, Bill G. Drossos, Ellen V. Furgis, Mike Himonas, Andrew Katsanevas, Athena Kontas, Mike C. Korologos, John H. Mahleres, Bill Thomas Peters, Virginia Poulos, Penny Sampinos, Constantine J. Skedros, and Jeannine P. Timothy.
Yes, undoubtedly many in their number have succeeded in a social and economic sense. But that is not the focus of their memories and recollections. The real strength of this film is the forthright first-person eyewitness accounts on the lives their parent's were forced to lead, the troubles and doubts they had growing up in two-worlds, their efforts to retain Greek culture and religion in their daily lives.
Where The Greek-Americans documentary (www.verastv.com) aims at underlining the success of Greeks in this country by interviewing "famous or notable individuals", the Utah Greek documentary offers everyday people reporting the simple unvarnished truth. In every Greek-American documentary I have seen those interviewed all agree that whatever success they have achieved in North America is directly due to the examples set by their parents. It is commonly agreed that succeeding generations have prospered because we follow/ed their early model and worked hard to do so. We have retained whatever we have of our history, culture and religion because we have maintained them in our hearts and everyday lives. That is what it means to be Greek — not one's bank account or public notoriety.
Once again, the Greeks in Utah and the Intermountain West lead the way in illustrating for the rest of us how to most effectively convey our heritage to the wider world.
This documentary also greatly benefits from the interviews with local historians Louis Cononelos and the late Helen Zeese Papanikolas. They help situate the memories offered within the wider social, economic and historical context. Overall this is a superb film.
The 2000-2001 production of Ellines kai Amerikanoi (Greeks and Americans) is from the Greek documentary series Deuteri Patridra (Second Homeland) which was directed by Tassos Rigopoulos and aired on Nea Elliniki Tileorassi (New Hellenic Television). This is an excellent film with solid interviews and exceptional historical footage of Anatolian Greeks being driven out of Asia Minor.
John Kallas, one of the interviewees, brings up a perennial concern early in the film: "I'm not accepted as American … at the same time we're not really accepted by Greeks." Kallas rightly uses the phrase "diaspora Greeks" which has somehow fallen from fashion in recent years. The testimony of Sano Halo on her life is particularly moving. The nuances of historical information and experiences Rigopoulos is able to cull out of statements by Elizabeth Poulos and Gabriel Panayiosoulos are quite impressive. I find the inclusion of Sam O'Checkwas' testimony inspired.
While I would urge anyone to view this film and think it one of the best every made, I do have some minor but I think important concerns.
Dr. George Tselos, who is featured in the film, is at times surprisingly incorrect in very basic statements concerning Greek-American history and historical figures. Instances of these errors include the fact that Professor Michael Anagnos did not "establish" the Perkins School for the Blind, as Tselos alleges, he simply became its director upon Samuel Gridley Howe's death. It is no small thing to note that Anagnos almost did not receive this position for the very fact that he was an ethnic Greek.
Tselos also brings up the "Currant Crisis" thesis as the reason for rural Greeks migration to America. It was long said that because of the market collapse in the Greek currant crop many Greek farmers were made bankrupt. As this argument went this major crop/banking failure drove the rural Greeks to seek employment in North America. Since at least 1989, no one working within Greek-American studies has accepted this claim.
Finally, Tselos speaks of the rise in violence against the Greeks pointing to the West, Utah and Nebraska, for the worst of these attacks. Physical attacks and riots against Greeks are recorded in newspaper accounts around the nation. The first so-called major "AntiGreek Riot" took place in Roanoke, Virginia in 1907 a year before the south Omaha, Nebraska riot. Newspaper headlines with the words "riot" and "anti-Greek riot" appear decades before any of these events.
The point is not that the good Dr. Tselos misspoke himself but that these errors, undoubtedly made under the pressure of being filmed, appear in the final version of the documentary. Without question Ellines kai Amerikanoi is on the whole a fine film that every Greek-American should see. Yet, I fear, it will be the errors that see repetition in the future and not the more significant aspects of this otherwise excellent film.
Having said all that I must stress that Tassos Rigopoulos is one of the most important Greek film makers working in the United States. As a community we should encourage him to continue to produce films of this overall quality. If the truth be said the Greek-American community needs cinematographers like Tassos Rigopoulos and Angeliki Contis than they need us.
The Greeks in Chicago: Opa! was released on August 20, 2001, as part of the "Chicago Stories" an ongoing series that documents the city's various ethnic groups (www.wttw.com/main.taf?p=1,7,1,1,16). Regrettably the best that can be said about this program is that it is often visually exciting. In terms of historical accuracy this film is deeply flawed.
A serviceable overview of the Greeks in Chicago since the 1870s is offered. But the demographics provided are often questionable. At times the narrative is just incorrect. The Greeks did not establish the first Eastern Orthodox Church in Chicago. The Greek Delta formed by the intersection of Harrison, Halsted and Blue Island Avenue was unquestionably a hub of early Greek-owned businesses and residents. But Greeks settled all over the city and in fact came to identify with the church parish they attended rather than the Greek Delta.
To this film's credit the formidable role of Greek women in the establishment and maintenance of the community's life such as Georgia Bitzis Polley, said to be the first Greek bride brought to Chicago and Presbytera Stella Petrakis. Film footage from local weddings, amateur home movies and for the sharp-eyed viewer street scenes from the film Good Night Socrates (1963) are all employed to great use in this documentary. But all this is but momentary in its impact.
I was present when the late Andrew T. Kopan was interviewed for this film. Professor Kopan was calm but forthright in his presentation. Dr. Kopan ended his comments with the observation that most ethnic groups to America had fully assimilated within six generations and that there was no indication that the Greeks would be different in this regard. In the final film one can only hear Dr. Kopan make a single comment used in the overall narrative, he is never seen on film. And this speaks volumes about the orientation of this film.
The Greeks in Chicago: Opa! is meant to be a celebration. Notable academics, civic leaders and prominent businessmen are all trotted out to exclaim how wonderful it is to be Greek! Greek social structure makes it difficult, if not impossible, for Greek-Americans to publicly address pressing community concerns. Anthropologists, folklorists and sociologists have long recognized Greece as a society driven by deep notions of honor and shame. As this film reports we seem unable to publicly recall conflicts of any kind. The 'party-line' as it were is always that our ancestors struggled but they eventually succeeded in their establishment of a community in North America.
Angeliki Giannakopoulos' 2003 film A Greek Woman documents "the tenth anniversary of her mother's death, the story concerns the relatives on both sides of Angeliki's family" (http://us.imdb.com/Reviews/342/34250). I have not seen this film but it does sound extremely interesting.
In the documentary 45th Anniversary: Honoring our Forefathers … Building our Future produced by the St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church of Des Plaines Illinois, we have an old form in a new format ("I DO" Video Productions, 1416 S. Hickory Drive, Mt. Prospect, Illinois 60056, phone: 847-437-5991). Just as the dinner dance books of yesteryear would feature pictures and letters from bishops, politicians and local notables, so too does this video history. First we have Archbishop Demetrios speak, then Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago, then the parish priest. Then we have the truly interesting aspect of this film the testimonies by those who helped found this parish. Finally we have words of support by business people which fairly accurately reproduces on film the old advertising book format of times past. This film is not entertaining in a conventional sense. I can only recommend this film to those individuals who are extremely interested in the history of this particular community. Clearly everyone in this community is rightly proud of their church. They should be commended for not only their vital calendar of church activities but their growing outreach program as well. Regrettably expressing that pride and faith in the most effective manner has escaped their efforts.
Apparently, Jenna Constantine completed her film The Spirit of Chicago Greeks in 2005. I have found very positive reviews of this documentary but have not seen it (www.chicagogreekspirit.com).
In 2005, the St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Pueblo, Colorado, celebrated its 100th anniversary with a commemorative historical volume, several days of celebratory activities, two church services and a dinner-dance. To document this overall set of events a five part DVD was made: Hellenic Orthodox Community Celebrates 100th Anniversary, 1905-2005. This digital video is one of the most important of the community films made to date (send $25.00 per set + $5.00 p/h to St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, Post Office Box 3011, Pueblo, Colorado 81005).
This five disk set crystallizes the enduring issues this new media offers as a historical medium. I think any and all Greek parishes or fraternal organizations interested in documenting any event via video should seek out the Pueblo disks and really take the time to look at them. Much more is layered into each of these disks that a quick first viewing can report. Be aware there are inherent problems with video as a historical method of preservation. Let us review each disk quickly.
Disk One: "Hellenic Orthodox Community Celebrates 100th Anniversary". On this disc we see the interior of the St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church of Pueblo, Colorado. A voice over narrative by Archimandrite Christodoulos G. Papadeas of Denver offers a description of the various sections of the interior as well as a history of the Russian people's acceptance of Eastern Orthodoxy. The visual aspect of this part of the disk is beautiful. However aside from describing the basic interior of the church, that is the icon screen and so forth, I have no idea why the discussion of the Russians are included. What was needed was an encapsulated history of the St. John's parish.
Then the scene switches to the Roselawn Cemetery in Pueblo and shows Metropolitan Isaiah and attendant priests offering prayers at various locations. Next we switch to the St. John parish. As part of the overall celebratory events the church was opened to the public with parishioners serving as guides answering any questions visitors posed. At this same time the camera moves to the house adjacent to the church. The meeting room was the location of the historical exhibition on the parish's one hundred years of existence. Metropolitan Isaiah and various priests can be seen arriving at the church and viewing the exhibition.
This disk fails to identify anyone seen in it. Much like dinner-dance books where photographs abound but few captions identify anyone, this movie is fascinating if you know who everyone is already. The ingroup/outgroup divide of Greek social life finds no better illustration. When you are part of the community everyone is known, so adding names is not only unnecessary it can ignite problems unless literally everyone is named. The inherent problem with video over say print is that captions or a voice over would be the only way to provide such information. Ultimately the question is about the audience for such a movie. True, if the audience already know everyone, then this is not a problem. But then just as with still photographs over the years, the individuals within any group image are gradually forgotten.
This would be the end of the matter except for the content of the other disks.
For the next three disks, we have: Disk Two which features "Memorial Service Prayers for the Repose of the Souls of the Servants of God, the First Orthodox Christians of this Area"; Disk Three which highlights the "Orthros Service"; and then Disk Four, "Divine Liturgy". Metropolitan Isaiah officiates with some ten other monks, priests, deacons and alter boys celebrating these services. With an internal only focus, then once again this is just the parishioners viewing the services which they know, to which they hold, and through which they recognize their forbearers, an expression of their Orthodox faith. But once again more is at play.
Dr. Vasiliki Limberis was baptized and is a life long member of the St. John parish. Raised in Salida, a small mountain community, her family would travel to Pueblo to attend church and visit family and friends. Dr. Limberis now teaches history of theology "back east." It was natural for Dr. Limberis to be asked to be a guest speaker both at a luncheon and at the final dinner-dance. At the luncheon, her lecture had been announced as one having to do with her area of specialty in church history. As with all the other public celebrations the luncheon was open to non-Greeks and many individuals who were old friends of the local Greeks were in attendance. Rather than offer that lecture, Dr. Limberis gave a heart-felt account of growing up in the St. John parish and what it had meant to her both in its social and familial sense and how it had effected her spiritually. I was at this luncheon and I thought it was a very well spoken inspiring account.
Later, various local Greeks were upset because Dr. Limberis had not spoken on the theological topic that had been announced. I jumped right in and said I thought she had spoken quite well. I was told that everyone (meaning the Greeks) knew what she had said (about the life of attending church and visiting friends and family). What they had wanted her to do was to speak authoritatively about church history, so the non-Greeks would know more about Orthodoxy and the history of the early Christian church.
The Greeks in Pueblo as those in Minot, North Dakota, and elsewhere around the nation are in a sea of Protestants or unchurched people. Interestingly in speaking with Greeks around the country, I have found that they most certainly want to have their faith respected and understood by the non-Greek and non-Orthodox among whom they live. That does not automatically mean that they are eager to bring non-Greeks into their parishes.
Disk Five which is the "Convention Center Celebrations" offers the non-Pueblo Greek the most information about the filmed events. First there are the 'Welcoming and Prayers.' Next, Vasiliki Limberis once again offers a speech which wis very similar to the one given at the luncheon. Next, we see the 'Benediction.' An honor guard is on hand for a 'Posting of the Colors' and finally the events guest speaker Harry Mary Petrakis.
I know of no Greek Orthodox parish anywhere in North America that has ever attempted such an in-depth visual record of any event. As a testimony to the enduring faith and respect for their forbearers, this small Colorado mountain parish has produced a classic — of its type. This film is also extremely important because it forces us to ask the most basic of questions, who is the intended audience? Are we trying to educate the non-Greek Orthodox around us about our faith? Or are we in the parish just making a home-movie about who we are at this moment in time? Just like the unidentified still photographs of dinner-dance books, will the future descendants of the Pueblo Greeks know who is in their historic film?
Whatever the case may one day prove to be it was the St. John the Baptist church, the Jewel of the Rocky Mountains, that brought this issue to the forefront in the most impressive video-set made to date and not one of the cathedrals of New York, Chicago Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles or elsewhere. Axios!
The newly released 2007, Secret: The Greek American Operational Groups Secret U.S. Forces in World War II Greece is an outstanding DVD documentary produced by the American Hellenic Institute. A long over due theme this film offers the history of the Greek-Battalion and the Greek-Americans who fought behind the lines in war torn Greece in the last year or so of Nazi Occupation. Individuals from the disbanded 122nd Infantry Battalion, also known as the Greek Battalion, were enlisted by the OSS in late 1943.
Extremely rare film footage of the Greek Battalion at Camp Carson, Colorado, is mixed with still photographs of these same men behind enemy lines in Greece. Oral history interviews with former members of these Greek-American commandos such as Peter Clainos, John G. Giannaris, Andrew S. Mousalimas, Alexander P. Phillips, and Theophanes Strimenos offer an added eye-witness aspect to the film.
These Greek-American commandos were involved in some 76 strikes against the Nazi forces. Given the time they were in Greece, this averages out to one assault every three days. Over 1,800 Germans were killed and thousands others delayed due to the commandos' destruction of roads, railroads and bridges. Due to pointless political buffoonery, the records of these American Occupational Group commandos was sealed in secrecy for over 40 years.
Many in the men in these units never knew their collective war records. All the worst, many never knew that in 1946 they were awarded a Presidential Unit Citation. Individuals such as Andrew S. Mousalimas and John Giannaris have written of their experiences in these units but the daring of these young Greek-American commandos still remains largely unknown. This film will do much to overcome this woeful historical omission. Once again The American Hellenic Institute Foundation has succeeded in issuing a top quality film on a vital aspect of our collective history ($25.00 + $2.00 s/h, phone: 800-424-9607).
In 2006-2007, the latest Greek-American documentary film, To Taxidi: To Elliniko Oneiro stin Ameriki (The Journey: The Greek Dream in America), was released by noted Greek film maker Maria Illiou. While this film has received extremely positive reviews in Greece video copies are not as yet available to the general public.
I have surveyed 27 films over a 44 year period. Others documentaries certainly must exist.
There are in fact three films I know that I have not included. In 1976 in Philadelphia at, I believe, the Clergy-Laity conference, a documentary on a Greek-American competitive marching band was shown. I clearly remember watching the young Greeks march in formations in stylized Greek evzone costumes. It was the mid-1970s, and the parents of the church these young people were a part of wanted to be sure their children were not involved in the drug culture. So they involved them in this energetic program. I recall that various individuals spoke of their involvement in the marching band and how much they liked it. But otherwise after more than 30 years I can recall no more about this film.
In the years that followed I did come to learn that during the 1920s and 1930s many Greek parishes as well as the youth chapters of the local GAPA and AHEPA chapters very much encouraged marching bands. This is yet another lost aspect of our history here in Ameriki.
The late Dr. Fotis Litsas produced a documentary film on Greeks in the United States, sometime in the 1980s, which I believe was called Odysseus in America. This film was shot here in North America but aired only in Greece. Given the differences in video format since I helped him with the field work and while Dr. Litsas had copies, I could never view them.
One evening, again sometime in the late 1980s, Dr. James F. Dimitriou was kind enough to show me his film on the Greeks of Southern California. Based on his private collection of some 5,000 historic photographs Dr. Dimitriou's film is a fine examination of the history and experiences of the Greeks in southern California. Without question this film and the one-of-a-kind collection on which it is based deserve a wider audience than either now enjoys.
In 1985, when I was a researcher for the St. Photios Shrine museum project in St. Augustine, I saw a number of films on Greek Orthodox mission work in Africa. I remember being amazed that so many Greek-Americans were involved in mission work, but once I saw these various video accounts I thought no more of it.
As archival collections around the country report, the Greek American community has never been slow in documenting and then broadcasting itself on each new media as it becomes available. Hiding this fact, from Greeks as well as the general American public, is the common view that our ethnic group is too clannish or withdrawn to allow itself to be recorded by whatever the 'high-technology' of the day. Nothing could be further from the truth. Greek-American everyday life as well as the most solemn of public events have seen extensive documentation in print, audio-recordings, radio, and film for well over one hundred years.
No subject so openly discloses the distinctiveness of Greek culture in North America as do these nearly 50 years of film I have listed here.
The Greek-American point of view, as distinct from both the Greek national or native-born American point of view, is clearly evident in whatever media chosen. The Greek-American eye or sensibility can be seen in every community generated video. The historical and sociological importance of these films often out weighs their entertainment value outside of the community they document. This is by no means a bad thing. But in the films we commission to record our life and culture in Ameriki, we must always be aware of those who follow. Will they know what we know? If we do not reveal ourselves on, say, film, will they ever truly know our thoughts and wishes? Whatever the case eventually proves to be, we can be sure that these 27 films are — for the moment — all or almost all that is now available for the future generations of Americans as well as Greeks to learn who we were as Greeks living in North America.
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