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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 13 July 2019
FILM 16 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 13 JULY 2019 The fine art of filmmaking, with a spiritual twist How a cancer diagnosis led to the creation of the world’s first online Orthodox Christian short film festival, Byzanfest ANASTASIA TSIRTSAKIS I t was in 2013 at the foothills of Meteora, one of the largest complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries, that Chris Vlahonasios, a longtime cinephile, was first struck with the idea of creating a film festival with an Orthodox Christian focus. He quickly brushed the idea aside however, convinced it was a little too ambitious and that it could wait for another time, further cemented by a shocking discovery upon returning home to Melbourne. "My mum actually had advanced breast cancer and of course I just focused on helping her with her treatment," Chris told Neos Kosmos. During that trying time, he started to feel a little hollow inside. Then one day while at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre, he started to take note of the emphasis placed on the connection between health and creativity for patients. While he himself was not going through the treatment, he was certainly affected by his mother's diagnosis. In need of an outlet, he found himself return to the idea of the film festival, which led to the creation of Byzanfest, the world's first web-based film festival dedicated to Orthodox Christian short films. COMBINING FAITH & CREATIVITY Chris has always been passionate about film and creativity in general. While a student he dabbled in making short films, and later at university founded the Queen Street Film Festival, named after the law campus he attended. But as a devout Orthodox Christian, Chris found himself time again being driven by his faith-based values. Sure that there would be others like himself out there, and in a bid to connect with those more like-minded, in 2008 he created Transfigure Media, an indie-Orthodox Christian online media-house. From there Byzanfest stemmed, the name an homage to the Byzantine Empire, launching in 2014, and is now back in 2019 with the plan to continue as an annual event. The premier screening will take place on 21 July at St Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church in Templestowe, and at the conclusion all films will be made accessible online, free to view around the world. People are encouraged to watch the films and engage with them and other viewers by sharing their thoughts via social media. BYZANFEST 2019 Twelve short films have been shortlisted for this year's Byzanfest, ranging from three to 25 minutes long, with entries from Orthodox filmmakers across Australia, Greece, the USA, Canada, Georgia, Romania and Serbia. Films are not required to have an 'Orthodox' subject-matter, but rather created by an Orthodox Christian filmmaker who has remained faithful to their Christian values during the creative process. Titles include 'Christmas Anti-fable' a Greek sci fi/noir film by Efthimious Hatzis, 'The Gloater of Notre Dame' from Serbian director Bojan Teodosijevic, along with sci-fi/comedy 'M.A.R.C' and comedy 'The Lonely Scientist' by American Nick Shaheen. In the Drama category there is 'The Alternate', the only Australian film, by brothers Stephen and Andrew Robinson, and 'A Cup and Bread' by American director Nicholas Loper. The line-up also features a number of documentaries, including from Canada 'Fr. Tanase's Sanctuary for the Hurt' and 'The Making of Orthodox Wooden Icons' both by director Andrei Russu, and 'The Middle Way' by Luca Tarantini; as well as 'Icons' by American director Craig DiRienzo, and 'Under the Archangels' Wings' by Dinu Cristian from Romania. The festival founder says he has been impressed by the calibre of entries, the majority of which are by experienced filmmakers. "But I have one I need to make special mention of," he says, highlighting documentary 'The Throne of Saint Sava' by 14-year-old Serbian filmmaker Jakov Popov. "He's been making claymation films since the age of 10. His father's an iconographer so maybe that's where he gets his inspiration," says Chris. "But he's made an exceptional film which is in celebration of the 800th anniversary of the Serbian Orthodox Church's Autocephaly, so I think that's going to be quite a popular one. But remarkable work and I can only imagine what he's going to do in the future." WHAT'S UNIQUE ABOUT ORTHODOX FILM? Chris has always been a spiritual person. Having grown up in a Greek Orthodox household, he says that while his family did not attend church every Sunday, the times that they did, he felt an undeniable connection. It was after graduating from high school, that he started to further explore his faith. "I just had more of that freedom to learn and get more deeper into it, and DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Founder of Byzanfest, Chris Vlahonasios. ‘Christmas Anti-fable’. ‘Fr. Tanase’s Sanctuary for the Hurt’. ‘Christmas Anti-fable’. ‘M.A.R.C’. ‘The Middle Way’.
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