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Director Valantis Stamelos: "I Hope Audiences Take A Piece Of Smyrna With Them"

New Greek TV's featured Greek of the Week is director and producer Valantis Stamelos.

Stamelos serves as the director and a producer of the documentary "Journey through Smyrna: Hello Anatolia II". The Greek-American filmmaker was inspired to showcase his Asia Minor roots at a young age, and continues to do so with this three-part project.

In our interview below, Stamelos discusses the in-depth historical research required to create such documentaries, the source of his stimulus, his own origins, projects in the making, and more.

Maria Athens: What inspired you to create a documentary on the population exchange in Izmir, Turkey?

Valantis Stamelos: I had grown up being very close to the Greek culture in the U.S. My parents, like most Greek parents, are very proud of where they come from and share that pride with their children. And as a young man in my teens, the reality that was built up in my head was that we came from Greece. That Greece was this timeless land that never changed in any way.

I remember one day asking my mother about our heritage and I asked her what her maiden name was. She responded 'Aslanis' to which I ignorantly replied 'Oh, that sounds very Greek.' She quickly corrected me and said 'No, it's Turkish'. I took a second and then asked 'Are we Turkish?' 'No, but your great-grandparents come from Asia Minor, Anatolia, and they spoke Turkish. But we are Greeks'. That was the match that was lit in my brain to start really searching for my roots. That match was lit 20 years ago and is burning more than ever today.

Maria Athens: Can you offer us a brief background on "Journey through Smyrna: Hello Anatolia II"?

Valantis Stamelos: "Journey Through Smyrna" is a 3-part project. The first being a documentary film where we will document the journey of 10 musical artists from Athens and Izmir. They will come together and hold a concert of Smyrneika live on the waterfront of Smyrni (Izmir). In addition, the group will play in several historical neighborhoods in the city which holds significant importance to the music.

For example, they will play Bornovoulia in the area of Bornova, or Ti Se Meli Esenane in Karataş and Karşiyaka (Karatasi/Kordelio). The second part of the project is the soundtrack which will include studio and live concert recordings. And then the third part being a photography book detailing the areas of where we filmed, including coverage of the lost churches and homes of Hellenism.

Maria Athens: What was the process involved in producing this historical feature?

Valantis Stamelos: The process involves a lot of groundwork as this is very unchartered territory. Bringing together a production team for both film and music, plus photography coverage of the events and areas, and going through the beauracracy of holding a public event are all huge weights to carry. But that is what will make this project so sweet. Is that through the blood, sweat, and tears of the team, we will be making history in the Aegean for the better.

Maria Athens: Where has "Journey through Smyrna: Hello Anatolia II" been screened? Where can we see it? When does it premiere?

Valantis Stamelos: We are currently in preproduction. We plan on screening the film in festivals and special events in the U.S., Europe, Turkey, and Australia.

Maria Athens: What language is your documentary in? Will it be translated into Greek? Turkish? English?

Valantis Stamelos: Our market is global. English will be the main language. However, being that our team consists of Greeks and Turks, naturally there will be scenes in Greek and Turkish, as is the music.

Maria Athens: Will "Journey through Smyrna: Hello Anatolia II" be released in Greece? Cyprus? Turkey?

Valantis Stamelos: We would like the film distributed on an international platform, thus distribution will be global.

Maria Athens: Can you tell us about your own Greek background? 

Valantis Stamelos: My parents are from Chalkida, Evvia. My father's side stems from the village of Limni, north of Chalkida. However, before my father had passed away, he had told me that our roots came from Anatolia but from where exactly we don't know. My mother's side comes from Çeşme, Smyrna.

Maria Athens: What do you hope audiences will gain from watching this film?

Valantis Stamelos: My hope is to share an amazing journey with audiences; that they will be taken for a ride through an adventure with the musicians and the city. This is something that could never have been made in the 20th century, and with such a unique topic at the forefront, I hope through film and music that people will all be able to take a piece of Smyrna with them no matter where in the world they are.

Maria Athens: How emotional was this journey, when researching and shooting this historical movie?

Valantis Stamelos: This project comes from our souls. Harnessing our talents, we are able to create a project that not only touches us emotionally, but one that also connects with people across all borders. The fact that we are able to do such research and film in such locations is a dream come true that we hope to capture for those who are not able to make such a journey. The beauty of film and music allows such a connection withstanding culture, ethnicity, race, gender, etc. Put simply, it is deeply emotional and gives us deep meaning.

Maria Athens: What's next for Valantis Stamelos?

Valantis Stamelos: The next project that I am a part of is scheduled for production this summer in Astoria, NY. A film project entitled "Astoria Park", is a coming-of-age story which centers around a group of friends from Astoria, who on the hottest day of the summer, are confronted with the harsh realities of their social climate.

The crux of the film takes place on a basketball court, which acts as a microcosm of the multicultural and diverse environment America has become and continues to become. The film has been in the works for almost a decade, first as a short film, then a staged-reading, and now a feature film.

Last modified onFriday, 27 March 2015 22:57