The formation of a Greek-Australian Film Society

Nia Vardalos, star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding with Mary Coustas -Effie at the premiere of the film in 2002, Nikita Chronis asks if these portrayals of our migrant story are derisive. Photo: AAP/Jamie Fawcett Nia Vardalos, star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding with Mary Coustas -Effie at the premiere of the film in 2002, Nikita Chronis asks if these portrayals of our migrant story are derisive. Photo: AAP/Jamie Fawcett

Not too long ago, I published Philotimo, Leventia and Storytelling: the Moral Necessity of Greek-Australian Narratives and Tha Sou Po tin Alitheia: Authenticity and Truthful Storytelling.

I outlined the critical significance of maintaining Greek-Australian culture through various mediums of storytelling – film, literature, music and the visual arts. I also highlight the potential dangers of resorting to tried-and-tested forms of ‘ethnic’ humour, which undoubtedly has its place, but runs the risk of degrading the immigrant experience into something without substance or depth.

The waning literacy standards of Greek-Australians concerning their ancestral tongue, especially amongst third-and-fourth generations, is a symptom of an increasing “Australiafication” and – in some respects – “Westernisation”, as our people have adopted the socio-cultural norms of our new home in an attempt to assimilate.

There is, indeed, no intrinsic harm in any of this. Of course, Australia is the land of milk and honey. There is a reason as to why our forefathers left Greece to seek a better life down-under.

We should kiss the very ground we walk on, as our fathers and grandfathers indeed did upon arriving on the Patris or any other immigrant ship.

But this doesn’t mean we forget who we are, as both Greeks and Australians. As ellinoaustraloi. From the most ancient of days, our ancestors told stories about who they were in order to fuse cultural bonds. The Iliad and The Odyssey were, at one point, the foundational stories of Hellenic culture. If one was to ask, “who are the Greeks?” they would swiftly be directed to a chapter in these great works of literature for an answer.

So, in our current circumstances, the question must be asked of ourselves. What do we, as Greek-Australians, point to as our foundational stories? Which stories provide the best representation of who we are as an ethnos?

This, I believe, is the task of a Greek-Australian Film Society. We ought to act like a memory bank, as a reminder to the current and future generations of Greek-Australians of who we are, what principles we should embody and the “great commission” – if you will – to share these great principles throughout the broader culture.

I propose to centre this community around 5 foundational virtues – virtues that should be reflected in the filmmaking process itself, and ultimately in the stories we tell. These are: – Philotimo, Leventia / Andreia, Agapi, Eros, and Philoxenia.

Philotimo is the disposition towards overwhelming generosity and hospitality. Leventia / Andreia constitutes a spirited and manly soul, not mucho, the person who is willing to risk it all for the sake of his neighbour and kin. Agapi is the divine Love, a burning flame of the heart which spurs people into self-sacrificial acts of compassion. Eros is the primal yet transcendent desire towards all that is beautiful, both in the world and the heavens. Finally, philoxenia is the love of the stranger, the bravery to embrace the outsider despite the possible risk in doing so.

In my opinion, these principles accurately illustrate what it means to be a true Greek-Australian. Our food, language and customs can only get us so far. We need to resurrect what lies beneath the surface, the foundational ideals of ellinismos, to sustain and vitally present our culture to the world.

The stories we present can centre around a variety of topics, including but not limited to: Mythoi – the heroes and gods of old, including local folklore, Polemoi – historic wars and persecution, including local struggles and disputes, Erota – chivalric examples of romantic love, even against the trend of popular norms, Pathoi – the pursuit of noble passions, even to the disregard of common society, Metanastefsi – immigration narratives, including the lives of first, second and third generation Greek-Australians.

Film societies such as Byzantfest and the Greek Film Festival here in Melbourne have already done great work. Along with these groups, we should nurture the Greek language in film and continue to forge strong ties with the broader Greek diaspora in Australia, around the world and Greece herself. We can all work as a unit, a democratic whole, with the aforementioned principles as our common guide.

Let’s create beautiful stories that will last forever.

Stin ygeia mas.

Nikita Christos Chronis is an actor, filmmaker, producer and model currently completing his Honours degree in Film and Television at Swinburne University.

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