By Rachel Papulkas GIFFT Writer
From the festivals of Dionysos Eleuthereus to the earliest works of Sophocles, modern day filmmakers walk in the footsteps of its earliest Greek influences. Used as a means to worship the gods, early Athenians waxed poetic tragedies, dramas, and comedies, using theatrics and music to explore politics, democracy, and the heart at what it means to be Greek and human. Performed for the masses, and under the scrutiny of judges, Greek festivals were integral to the unification of the Greeks. Storytelling as a cultural osmosis helped form community, and a common identity. Returning for its second year, the GTA Strategies Greek International Film Festival Tour of Canada continues its celebration of Hellenic culture. Created by ITOC Media Corp, the producers of AGAPE GREEK RADIO, GIFFT is platforming over 25 pieces of exceptional Greek filmmaking online and in-person.
Mutterings of a Greek-focused film festival began in 2019 following the success of ITOC’s Agape Greek Radio’s Music and Fashion Show. Stanley A. Papulkas, President of ITOC Media Corporation, and creator of OMNI Television’s Edo Pou Ta Leme & Edo Kai Tora recognized the need and untapped potential of highlighting Greek excellence in the Toronto area. Navigating the obstacles presented by COVID, premiering GIFFT as an online event was an idea Papulkas considered – but ultimately rejected. Papulkas was passionate about not limiting GIFFT’s inauguration to only online audiences. Still with the uncertainty of the pandemic looming into 2021, Papulkas took a risk and made GIFFT happen. With only a few months of preparation and planning, GIFFT premiered as a hybrid film festival, both in theatre and online.
Despite the pandemic, GIFFT found major success with theatres selling out to their maximum capacity of 50%. Among the biggest attractions were BACK TO SPARTA, a feature documentary about Angelo Tsarouchas, and HIGHWAY 13, a paranormal thriller produced directed by Papulkas himself. From Greece, EFTIHIA and PARI garnered major audience enthusiasm as well. The festival showcased full length features, documentaries, short films, and animations.
With the creation of GIFFT building major momentum for the Greek people, Papulkas found that his vision was close to the heart of the Hellenic Heritage Foundation. “The Hellenic Heritage Foundation was established 26 years ago with the aim of supporting Hellenism in Canada,” says board member Sandra Gionas. The HHF drives initiatives supporting education through Greek-language teacher training, university programs, and accessibility to Greek textbooks in schools. The HHF also proudly supports community theater. “I think there is a multi-generational Greek diaspora in Canada that's interested in Greek films in general, but also, the phenomenal renaissance that Greek cinema has been experiencing in the past decade or more.” Gionas notes. “Beyond that, there's a new generation of Greek-Canadian filmmakers, and a festival like GIFFT can be a huge support to them.”
Not ever to stand still, where could ITOC Media Corp take GIFFT in 2022? How about a National Greek Film Festival in 9 Canadian cities at the same time? Impossible? Hardly. To the organizers knowledge, no other film festival has gone national at the same time and across Canada. Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Regina, Winnipeg and London are all set to participate in this unprecedented event. “I have always been a big believer in there being strength in numbers.” Papulkas says. “Think about the possibilities if we come together as a culture, not just a community.”
Teasing what kind of films await audiences, GIFFT has announced SMYRNA, MY BELOVED as the festival’s title feature presentation. The historical drama, centered around Greek perseverance in the face of a burning Smyrna, is one of the most expensive features to be produced out of Greece. 2022 marks the 100 year anniversary of the 1922 event. A total of 25 films will be screened throughout the festival’s duration, ranging from features, music, and documentary shorts.
The sky's the limit for the GIFFT team, and there’s no end in sight for what they plan to accomplish. As for what Papulkas thinks this means for the Hellenic community, he believes that “this will be one of many national events to come that would put Hellenes on a pedestal for other groups to admire.”
The GTA Strategies Greek International Film Festival Tour of Canada will run from Friday September 30th to Sunday October 9th.
For more information on screenings and selected films, please visit: www.gifft.ca