submitted by George Poulos on 21.06.2004
A Guide to Greek-Australian Film-makers.
by, BILL MOUSOULIS.
The Australian film industry is a curious beast, never quite sure of itself, and always struggling to survive. It kept pace with the rest of the world early in the century, but from about 1940 it went through a long fallow period, where features were made only sporadically, until the late '60s. In the '70s, thanks to government support, Australian cinema regenerated itself, in the process producing quality mainstream directors (Weir, Schepisi, Beresford), tough-minded independent directors (Deling, Cowan, Tammer), and a swag of brilliant underground/experimental directors (the Cantrills, Lee, Winkler). In the '80s, complacency set in, the 10BA tax scheme took over, and many unbelievably bad films were made, with even the underground scene being affected, thanks to rising production costs. Now, in the '90s, thanks to those costs, the underground scene is near-dead, but the feature film arena seems to have rejuvenated itself, with such "quirky" (as they say) films like Strictly Ballroom, Muriel's Wedding, Shine, Love And Other Catastrophes, The Castle, proving hits both here and overseas.
Now, Australia prides itself on being (and being seen as) a "multicultural" country, thanks to an immigration policy which has welcomed numerous refugees and others into its land over the last five decades. According to statistics, Australia's current population is around 18.5 million, with 4 million of these people being NESBs (people from a non-English-speaking background). And, of these 4 million, 300,000 (or 1.6 % of the total population) are Greek NESBs (either born in Greece or 2nd [or 3rd, etc.] generation Greeks, born here).
Now, the question is: what impact have these NESBs had on the Australian film industry? Have Australian films reflected their lives, their stories, their points-of-view? And have many of these ethnic people actually ventured behind the camera, to write, produce, direct these films? Before attempting to answer these questions (if only in a brief way), here now is a list of Greek-Australian film-makers (to focus on this particular ethnic group), and their filmographies.
The following is an alphabetical listing of Greek-Australian film directors, and not writers or producers or anything else, the director usually being the one recognised as the "author" (or certainly the "personality") of each film.
Where the information is known, the year and country of birth are then given, together with the film school they went to, if any.
A filmography is then supplied, listing films in chronological order, with their year of completion, duration, gauge (for the video works, however, the specific format is not listed), and genre (with sometimes more than one category cited). Where a film-maker's filmography is particularly extensive, only a selected filmography is supplied. Feature films are in upper case, short films in upper-and-lower case. (For the record, short films are those which are 59 minutes and under, whilst those films over 59 minutes which are finished on video or Super-8 are not officially recognised as "features". The same applies to documentaries over 59 minutes long.) The filmographies are restricted to what we normally think of as "films": individual, artistic entities that are somewhere in the field of the narrative-documentary-experimental spectrum (even if shot and/or completed on video). Excluded from the filmographies are TV series, tele-features, ads, music clips, training/corporate videos, multimedia works, etc.
If there is then anything pertinent to say about the director, either on her/his biography or on her/his work, some notes are provided. Finally, there is a quick mention regarding whether or not the director is exploring Greek themes in her/his work. (i.e. exploring them in a direct, obvious sense, by utilising specifically Greek subjects or stories.)
I have listed as many people as possible as I could find information on, but obviously it is an incomplete list. There would be quite a few more emerging and/or underground figures (especially outside of Melbourne) working away out of the spotlight, and detailed research would perhaps also be able to unearth some figures from the '60s and before. Also, some of the details below are incomplete, the film-makers not being easily contactable in some cases. Despite that, I include several film-makers who seem to have made only the one film before then disappearing out of view. Anyone who has ever made a film knows that these film-makers deserve to be listed.
If you would like yourself or someone else listed here, please email Bill Mousoulis.
Acknowledgments to: firstly, Eleni Bertes, for her database on Greek-Australian film-makers; secondly, the AFI Research and Information Centre, for access to their files; thirdly, Vicky Tsaconas, Liz Burke, Sarah Zadeh, Ray Argall, John Cruthers, Corinne Cantrill, Melissa Juhanson, for useful information; and, lastly but not leastly, the film-makers themselves, for providing details about themselves.
[What follows is a long list of Greek-Australian filmakers.
I can immediately recognise 2, as having a Kytherian heritage.
Other researchers may be able to determine that others on the list at
also possess a Kytherian heritage.
Please advise if, upon perusal of the list, you find this to be the case.]
George Miller, &
George Miller's entry:
George Miller (USA) b. 1945, Australia.
Filmography: Violence in the Cinema, Part 1 (1972, 14 mins, 35mm, mocko), Devil in Evening Dress (1973, doco), MAD MAX (1979, 91 mins, 35mm, drama), MAD MAX 2 (1981, 94 mins, 35mm, drama), episode of TWILIGHT ZONE - THE MOVIE (USA, 1993, 101 mins, 35mm, drama), MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985, 106 mins, 35mm, drama), THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (USA, 1987, 118 mins, 35mm, drama), LORENZO'S OIL (USA, 1992, 135 mins, 35mm, drama), BABE IN METROPOLIS (1998, 35mm, drama).
Notes: A child of Greek migrants. Studied medicine and was then a doctor. Currently in Hollywood.
Greek themes: No.
John Conomos's entry.
John Conomos (NSW) b. 1947, Australia. Film school: self-taught.
Filmography (selected): Autumn Song (1997, 23 mins, video, essay)
Notes: Has an MA, currently teaches film and media studies at Sydney College of the Arts, and is also a film critic.
Greek themes: Yes, on and off.
[John Conomos's achievements in film and art are much more extensive than indicated here.
I hope to explore those achievements in more depth in the near future (mid-2004)].
Bill Mousoulis' concluding, BRIEF OVERVIEW.
Firstly, have Greek-Australians been given "a fair go" as directors in the Australian film industry, in terms of numbers represented? Let's look at some statistics, for the feature film arena. In the period 1978-94, 341 feature films were theatrically released. In the period 1995-98, 117 feature films were produced (i.e. this includes those which did not/will not get a release). Of these 458 films, 19 were directed by Greeks. (Or: 4.1 %.) There is a difference between the two periods. Greeks directed 11 out of 341 films (3.2 %) in '78-'94, and 8 out of 117 films (6.8 %) in '95-'98. In the first period, the mainstream directors Miller, Tass, Proyas, Marinos, Tatoulis account for 9 of the 11 films, the other two being by the independents Vellis and Pavlou. In the second period, Tass and Tatoulis account for 3 of the 8 films, the other five being by Vellis (his 2nd feature), and by more independents in Tsilimidos, Efthymiou, myself and Kokkinos (their 1st features). This is all very understandable: most 2nd generation Greeks were born in the '60s, and so they are now the right age to be making an impact. Which means that there will certainly be more features coming from Greek-Australian film-makers in the next 5, 10, 20 years. Of the short film-makers listed above, Kannava is poised to make her debut feature over the next couple of years, with maybe also others to follow (Gogos, Goularas, Heristanidis, Stamatakos, Tsialos). (Sorry if I have left anyone out of this list - prove me wrong!)
I would suggest that, overall, seeing as Greek NESBs make up only 1.6 % of the Australian population, Greeks are well-represented behind the camera in the Australian film scene. A brief comparison with other NESB film directors highlights this even more. Australia has always had mainstream NESBs like Mora, Amenta, Schultz, Schepisi, Safran, etc., but the names to present here would be the more independent-minded directors: Cox, de Heer, Mueller, Hoaas, Chan, Law, Acquisto, Pellizzari. And that is as far as the list goes, for feature films. Which means that all of Australia's ethnic groups can only boast one or two feature film-makers at most, whilst we Greeks have all the aforementioned ones. Or how about another comparison, with another "minority" (51 % that is), women? Of the 458 feature films since 1974, only 53 (11.6 %) were directed by women. As with Greek directors, however, the situation is getting better: women directed 33 of 341 films (9.7 %) in '78-'94, but then 23 of 117 films (19.7 %) in '95-'98. Slowly but surely, Australian cinema is becoming more interesting, reflecting both cultural and sexual diversity in terms of who gets allowed to be behind the camera.
Now, what about in front of the camera, within the films' frames - are Greek characters, stories and viewpoints represented? Are themes such as identity, migration, assimilation, cultural dislocation, racism, etc. explored? Do the directors in question uphold and celebrate their ethnicity (their family customs, their religion, their mores), or are they indifferent, or even antagonistic, towards it? The results are, of course, a mixed bag.
The first wave of Greek-Australian film directors - Miller, Tass, Proyas, Tatoulis - seem to have assimilated themselves (name changes and all) quickly and successfully into mainstream Anglo-Australian culture, leaving barely a trace of Greekness in their work. John Papadopoulos, also from that first period, likewise does not explore specifically Greek themes in his films. Of the second wave of directors, those hitting their straps from the mid-'80s onwards, the following also have an almost total absence of Greek subjects/themes from their films: Efthymiou, Goularas, Kotsanis, myself, Stamatakos, Sideris, and several others.
At the other end of the scale, quite a few of the directors listed in this article do tackle specifically Greek subject matter. Karris especially seems to have a deep and genuine passion for Greek issues. Kannava also has an ongoing preoccupation with Greek issues, in particular the issue of bi-culturalism. Heristanidis, Desma Kastonas, Linou, Nedelkopoulos, Skiotis, Spanos and Viscas also portray and/or explore Greek ways/problems/results in their work.
But there are film-makers problematically in between these two camps. Kokkinos' work, for example, seems to be wholly about Greek characters, but I believe the ethnicity of her characters is secondary to the actual human drama taking place (apart from in Antamosi, which definitely has a Greek "atmosphere" to it - more on this below). The same for Vellis' work - the Greek characters that appear here and there are simply part of the whole tapestry Vellis is interested in presenting. As for Pavlou and Tsilimidos, their respective features are not Greek at all, but Pavlou's short The Killing of Angelo Tsakos is about a Greek youth, whilst Tsilimidos' short Man of Straw is a devastating portrait of a particular Greek male type (the gambler).
Now, there is a more complex way approaching the question of whether or not all these Greek-Australian film-makers are "Greek". Direct, literal subject matter is only one way of attacking this question. The other ways are: thematically, but metaphorically; aesthetically; stylistically; and, more nebulously, according to "sense", or "philosophy".
For example, the metaphorical way: Stavros Efthymiou's films, all of them about geographical dislocation, can quite easily be read as films about cultural dislocation (reflecting Efthymiou's own story). Or look at a character like Vellis' Harry Dare (a blackfella): isn't Harry an underdog, an outsider, trying to put his life together, just like many Greek-Australians?
As for aesthetically, what I mean is a love for and/or understanding of the specific looks, surfaces, textures, faces, etc. of Greek life. As mentioned, Antamosi has this, and so do Heristanidis' The Icon, Nedelkopoulos' expanded home movies, Karris' work, and, especially, Kannava's Ten Years After ... Ten Years Older. (I find this "aesthetic" quality even stronger in Italian-Australian work, for example, the films of Monica Pellizzari, Ettore Siracusa, Nicolina Caia.)
Stylistically, I think Greek-Australian film-makers have much to offer Australian cinema. Of course, "style" is always a vague concept (unlike form or structure, for example). I believe it is related to other hard-to-pinpoint quantities such as "feel" and "tone", and that it is really these things (rather than plot, characters, themes) that provide the real meaning (and pleasure) of every film. I think Kannava heads the list here. Her The Butler (like Tahir Cambis and Alma Sahbaz' Exile in Sarajevo) has a free-wheeling style that is both personal and analytical, and that eschews many of the conventions of documentary. I get a similar sense when watching the films of Vellis, Tsilimidos and Kokkinos (although Kokkinos, for me, veers towards convention) - there is a sense of adventure, looseness, yet also seriousness, in the styles employed. The same can be said for Monica Pellizzari's Fistful of Flies. Compare these directors with the bland, "good taste" style offered by other so-called "independent" Australian directors recently (Lang, Nowlan, Mahood, Ruane, Flanagan, etc.) (People criticised Efthymiou for the extended shots of Miranda Otto singing and dancing in True Love and Chaos, deeming them "extraneous", but it is that type of "taking off" that is the hallmark of great, risky cinema á la Godard or Ruiz.) Of course, the short film-makers (being free from executives looking over their shoulders) have style in abundance. The experimental work of Goularas and Kotsanis, for example, is totally exhilarating and meaningful.
And as for "sense" or "philosophy", one can view certain directors' work according to either traditional or modern Greek "qualities". For example, Pavlou's Angelo Tsakos, Tsilimidos' Everynight, Kokkinos' Head On - these display the modern Greek quality of confrontation, wanting to point out injustices, wanting to politicise (one of Tsiolkas' main aims). John Papadopoulos suggested to me that his work veers towards melancholy and seriousness, qualities he considers Greek. And, of course, we all know about Miller's obsession with notions of "the hero", "the journey", etc. One could say that Homeric/Olympian qualities characterise all dramas, but I think one can still differentiate between peculiarly Greek qualities and the bastardisation/colonisation of such (by American soapies, for example). This genuine "Greek" quality can be seen in the work of Linou for example (the dance films), Spanos' Vicious Mink, Kanlidis' Dog Film, Sideris' The Guitar Hero - films which celebrate performance, excess, music, dance, in other words, "Dionysian" films. At the other extreme, my own work, which is very minimal and still, can be seen as representing the "Apollinian" qualities of calm, control, grace.
One final question: how does the work of these Greek-Australian film-makers compare with the work of other film-makers in Australia, when all is said and done? A purely subjective judgment: Goularas and Kotsanis as our best, and the equal to the non-Greek Michael Lee, followed then by more non-Greeks in Argall, McKenzie, Cox, followed then by Kannava, Vellis and Tsilimidos, followed then by the non-Greek Sue Brooks - that would be my list of Australia's ten best film directors.
As for the general consensus in critical opinion, Kokkinos (for Head On and also Only the Brave) is rated very highly, Kannava likewise (but with far less fanfare), whilst Efthymiou received an inexplicable savaging for his film True Love and Chaos (I reckon Kiss or Kill should have got that savaging). As for Tsilimidos and Vellis, I get the feeling that they are liked, but also tolerated, by the critics and the film industry, for they come across as (pardon the politically incorrect cross-cultural reference) "Young Turks", having a bit of an edge to them.
And why not? To quote John Conomos from his article "Cultural Difference and Ethnicity in Australian Cinema" (Cinema Papers, 90, Oct. '92): "The fundamental value of multicultural films is that they typify a healthy, sceptical response to orthodoxy and dogma; they represent an incisive critique of the narrowmindedness of monoculturalism articulated from the site of marginality or contrapuntal existence."
Ah, that good old "contrapuntal existence". Vivé la differénce!
I would like to thank Bill Mousoulis very much for permission to reprint from his web-page.
About Bill Mousoulis
Bill Mousoulis is an independent film-maker based in Melbourne. Since 1982, he has made over 80 films, including five features, the latest of which is Lovesick (2002). In 1985 he founded the Melbourne Super-8 Film Group and in 1999 founded the online film journal "Senses of Cinema".
For a detailed biography of Bill Mousoulis, see the web-page at,
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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