Last month our dear Greek-American friend Maria shared with us how much she had been enjoying the 2021 lineup of the 15th annual Los Angeles Greek Film Festival (LAGFF), which ran May 10-30. The festival showcases new Greek cinema: features, shorts, documentaries and animations curated and produced by Greek filmmakers. But this year, due to COVID, it was not held at its regular venue, the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Instead, it went online becoming the largest online event of its kind outside of Greece.
But this watch-from-home edition had its advantages because Maria (a faithful attendee of the festival) was able to watch several movies each week (or each night) from the comfort of her living room couch.
Our closest connection to Greece is, well, my name. I was the chosen daughter to be named after the Greek goddess Athena (I am Filipino-American); and several years back I not only discovered but embraced the beautiful Greek culture when I journeyed through the towns and villages surrounding the immense Corinthian Gulf on Greece’s mainland, then wrote a collection of travel stories.
So, one lazy May afternoon while chatting with Maria on the phone, we asked what she would be doing that evening. Of course, she mentioned that she was looking forward to watching another Greek film, this time the U.S. premier of award-winning “Man of God” (directed by Yelena Popovic). In the next breath, Maria said, “Hey, would you like to come over and watch it with me?” It’s a religious film, she told us, about Saint Nektarios, one of Greece’s most revered saints.
Not having any special plans for the evening, Louie and I accepted Maria’s spontaneous invitation on the spot. She bought chicken and made a salad and we brought over carnitas and hand-made tortillas.
We were deeply moved by this film, which depicted the powerful story of how Agios Nektarios, a theologist, philosopher, writer, educator, poet, moralist – and beloved miracle healer (and epitome of humility) – was unjustly exiled and convicted without trial by jealous enemies.
In 1961, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople officially recognized him as a saint. And each year, thousands from around the world visit his tomb at the Church of Agios Nektarios and the monastery of Agia Triada (The Holy Trinity) on the island of Aegina where he died of cancer in 1920 at the age of 74.
And while I did not visit Aegina during my travels, my group of fellow journalists and I enjoyed the honor of visiting several monasteries in the depths of central Greece, which I share in the photos I include with this story.
After “Man of God” took our breath away, Maria, popped the question, “Do you want to watch another film?”
Sure, why not, we replied, as we got ready for sorbet.
We settled in again, but this time, the theme for “Tailor” (directed by Sonia Liza Kenterman) was lighter, but no less beautifully portrayed.
Who knew that the story of father and son tailors in Athens would make for a captivating and heartwarming Chaplin-esque film? It’s about relationships when the threat of bankruptcy challenges the legacy of the family business -- and how the son, a man of few words, stepped up to the plate re-creating himself as a mobile tailor and bringing his business to the people – and not waiting for customers at his lonely street front shop.
Thanks to Maria, COVID restrictions, and the virtual 2021 LAGFF that was able to reach a global audience, we became lucky beneficiaries. Otherwise, we might not have ever learned about the extraordinary Greek film genre.
Now we are fans.