Acting is hard work. Not in Greece!

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There are a lot of things that are difficult about being an actor. Unsteady work, unsteady pay check, too much traveling and being your own life coach/agent/receptionist/therapist/accountant/PR firm to name but a few. But I think one of the most difficult aspects of an actor’s life is acting itself. Sure, we’re artists and we love it – actually we thrive off it, we live to perform – but the honest to goodness truth is that acting is hard work.

It takes an incredible amount of natural talent for someone to stand in front of a camera or on stage and perform well, but the ability to truly convey emotions honestly needs to be honed. Like any other form of art it can be mastered with careful study, thorough dedication, skill and motivation. This enormous respect for my craft and for the arts in general is also probably why I sat paralyzed with horror the first time I ever turned on a television in Greece.

For those of you who have never actually been to Greece I can’t even begin to convey to you the state of their television programming. With the very rare exception almost all Greek television series (at least from what I gathered both watching and actually working on set over four years) have a very specific, homogenous recipe. First we begin with a very melancholy main character who is sitting somewhere by themselves lamenting about one thing or the other (usually a break-up or someone from the opposite sex who did something mean, stupid or downright wrong). Soon afterwards a twist of fate brings this person to a very large dinner gathering where by some remarkable coincidence they will bump into the aforementioned object of their desire/pain/melancholy. From that point, copious quantities of food, alcohol, and tobacco are consumed and you’re now ready for the yelling that is bound to ensue. At least one if not two women will cry or faint and at least one man will bang his fist on a table or break something. The crowning jewel however, is towards the end when someone always (and I do mean always) starts chasing someone else around the dinner table. The End.

If it sounds like I’m exaggerating, I can promise you I’m not. So the next time you’re sailing through the Greek Islands do us both the favor of turning on your TV for a moment just so that we can both feel good about the fact that I’m right.

Now, I’ve asked myself many times how it’s possible that the very birthplace of theater and drama could produce such terrible acting? Even more disturbing still, how so many people could enjoy it? The bigger picture is however that every country, particularly those who truly have a film industry, have a kind of signature style. Bollywood movies look like one big Michael Jackson video, English films have too much rain and a lot of dark humor, Greece has fainting, hysterical women and brooding, hysterical men, and America has its blockbuster larger-than-life yet understated style that has made its movies the blueprint for cinema.

That’s not to say that in every Greek film someone will faint, or that in every Bollywood film someone will put on their dancing shoes – just most of them. What this means for an actor is simple. Know your market and know what’s expected of you.

In one of my first meetings with a big Hollywood agent a couple of years ago he had asked to see my demo tape which I gladly gave him. When I showed up for our second interview he looked less than impressed. My introductory clip on my demo was from a comedic television series I did in Greece and I put it at the beginning thinking that perhaps it would be intriguing. It was 45 seconds long. The agent didn’t even get that far.
“You might want to put something other than a clip of a lot of people yelling at one another in your introduction.”
Needless to say, I didn’t land the agent. I also never used that demo tape again.

I realized during that time that I had learned a valuable lesson between working in both countries. It was almost like being a chameleon – when I went to set in Greece I got to yell and scream and run around kitchens, and when I worked in North America I was subtle and nuanced. Truthfully, Greek television is ridiculous and I was never entirely comfortable working in that environment. It can be very funny but you have to be familiar with the culture to appreciate it, otherwise it looks exactly like what that agent had said – a lot of people running around yelling at each other. In Hollywood, unless it was a specific project that type of acting would never fly.

So we all need to know what we’re getting into once we buy that plane ticket and pack our bags for la la land. And this isn’t a profession where you can fake it to make it – you either can do it or you can’t. As I said much earlier, acting is hard work and American cinema can be really tricky. One small gesture, one facial movement if done well can speak volumes and those are the kinds of choices that will help you to get noticed in the casting room in Hollywood. Subtlety is the key here and they abhor nothing quite as much as ‘kitch’; unless of course you’re Paris Hilton.

My old demo tape is still tucked away safely in an old box in the corner, along with a couple of other pieces of “evidence” I hope will never see the light of day again. It is still a good reminder for me of what I feel is one of the most fundamental aspects of being a successful artist – being adaptable to your surroundings – and I do occassionally pull it out and watch it for laughs. Kind of like a karaoke machine or really bad party favor. Because at the end of the day you just never know when one may have to run around a kitchen table in a black satin bathrobe and fuzzy green slippers?

LAGFF to Honor Penelope Spheeris

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The Los Angeles Greek Film Festival will honor director Penelope Spheeris who will be in attendance on Friday, June 26 at the Egyptian Theatre. The evening will celebrate a blend of her professional landscape of documentary and fiction independent filmmaking. The event will begin with a special screening of Spheeris’ documentary short NO USE WALKIN’ WHEN YOU CAN STROLL (1998) and her eighties cult classic feature SUBURBIA (1984), followed by a panel discussion with Spheeris, Ross Albert, Christina Beck, and Bert Dragin, moderated by UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Dean Robert Rosen. The event will conclude with a reception.

Spheeris’ career began with a love for music. In 1974, she formed her own production company, ROCK ‘N REEL. It was the first production company in LA to specialize in music videos. After producing, directing, and editing videos for major bands throughout the seventies and eighties, she directed the 1979 documentary on the Los Angeles punk scene, THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, which was received with unanimous critical praise.

Still fascinated with the subject, she wrote and directed her first narrative film, SUBURBIA produced by industry legend Roger Corman. The drama revolves around the lives of “The Rejected”, a group of punk kids who have abandoned their homes escaping abuse, and have squatted a Los Angeles bungalow. NO USE WALKIN’ WHEN YOU CAN STROLL is the moving and honest short portrait of Penelope Spheeris’ mother, which sheds light onto the director’s unusual and turbulent childhood years that would later inform the majority of her film works.

Spheeris never veered far from exploring desolation of youth which continued to dominate her subsequent fiction films, including THE BOYS NEXT DOOR (1984) with Charlie Sheen and Maxwell Caulfield; DUDES (1987) with Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Lee Ving, and Daniel Roebuck; and THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, PART II: THE METAL YEARS (1988) with commentaries from Ozzy Osbourne, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Alice Cooper.

In 1992, Spheeris directed her seventh feature and first studio film, WAYNE’S WORLD (Paramount Pictures), followed by THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (Fox, 1993), THE LITTLE RASCALS (Universal, 1994), BLACK SHEEP (Paramount, 1996), and SENSELESS (Dimension, 1998). THE KID & I (2005), starring Tom Arnold and Eric Gores about a brilliant young actor with cerebral palsy is the last film she directed. Spheeris wrote LOVE ABOVE THE STRIP, a romantic heavy metal comedy set in the summer of 1987, and is in development of ROTTEN: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs John Lydon’s best-selling biography.

Panel discussion will be moderated by Robert Rosen, Dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. Rosen has published widely in the field of media preservation and has guided the growth of the UCLA Film & Television Archive in original film and television materials. He also holds the following leadership positions: Founding Director of the National Center for Film and Video Preservation at the American Film Institute, the Executive Committee of the International Federation of Film Archives, member of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress, and Board Member of the Stanford Theater Foundation and the Geffen Playhouse. For ten years he was the film critic for KCRW National Public Radio and he is an active member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
Panelists include Ross Albert, Christina Beck and Bert Dragin. Ross Albert started his career making a series of experimental short films, for which he was awarded several film festival prizes. He received his first editing credit for SUBURBIA. Since then, he has worked with Spheeris on nine projects including THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, LITTLE RASCALS, BLACK SHEEP, and THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION PART III. He has also edited a wide range of other feature films including BLUE CITY, WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE, LISA, DEAD AND BURIED, 2010, BUSHWHACKED, WHAT WE DO IS SECRET, BABY ON BOARD, and THE PEST. Christina Beck began her career as a performer in Spheeris’ SUBURBIA, BOYS NEXT DOOR and DUDES. Beck has directed, written and starred in several short films including SLICE, produced by Fox Searchlight’s New Directors program screened at Cannes short film corner, SO HOT FOR YOU, and THE OPHELIA PROJECT. Her first feature film, PERFECTION is currently in production. Bert Dragin is the writer and director best known for his classic eighties horror flicks SUMMER CAMP NIGHTMARE (1987), co-written with Spheeris and produced by Roger Corman and TWICE DEAD (1988). He also produced Spheeris’ SUBURBIA.
The third annual Los Angeles Greek Film Festival (LAGFF) takes place June 25-28 in Hollywood at The Egyptian Theatre. LAGFF showcases new films from Greece, Cyprus, and filmmakers of Greek descent worldwide.

The Tribute to Penelope Spheeris will be held on Friday, June 26, 2009, 7:00 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre, located at 6712 Hollywood Blvd in Hollywood, CA 90028. A reception will follow. The event will be presented by The Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation – ERT SA. Greek Reporter is a media sponsor of LAGFF.

For more information on the festival please visit www.lagreekfilmfestival.org or call 818.728.0720.

Professor Eugene Fama Given the first Onassis International Prize

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Inventor of the efficient market hypothesis wins inaugural Onassis Prize
Professor Eugene Fama honoured for his lifetime contribution to finance academia

Professor Eugene Fama from The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business is the first winner of the inaugural Onassis Prize in recognition of his work in finance academia. Professor Fama is recognized as the father of empirical finance, and is credited with being the inventor of the “efficient market hypothesis”, possibly the most influential financial theory to have impacted both academics and practitioners alike.

The Onassis Prize, sponsored by the Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, is awarded by Cass Business School, London. The prize of $250,000, awarded biennially, recognizes a lifetime contribution by a leading academic in each of the areas of shipping, trade and finance.

It identifies academic achievements that have previously not had a platform for worldwide recognition before and will hopefully, in time, receive the same prestige as the Nobel Prize in Economics. This is the first award bearing the Onassis name to be made outside of Greece and it signifies the importance of the City of London as a global leader in shipping, trade and finance.

The “efficient market hypothesis” says that stock prices reflect all available information. As a result, investors should not be able to beat the market since there is no way for them to know something about a stock that isn’t already reflected in the stock’s price.

The judging panel for the award consisted of Mr Anthony S. Papadimitriou, President, Onassis Public Benefit Foundation; Professor George Constantinides, University of Chicago; Professor Charles Goodhart, Professor Emeritus, London School of Economics; Professor Robert Merton, Harvard University (Nobel Laureate 1997); Professor Myron Scholes, Stanford University (Nobel Laureate 1997); and Professor Costas Grammenos, Founding Director of the Centre for Shipping, Trade and Finance at Cass Business School.

Professor Grammenos, the inspiration behind the prize, said: “Professor Fama is a most worthy winner of the inaugural Onassis Prize. His contribution to the area of empirical finance has changed the way of thinking about stock market fluctuations and his theories are known all over the world. Aristotle Onassis is a legend in shipping, trade and finance and I think he would he would have been very pleased with our selection of Professor Fama for this prize bearing his name.”

Professor Fama said: The selection committee for the Onassis Prize is made up of experts with an intimate knowledge of research in finance. It is thus a special honour to be the inaugural winner. I thank the committee for choosing me and I thank the Onassis Public Benefit Foundation for sponsoring the prize. In my view finance is the most successful area of economics in terms of scientific and practical impact, and it deserves to have a special prize.

The Onassis Prize was formally presented at the equivalent of a state banquet which took place at the Guildhall in the City of London in April 2009. Professor Fama also gave a lecture at Cass Business School the day following the banquet.

Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund 18th dinner dance

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The Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund held its annual dinner dance which was attended by many outstanding personalities of the Greek-American community, politicians and persons from the art world. The 18th Anniversary Celebration was held at the New York Marriott Marquis in Manhattan (Broadway and 46th Street) on Saturday evening, May 16. George D. Behrakis, a life-time Chairman Emeritus of Leadership 100, was the honoree of this year’s annual gala receiving the Humanitarian Leadership Award along with well-known Greek-American chef, Kat Kora (Karagkiozi).
This year, 24 Greek-American college students received scholarships totaling over 100 thousand dollars, many of which are given in the name of well-known expatriate actors, media, judicial and business personalities.
Behrakis, who served as Chairman of Leadership 100 from 2006 to 2008, was designated a life-time Chairman Emeritus of the 25-year-old organization joining his predecessor as Chairman, John A. Payiavlas and the five life-time Founders, Andrew A. Athens, Arthur C. Anton, George K. Chimples, Peter M. Dion and Michael Jaharis. Payiavlas and Behrakis replaced two of the deceased founders, George P. Kokalis and Thomas A. Athens.
Recognized as a leader in the pharmaceutical field, Behrakis began his career at McNeil Laboratories, a division of Johnson & Johnson. He founded Dooner Laboratories, later sold to Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, and purchased Muro Pharmaceuticals in 1978, which was sold to ASTA Medica AG of Frankfurt, Germany in 1997. He retired as President/CEO of Muro in 1998.
A graduate of Northeastern University, he also studied at Boston University and has established numerous awards, chairs and facilities in the pharmaceutical, scientific and medical fields, at Northeastern, Tufts University, Boston College, Harvard University and The Johns Hopkins University.
The Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund, founded by John and Margo Catsimatidis with Nick Katsoris, has awarded over $1.5 million in scholarships to students from across the United States. The sole fundraiser for the organization is its annual Awards Gala in May. The funds for the Scholarships awarded are principally raised through the gala journal, raffle and the generosity of members of the community and corporations who purchase tables and make donations. According to the organization, every cent raised after event expenses and operating expenses goes directly to scholarships for the education of students.
(source: ert)

Christos Tsiolkas Wins Prestigious Literary Prize

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Christos Tsiolkas has won the prestigious 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for his best selling book “The Slap”, according to an announcement at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival in New Zealand. In his book Mr. Tsiolkas, an Australian author of Greek descent, describes an incident in which a man slaps a child during a barbecue from the perspective of eight different people.
Mr. Tsiolkas is also the author of “Loaded” (1995), “Jesus Man” (1999) and “Dead Europe” (2005). He has also been shortlisted for the “2009 Miles Franklin Literary Award” and was awarded first prize by “The Age” newspaper for his book “Dead Europe”. The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize carries a substantial financial award and a meeting with Queen Elizabeth.

Rita Wilson’s “Terms of Embarassment”

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Rita Wilson (left) with her husband, Tom Hanks

Rita Wilson has written and is set to star in Terms of Embarrassment, about a middle-aged couple who end up attending the same college as their son – causing, we’re guessing, enormous amounts of embarrassment to said offspring. This is the first script sale for Mrs. Hanks who was already successful as an actress and producer – most notably of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Wilson’s expected to star in the film, when it comes together. This period she’s appearing in Old Dogs with John Travolta and Robin Williams, and shooting an untitled rom-com with Nancy Meyers.

First case of swine flu in Greece (from NY) now being verified

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Greek authorities were currently in the process of verifying the first recorded case of swine flu in Greece, Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos announced in Geneva on Monday. According to the minister, the H1N1 virus had been detected in a Greek national recently returned from the United States and the Pasteur Institute in Athens was now carrying out a second round of tests to confirm the first results.

“I was just informed a few minutes ago by the Hellenic Centre for Infectious Diseases Control that the Pasteur Institute is at this time examining and expected to confirm through repeat tests the first incidence of the new influenza virus H1N1 to be detected in our country. It concerns a Greek national that has returned to Greece from the United States (NY),” he said.

Avramopoulos made the announcement while attending the WHO’s 62nd World Health Assembly in Geneva.

If the second tests confirmed the findings, Greece’s Health Operations Centre and the Hellenic Centre for Infectious Diseases Control would issue a detailed announcement in accordance with international rules, he added.

The minister said that he had been given the information at the same time as member-states of the United Nations were preparing to examine this issue of global importance.

“I want to assure everyone that all precautions have been taken, in accordance with international and European regulations, and that this suspected case is under complete control and protection, without there being any fear for public health,” Avramopoulos stressed, expressing hope that the initial findings would not finally be confirmed.

Pontian Genocide Recognition Sours Turkey Australian Relations

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The Turkish ambassador to Australia said that relations between the two countries will be affected following the decision by the South Australia State Parliament to recognize the Genocide of the Pontians, Armenians and Assyrians. He also expressed regret at the decision by South Australian Attorney General, Minister of Justice and Multicultural Affairs, Michael Atkinson to visit Greece next week and address an event organized by the Pontians in Thessaloniki. Turkey launched a formal demarche in Australia after Mr. Atkinson tabled a motion for the official recognition of the Pontian genocide by the South Australia State Parliament.
Greeks in Melbourne are staging a protest outside the Turkish consulate on Sunday to demand the recognition of the genocide of Pontian Greeks between 1914 and 1922. The protest is part of Pontian Hellenism memorial events that begin in Melbourne this weekend.

Eleftheria Arvanitaki to tour Australia

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One of the greatest moments of this years 27th Greek Festival in Sydney organized by the Greek Orthodox Community if New south Wales, will be a series of concerts by Eleftheria Arvanitaki at Sydney’s famed Opera House.
Arvanitaki arrives in Sydney next week and will give her first concert of Saturday May 23rd. On Sunday, May 24th, Arvanitaki will perform at the Melbourne Arts Center and will return to Sydney for one more show on Monday, May 25th.
On the occasion of her arrival in Australia, Arvanitaki will also give a series of press conferences to Greek and English language media.
Last Wednesday, Arvanitaki gave a 20 minute interview on SBS’s Greek language program where she spoke about her recently released album, her Australia concerts and responded to questions about her artistic course and views on Greek osng.
This week, Arvanitaki will be interviewed by other omogeneia radio stations and newspapers of Sydney.
Melbourne newspaper “The Age” presented an interview with Arvanitaki in its “Metro” supplement. The title of the article is “Goddess of music adored by Greeks around the world” which characterizes her as a modern day goddess adored by fans in Greece and around the world.

The Age” in favor of Marbles return to Greece

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In an article in Australia’s “The Age” newspaper entitled “Britain runs out of excuses for keeping Elgin Marbles” underlines that the opening of the New Acropolis Museum will minimize the British Museums argument that it is the best place to house the marbles that were removed from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin.
According to the article, for two centuries, Britain has held on to a collection of ancient treasures from Greece, defying the latter’s moral claim to the sculptures known as the Elgin Marbles. Even that popular name, after the British ambassador who took them from the fabled Parthenon temple in Athens, singularly fails to acknowledge the place of the statuary in Greek heritage. Pericles commissioned the series of sculpted panels in the 5th century BC to commemorate his victory against Persia. They did so for 2300 years at the Parthenon until Lord Elgin, ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, came along in 1801, when Athens was under enemy occupation, and took them.
Since 1816, when the British Museum bought the statuary for £35,000 after Parliament voted to acquire them for the nation, Britain has played the role of custodian, preserving these treasures for posterity. Had Britain been occupied and the treasures of Buckingham Palace removed across the channel, one doubts the British would ever have seen this as anything but looting, however the “custodians” dressed it up. In any case, the marbles were damaged by attempts to “clean” them in the 1930s.
Next month, the opening of the Acropolis Museum, with reserved space for the missing works that exactly matches the Parthenon temple dimensions, will further weaken Britain’s tenuous claim to be best placed to look after these treasures. Greece, which retains 36 of the 115 panels in the Parthenon frieze, will be able to display the 160-metre-long work better than the British Museum could ever do. Fears of setting a precedent – which could, for instance, affect many of the 40,000 Aboriginal artefacts held overseas – do not alter the original wrongs committed in the service of the British Empire. With most Britons supporting the Greek claim, Britain ought finally to return its ill-gotten “marbles” to where they belong.