It was back in 1992 that the Antipodes Board, the Cultural Arm of the Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM), decided to proceed with the inaugural Greek Film Festival together with the Greek Community of Sydney (GCS).
By Steve Bakalis
The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) highlighted its significance for multicultural Australia in an article titled “Greek films shine in gloom” in November 2013 to mark the 20th anniversary and to pay tribute to a group of Greek-Australian volunteer diaspora cultural entrepreneurs.
In particular, “Eleni Bertes, who lives and works in Athens now as a film producer, conceived and helped to start the Greek Film Festival in 1993, along with Costas Markos and Costas Karamarkos” according to the SMH article. My own recollection of crossing paths with these people at various times was their desire to enrich the concept of Greekness as part of the vision of the GCM.
In 1993, this event set out on its historical path when the State Film Centre hosted the inaugural Greek Film Festival. It drew an attendance of over two thousand people, thereby laying the foundations for future growth. After eight continuous years at the State Film Centre, the Festival organizers were approached by Palace Cinemas, who suggested moving to a more prominent venue.
As a result, the 9th Greek Film Festival secured a new location, Palace Cinema Como, and subsequently a broader audience. The Festival now had the support of an established entity that enthusiastically promoted ethno-specific film festivals. The partnership with Palace has proven an unqualified success, with annual increases in attendance of 20%.
At the same time, Greek film has gained a profile not previously enjoyed. In 2003, the Greek Film Festival became a national event, with four more Australian cities participating in the festival circuit.
Fast forward now to 2023 when its 30th anniversary will be celebrated between 19-29 October. It is a testament to the magnitude and the success of the 1993 initiative.
There was an interruption for two years and this October marks thirty years of life and the 28th Film Festival which coincides with The Australian Government’s current Multicultural Framework Review.
The review is looking at ways for the government and the community to work together to support a cohesive multicultural society and advance a vibrant and prosperous future for all Australians.
The impact of Greek-Australians needs to be noted as part of this review, in more ways than one, and the significance of The Film Festival is a case in point.
“Behind the Haystacks” featured at Australia’s Greek Film Festival
Back to the 28th Film Festival now, with Asimina Proedrou’s acclaimed film “Behind the Haystacks” (2022) being the feature film.
It is centered around the story of a God-fearing woman lying to the authorities about those responsible for the death of a fellow villager in order to protect her husband who actually committed the murder, and her daughter who had a relationship with the victim.
As a result of these lies, an innocent Albanian fellow villager of theirs goes to prison, who until that moment lived harmoniously in the village with the locals. He was actually a local himself, in much the same way as we are locals in Australia expecting to be treated as such, and the film simply emphasizes the issue of perceived gaps between origin, integration, and failure to accept “others” as locals.
The difference also emerges between religious beliefs that create boundaries between locals and “others”, against the principles and teachings of religion, which is a dominant theme that permeates the script.
As an aside, I could not help but draw some parallels between “Behind the Haystacks” and the novel “Birds Without Wings” by Louis de Bernières, written in 2004, which traced the fortunes of one small community in southwest Turkey (Anatolia) in the early part of the last century—a quirky community in which Christian and Muslim lives and traditions have coexisted peacefully over the centuries and where friendship, even love, has transcended religious differences.
With the onset of war when the young men of the town are conscripted, all comes to an end as “the twin scourges of fanatical religion and nationalism unleashed by the war quickly, and irreversibly, destroy the fabric of centuries-old peace”.
The poignant message of this film seems to have been lost on the part of the GCM which has gone down the path of creating divisiveness and thymos among its members.
The omission of the fact in its promotion campaign of the festival in Melbourne (unlike Sydney) that this is also the 28th festival may seem trivial, except for being has been interpreted as an attempt to rewrite history.
As Greek-Australians it is imperative to respect and acknowledge the truthful facts of our diaspora history (in all facets) so the next Greek-Australian generations propel their actions to do even better.
We must all always acknowledge and use past contributions as a building block if we are to stand out for our deeds in a credible way. Because as Giorgos Seferis said, an attempt of “Erasing a part of the past is like erasing a corresponding part of the future” and every generation has an obligation to respect its historical past. The semiology of the aforementioned omission is open to various interpretations, it is not befitting to the very message of the film, and its correction deserves consideration and/or an explanation.
This 30th anniversary is timely to formally acknowledge the history of the Film Festival, the contribution of Eleni Bertes and her associates, and give due credit.
* Dr. Steve Bakalis is an expert on international business education and management, he has held adjunct appointments with the Australian National University, the University of Adelaide, and appointments in universities of the Asia Pacific and the Gulf Region.