Los Angeles Greek Film Festival (LAGFF), a more obscure or specialized but increasingly popular event. Now in its 5th year, the fest runs through Sunday, June 12 at the Laemmle's Sunset 5 in the gay mecca that is West Hollywood. Seven feature films (including one of definite GLBTQ interest reviewed below), five documentaries and nine shorts will be screened, and represent three world premieres, ten US premieres and eight LA premieres. "This year's films represent all facets of Greek life: humor, music, wine, erotica, and family... with a twist! Los Angeles audiences will not be disappointed," says Ersi Danou, LAGFF co-founder.
Last night's opening gala celebrated Lea Binzer's documentary Pelican's Watch. It pulls back the veil on a small community of elders on the island of Santorini, where they are charged with the unique duty of preserving the ancient traditions of vine growing and winemaking in the face of changing times. It was followed by a reception featuring some of the top Greek wines with the Santorini winemakers and the filmmakers in attendance. Tonight, LAGFF will present the US premiere of Roy Sher's My Sweet Canary, which recounts the life story of Roza Eskenazy, the Diva of Rebetiko, or “Greek Blues," whose music shaped the soundtrack of Greece and Asia Minor for almost a century.
The festival's major GLBT happening takes place on Saturday night, with the LA premiere of Strella (A Woman's Way). No doubt the tale of "family... with a twist" that Danou refers to above, this provocative drama-comedy weaves elements from traditional Greek tragedies and myths through a decidedly modern story. Set in Athens, it opens with an inmate, Yiorgos (a fine, subtle performance by Yanis Kokiasmenos), kissing his cellmate/lover goodbye as he is released from prison. Yiorgos doesn't waste time in starting to search for his long-estranged son. He settles into a hotel, where he makes the acquaintance of his pre-op transexual neighbor, Strella (Mina Orfanou, very good). Although Strella makes her living as a prostitute, she and Yiorgos embark on a sexual relationship together that soon turns romantic.
I don't want to give away any of the plot's sometimes jaw-dropping twists, so let's just say Yiorgos's son turns out to be closer than his father suspected. Directed by Panos H. Koutras and written by Koutras with Panajotis Evangelidis, Strella is well-structured and -layered. The lighting and photography aren't the most glamorous but this generally suits the film's lonely, wounded central figures. There are also some amusing sequences involving an animated squirrel that serves as Yiorgos's id. Ultimately, much of Strella's impact and resonance can be summed up in one character's line to another: "You made me love you in every possible way."
With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story, a documentary about the legendary comics creator, and the reality-inspired horror film The Death I Dreamed Of will also be shown during the fest. "The growing Greek film community is rapidly proving itself a formidable source of truly groundbreaking cinema, and I am proud to help bring these incredible works to the Los Angeles screen," states Owen Ward, Director of Programming. LAGFF will conclude Sunday with another gala screening and reception. Tickets for screenings and other festival events can be purchased online at the fest's official website or at the door while still available.
Strella (A Woman's Way): B+
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.