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Yanna Darilis

Yanna Darilis

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Director Van Ling, talks to New Greek TV about “Cliffs of Freedom”, the story of the Greek War of Independence

CLIFFS OF FREEDOMis a romantic historical epic film, that is the first Hollywood feature film to tell the story of the Greek War of Independence of 1821. The film was a passion project since the 90s, for Executive Producer and Co-writer Marianne Metropoulos, who spent several years developing a story that would bring the Greek war for independence alive for modern audiences. Along with Hollywood’s veteran film Producer, Casey Cannon, Director Van Ling, and Executive Producer, Dean Metropoulos, Cliff’s of Freedom tells the story of Greece’s struggle for freedom after centuries of iron rule and oppression by the Ottoman Empire. 

The film’s cast includes; Tania Raymonde (Lost, Cloverfield, Goliath), Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, Beginners, The Last Station), Billy Zane (Titanic, Dead Calm) and Raza Jaffrey (Homeland) depicting the start of the Greek War of Independence.  Famous actors of Greek descent join the cast including, Billy Zane and Kosta Mandyllor.

The film stars Tania Raymonde as Greek freedom fighter Anna Christina. Cliffs of Freedom is love story between a young Greek girl and a Turkish Ottoman Colonel during the dawn of the Greek War for Independence, the film is directed by long-time James Cameron collaborator Van Ling (The Abyss, Terminator 2, Titanic). 

Cliffs of Freedom is inspired by historical events that occurred almost two hundred years ago. The story sees conflicted Turkish colonel Tariq spare the life of 12 year old girl, Anna Christina. Years later the two are eagerly reunited, but as the Ottoman empire continues its reign of terror on Greece, Anna Christina is compelled to join the Greek rebellion and lead the fight against the man she loves. 

 

Yanna Darilis caught up with the Director Van Ling, to talk about bringing these historical events to life through this story.

  

YD:  What inspired you to tell this story about this period of Greece’s history? Did you have knowledge about these historical events prior to this script; what impacted your emotions the most about this story?

VL: Well, as is appropriate for this film, it started with a woman: a Greek-American named Marianne Metropoulos had come up with a story idea in the mid-90s about a Greek village girl who falls in love with a Turkish officer, and wanted to develop it into a film.  She spent many years working with different Hollywood producers, but it was only when my producing partner Casey Cannon came on board around 2010 did things really start to go somewhere.  This was partly because Casey’s a strong and determined woman, and also because with over thirty years of experience in the film business, she knew how to produce it, yet was not tied to the usual studio mentality where they assess any project based solely upon its potential box office return.  There was literally almost no interest in mainstream Hollywood for stories that took place in this historical period, unless it could be done for little to no budget… which would not have done justice to any story that touched upon the Greek War of Independence.  Casey took it on as a challenge to help Marianne get the film made in a way that would do the best justice to her story and reflect Marianne’s sense of passion for it.  

So during the many years she worked with Marianne on honing the story and explore the logistics of making it, Casey would bring me in as a creative consultant.  She and I would brainstorm how to get from point A to point B in Marianne’s original story, and I would make suggestions and Casey would say “why don’t you write that up?”  So what started as story notes became full scene descriptions and dialogue suggestions, and by 2014, I had done a complete rewrite of the entire story and script, and was invested in the storytelling.  I think that’s why Marianne ultimately decided to ask me to direct the film.

I love history and doing research, so I was fascinated by this period of world history that I knew nothing about when I started.  And one of the things we as filmmakers try to do is find and focus on things that resonate emotionally with other people, not just the culture at hand, so it’s not just a foreign story from a distant time and place, but a human one that is relatable to what’s going on now.  And it seems that revolutions, hope and resilience never go out of style. Also, the opportunity to try to work with and develop a strong female protagonist, just as I had watched my mentor James Cameron do in each of his films, was fantastic. 

YD:      Films based on history tend to have two sides of the story at times, how important was it to stay true to the facts, and what kind of team did you compile to make sure that the history was portrayed as it truly was? 

VL: As a first generation Chinese-American born in the US, it was very interesting to see the parallels and differences between cultures and try to bring a more objective view of the historical events as recorded.  But in this case, even our Greek historical consultant, Eleni Drivas, noted that there is “no consensus” as to all of the facts in this period of Greek history.  It’s interesting and fraught when one culture’s or faction’s or person’s facts are another one’s propaganda.  Everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinions, but if you’re the kind of person who balks at the fact that a Greek and a Turk could fall in love, then maybe this movie is not for you!

For my part, I tried to find a balance between compelling storytelling and historical accuracy.  I always want to do both, but the challenge here was that it was like “Rashomon” in terms of the actual historical facts.  Marianne said to me at the start of the project: “when in doubt, ask a Greek”; and that’s what I did… and I quickly found out that each and every Greek person has a different upbringing and opinion as to what actually happened, or what to say, or even how to make the sign of the cross, based on what they were taught… and each one of them is vehemently adamant that their way is the only way. The old joke that even Marianne told me was that if you put two Greeks in a room, you will get three opinions… this is why the Greeks had to invent democracy!  So at a certain point, I tried to find a balance, which was tough when everybody disagrees with each other on every little detail except on the fact that I was portraying it wrong!  So there was a lot of narrative instinct and compromises throughout the process.  But I hope I was able to capture the spirit of Greece and reveal some common humanity in a story that mixes fictional characters and events with real historical ones, since we were not making a documentary here.

YD: Tell us about the fictional Romeo and Juliet element, and why it was important to tell this story?

I really can’t speak for Marianne Metropoulos, but I believe she wanted to celebrate her Greek heritage but also do a romantic storyline that was universally relatable, with themes of family and honor and vengeance… and to also say that love can make a difference in bridging entrenched cultural hatreds and bringing about change, through deeds or through inspiration.  At least those were the aspects that I latched onto as elements in which everyone could find personal meaning, not just Greeks and Turks.  In stories of war and oppression and sacrifice, there is often a tendency to focus on the hate and the atrocities and to forget that there are human beings and personal emotions at the core of every conflict on both sides… and these can either be used to further divide people and perpetuate hatred between cultures, or they can be used to understand, mend and heal… often at great cost.

               YD: Greece’s history is vast and the heroic spirit is portrayed throughout time in various historical accounts of wars, what were you looking for in a producing partner and director in order to capture the essence of this historical story, and what made you decide to work with producing partners Maria Metropoulos and  Casey Cannon, to bring this story and these characters to life.

VL: It seems to me that the history of Greece is a history of tenacity and determination, and it took a whole lot of both to get this movie made. At a screening recently, one Greek viewer told me that this film was 200 years in the making, which is certainly both a humbling thought and a responsibility I took very seriously when directing the film.  I had worked with Casey for almost thirty years, and I could see that Marianne had the gumption and wherewithal, just not the experience in filmmaking… but that’s where Casey and I came in.  So it was about finding partners who were able to collaborate and respect each other under fire, which is always a challenge.  But I’m very grateful to Marianne and her husband Dean Metropoulos for trusting me with her very special passion project, and I’m forever grateful to Casey for fighting alongside me and inspiring me every step of the way. It’s been an honor to work on this film.

YD:   The #Metoo is movement in the production notes.  I’d like to know more about the movement’s relevance to the movie.

VL: One could make the argument that the history of human society is also a history of the suppression of women as equals; this is true for pretty much all patriarchal cultures. Turkish culture famously had their harems, where women were seen as playthings or hens in a coop for producing heirs.  In this period in Greece, as everywhere else, women were considered prized property who heeded the orders and desires of men, and dutiful daughters were often used as social bargaining chips for advancing a family’s fortunes and cementing strategic relationships. Women were often given protection, love and respect, yet no agency to do what they wanted or be someone other than what their culture decided they could be.  Women had to cede their lives and control of their bodies to the men and the dictates of their culture; it is just how things were around the world then, and often even today.  Yet there is a proud history of strong women in Greece, from the Yia-Yias in every family to the sacrifices of the Women of Souli to the legendary women freedom fighters like Bouboulina and Manto Mavrogenous.  We deal specifically with some of these ideas head-on, as our heroine evolves from a dutiful daughter with scandalous notions no one believes to someone who loses everything because of love and faces every kind of male response in the process, from flippant misogyny to attempted assault, from grudging respect to full-on equality where gender is not even an issue.  Through all this, she is forced to redefine herself and her own destiny in the midst of great turmoil and conflict, both in her world and in her heart.  That all seems pretty relevant to what’s going on today as well.

Cliffs of Freedom will be released nationwide in a theatrical release via Cineworld from March 2019, in the UK, USA and Europe, ahead of Greek Independence Day on 25 March.

Sustainability Challenges in the Mediterranean Region

As advanced as the word has become in the technology space, we are still behind on global food and nutritional challenges that are impacting the world. The Foreign Press Association with support from The Barilla Foundation presented the UN's Sustainabilty Development Goals to the foreign press in New York.

It has been reported that more than 815 million people suffered from hunger in 2016 (1). The reasons behind these numbers are due predominately to climate related issues and violent conflicts. The world’s food industry is responsible for 1/3 of manmade greenhouse emissions, the manufacturing of food, distribution and consumption are polluting the environment. A contributor to climate change is also the scarcity of land, waste of energy, water & food. Food marketing trends in the past 20 years have caused obesity rates to skyrocket, reaching epidemic proportions world wide, that have trickled down to the increasing rates of health issues.

The Mediterranean is a “hot spot” for global climate change, as noted by the EC. The region’s temperature is rising, causing challenges for farmers, seasonal rainfalls pose new threats from pests and disease, the rapid population growth and urbanization demands more water for non-agricultural purposes, rising sea levels threaten loss of land, decline in fish and the reproduction of phytoplankton threaten the important marine food chain, ecosystems along the coastlines are threatened, urbanization is resulting in agricultural loss and displacement of farmers, and the migration waves are increasing countries populations, which is leading to increase in aid and relief efforts, and pressure on local food supplies.

 These concerns and more are the main focus of the 193 member countries of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's), to help guarantee long term prosperity for people and the planet. SDG’s goals and agenda for 2030 include; from ending poverty and hunger to ensuring health and wellbeing, to preserving land and water for tackling climate change, fostering innovation and education, insuring the inclusion of women and youth, to a more responsible production and manufacturing of food and its consumption patterns.

The member states recognize that the challenges are specifically evident in the Mediterranean regions as the populations have been shifting away from their traditional world famous healthy Mediterranean diet of fruits, vegetables, fish and healthy oils, and have adopted fast food, high refined carbohydrates and high sugar food choices. This has also affected environmental stability. Due to the emerging climate change, agricultural sustainability and food security are at risk. Population growth, along with the migration waves has created the need to understand the link between food and migration.

However, Northern and Southern Mediterranean shores differ tremendously in politics and socio-economic status, requiring co-operative intervention amongst the region.

Collaborative efforts in this region include initiatives of the Milan protocol developed in 2015, along with the Barilla Centre for Food &Nutrition (BCFN), that acknowledge the need for change. BCFN, the Food Sustainability Index (FSI) and many other organizations, join efforts to offer a framework of science, research, mapping trends, education, and aim to increase awareness to the broader public on food related challenges, while engaging countries in dialogue, developing collaborations and communications between countries to help reach various levels of development to help eradicate these growing problems and challenges.

Fixing Food; The Mediterranean Region, a report conducted by The Barilla Centre for Food & Nutrition, and written by The Economist Intelligence Unit, investigated food sustainability issues in the Mediterranean region.

The study included 12 Mediterranean countries and was conducted to analyze the challenges of food sustainability, proved common threats to all countries that include: climate change, water scarcity, environmental pressures, urbanization of coastlines, soil degradation, unsustainable farming practices, poor nutrition (rising rates of undernourishment, obesity, micronutrient deficiencies), and migration.

The Mediterranean strategy was adopted for sustainable Development (MSSD) for 2016-2025, formulated by the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) in conjunction with the Mediterranean action plan (MAP). The SDG’s stressed the how imperative it is to foster a green economy in sustainable development to eradicate poverty.

           The food Sustainability index showed the top overall scores of countries with    

             highest sustainability and progress towards meeting environmental, societal

             and economic key performance indicators (2). The Top ten:

1.France 74.8

2. Spain 70.4

3. Portugal 69.5

4. Italy 69

5. Israel 63.1

6. Turkey 62.9

7. Greece 61.6

8. Jordan 58.9

9. Egypt 57.1

10. Morocco 53.9

The findings of the research indicate that most of these problems will require close collaborations between these countries,  and the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) will play a vital role in developing these co-operations to reduce disparities and increase sustainability to safeguard the environment. If implemented and aligned with the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development goals, will result in the achievement of sustainable agriculture, improved nutrition and reduction of food, energy and water waste. These outcomes will also depend on the effectiveness of national public institutions, government public awareness campaigns and educating citizens, especially the new generations about sustainable farming methods, how to not waste water and energy, how green energy choices can be better solutions, and healthier nutritional food choices can pave the way to a healthier life.

Reinforcements may also be necessary by passing laws obliging the private sectors to be accountable and responsible in their contribution to sustainability, and ensuring consumers are offered nutritious quality foods that nurture health and well being for our planet and humanity.

By no means, does this topic exclude western countries, predominately the United States, who is a leading contributor to these challenges that the Mediterranean also faces today in terms of climate change, manufacturing and agricultural sustainability, quality of food, and health of the nation and its people. These challenges must implement effective strategies immediately as the Mediterranean has done.

In general, the lesson here is also that we, the consumers, need to be responsible for taking good care of our health by being proactive about informing ourselves, and making the right food choices, and caring for our planet by helping stop pollution, conserving our water, energy, and opting for healthier recyclable storage options such as glass vs plastic, amongst other things. A total global effort can only save the planet and ourselves, and reverse the damages we have inflicted upon mother earth and unto ourselves.

“Be the change that you want to see in the world”

Mahatma Gandhi

 

For more on the information on the report: http://foodsustainability.eiu.com

$        1. FAO of the UN, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the world 2017. Available at:www.fao.org/a-176953.pdf

         2. Economist Intelligent Unit, Food Sustainable Index 2017.

Reference:

Barilla Centre for Food & Nutrition, Fixing Food: toward a more sustainable food system, written by The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2016, Available at:http://foodsustainability.eiu.com

 

Healthy Food Choices Made Easy

How does one really weigh in on what food is healthy to consume anymore? Going to the supermarket today can be frustrating, reading long labels in detail to make sure how clean our food choices are getting confusing. What is the best advice a health coach can give to people who are interested in adopting a healthier lifestyle? When in doubt of what food is healthier, chose to eat real food.

The basis of healthy eating includes whole unprocessed foods, and by choosing a wide range of whole, real foods, the nutritional value is high and essential vitamins and minerals are readily absorbed. Adopting a healthier nutritious diet should include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and protein sources from either plants, legumes, fish, grass fed meats, eggs, and poultry. Be sure to eat loads of leafy green vegetables, complex carbohydrate choices should include whole grains such as; brown rice, quinoa, farrow, or vegetables such as sweet potato and squash. Fat options include fats such as; olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, nuts and seeds. This is an easy sustainable lifestyle that promotes good health, less brain fog and increased energy.

Stabilizing blood sugar levels also depends on healthy food choices. Eating many refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup and high processed food can cause spikes in blood sugar. Also waiting too long between meals can cause you to crash and lose energy and this point is crucial because when this occurs people are more likely to eat anything at that moment. It is important to keep healthy snacks around in your bag or car that can help curb hunger until your next meal. These snacks should include natural complex carbs that include fiber to help balance your blood sugar levels such as apples, vegetables are also great such as carrots and celery sticks, and proteins and fats such as nuts and seeds. See there are many choices!

Looking back in time and comparing statistics on worldwide health has shown that the more processed food became, and the increase of consumption of refined sugars and refined grains, the down spiral began on health. Sure people are living longer today because of modern medicine, however, why then are so many people suffering from health problems today?

Besides many other factors related to health issues, food does play a vital role in our state of health. When in doubt, the best advice for a nutritional balanced diet is to go for real food choices, in other words food from nature. If it has a long label with ingredients you can’t pronounce, its probably processed. Eating a balanced diet means making sure you include: natural, organic at best, nutritional sources of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Healthy eating habits also including sitting down and enjoying your meal to promote better digestion, don’t eat when you are stressed or in a rush, try to schedule your meals as part of your daily routine and enjoy that sacred moment.

Another important thing to keep in mind is what works for others may not work for us. It is also important to listen to your body by being attentive after you have eaten your meal, examine how you feel, and if you have bloating, or feel suddenly tired, something you ate may not agree with you.

References

https://www.foodpolitics.com/2011/06/deconstructing-the-usdas-new-food-plate/

Walters, T. (2012). Clean food. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing.

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