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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 1 October 2016
20 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 1 OCTOBER 2016 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM A Journey Through Smyrna; two cultures, one journey Film director Chrysovalantis Stamelos on a quest of ancestry discovery in Anatolia ALL PHOTOS: ALEX JANEROS THEODORA MAIOS From the tender age of six, awardwinning Greek American filmmaker Chrysovalantis Stamelos had his eyes set on international cinema and world music. Following a successful career as a director, writer and producer at MTV Networks (New York), the 36-year-old decided it was time to satisfy his desire to search for his roots in the historical birthplace of his ancestors − Anatolia. He picked up and moved to Turkey, the homeland of his great-grandparents. Stamelos has just released his second multi-level production A Journey Through Smyrna, which he directed in Smyrna and which resulted in the first-ever Smyrneika concert to take place on the city's waterfront − the Smyrna Quay. In an interview with Neos Kosmos, the son of Greek migrant parents talks about his decision to change his life, his personal journey through Smyrna, the reasons behind his Greek ancestors' decision to flee Anatolia and the relationship between Greece and Turkey at present. You are a by-product of Greek migration and part of the diaspora. How would you describe your family's journey? My parents were born and raised on the island of Evia and the city of Chalkida. When they came to the US in 1968, their original intention was to stay for only a few years and then move back to Greece. But, of course it didn't end up that way. My father worked very hard (as Greek fathers do) in establishing a restaurant in Connecticut, and the rest was history. I was the last of three siblings born into the restaurant business and we grew up in a very fruitful upbringing in Guilford, CT. We were one of very few Greek families in the area, and as Greeks tend to do in the States, we migrated to the closest Greek Orthodox Church to connect with our Hellenic culture and strong Orthodox faith. What prompted the desire to trace your own family tree and, to a larger extent, explore the emotional historical chapter of Smyrna? Because I’d grown up with the historical heritage of Smyrna, as well as many other Greeks from other parts of Anatolia (particularly the Black Sea Region), I was always very interested to learn more about the events that caused my family and the Greeks as a whole to flee Anatolia. At the same time, I am an avid reader of religions and religious history and was intrigued on how that correlated with the Ottoman Empire and the rise of nationalism. Thus, combining these two studies made me passionate to research and discover not only the history of my family, but that of the Greek populations of Anatolia and the Near East. Was your passion for cinematography and directing an extension of your personal quest and an attempt to document all you experience? Or was this a parallel interest that has become a valuable asset? Where and when did this interest start? I knew I wanted to make movies since I was six years old, but the kinds of stories I wanted to tell over the years have changed. By the time I was finishing college I had become very intrigued with non-fiction, in particular the historical events surrounding the Greco-Turkish war and the Catastrophe of Smyrna. After graduating, I began working in the film and TV industry, and soon found myself at MTV, where I had gained an incomparable wealth of creative and technical skills. At the same time, I had grown an interest in my family heritage and my Anatolian roots. Thus, when the time came in 2010, I was finally able to apply those skills with my interests and start producing films in Izmir (Smyrna); the first being Hello Anatolia. So in essence, my passion for filmmaking and my 'personal quest' worked hand in hand. The decision to ‘migrate’ to Smyrna from the US could not have been without apprehension and family discussion. Was it a hard decision to make? When I first announced it to my immediate family, they were very hesitant. My mother was very sad and deeply concerned, not because of any hatred or animosity towards Turks or Turkey. It was based more on economic and social reasoning. How was I going to make money? What kind of life was I going to have? How can we live so far away from each other? These were the issues because my parents, being immigrants themselves, understood the implications of leaving their birthplaces. In the end, I knew that with what- ever projects I did here in Izmir, I had to make them count and define me coming here. So far we have Hello Anatolia and A Journey Through Smyrna, so I think we are off to a good start! A Journey Through Smyrna is your second documentary. What has been your inspiration? Are you attempting to project a different historical view, a re-interpretation of events or simply an attempt to pacify and outline the commonality of two people living in a close region? I wouldn't say I'm trying to do anything aside from making films for the world to see. To do so, I feel as a producer that it was wise to connect production teams from both sides of the Aegean to work together in creating a strong and sustainable film industry that could connect with international English-speaking audiences. Izmir/Smyrna has deep meaning for me, and in that regard, I'm deeply passionate about making this city and region relevant. There is a lot of talent here and in Greece, and the complaint I repeatedly hear is that there is no avenue for creative people to produce. I wanted to change that by producing the way we are now. Within six years, I have found amazing people like my co-producer Georgia Papadopoulou, the musicians from NeaBanda and our film team in Izmir called Kare Film, headed by a wonderful producer Yusuf Saygı. Hopefully this is just the beginning.
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