Mon­treal Greek Com­mu­nity Cel­e­brates Her­itage

Montreal Times - - News - By Deb­o­rah Rankin mtl­times.ca

"To me, the ded­i­ca­tion and the preser­va­tion of Hel­lenism in the Di­as­pora and the com­mit­ment to the cause of main­tain­ing our Faith, Culture, and Lan­guage, is the light­ning force that drives me on a daily ba­sis." - Ni­cholas T. Pag­o­nis, Pres­i­dent of the Hel­lenic Com­mu­nity of Greater Mon­treal

The Mon­treal Greek com­mu­nity has been cel­e­brat­ing its her­itage in style in the lead-up to the Greek Ortho­dox Easter which will take place on Sun­day, April 8 in 2018. Fes­tiv­i­ties kicked off with the Greek In­de­pen­dence Day pa­rade in the his­toric Park-Ex­ten­sion neigh­bor­hood in Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau's rid­ing of Pap­ineau on a bright Sun­day af­ter­noon on March 25th. The PM at­tended the pa­rade along with tens of thou­sands of rev­el­ers, an an­nual Mon­treal tra­di­tion that has been go­ing strong for more than 40 years. Greek In­de­pen­dence Day is a na­tional hol­i­day in Greece com­mem­o­rat­ing the Greek War of In­de­pen­dence against the Ot­toman Em­pire be­tween 1821-30. It cor­re­sponds with the Greek Ortho­dox Church's feast day of the An­nun­ci­a­tion of Theotokos (in Greek: "God-Bearer") which for be­liev­ers sig­ni­fies the ap­pear­ance of the Ar­changel Gabriel to Mary, the mother of Je­sus.

The Mon­treal Greek Film Fes­ti­val dove­tailed its cal­en­dar with Greek hol­i­days for the 6th year in a row.The MGFF prides it­self on show­cas­ing the best of Greek con­tem­po­rary cin­ema cov­er­ing the full range of drama, com­edy, sus­pense, and doc­u­men­tary in both fea­tures and short films.These are films which Greeks liv­ing in Mon­treal would other­wise not have the op­por­tu­nity to see, says John Caous­sias, the fes­ti­val's co-founder and direc­tor. "Net­flix won't buy Greek films. We can't stream them.This is the only way to see top ac­tors and qual­ity films." The films all have English sub­ti­tles mak­ing them ac­ces­si­ble to a wider pop­u­la­tion of film buffs.

The MGFF part­ners with the Hel­lenic Com­mu­nity of Mon­treal and is sup­ported by the Con­sulate Gen­eral of Greece in Mon­treal.This year the fes­ti­val hosted a Cana­dian-themed night fea­tur­ing the films of 4 Cana­dian film­mak­ers. These in­cluded RE­TURN TO PARK EX byTony Asi­makopou­los, a bit­ter­sweet trip down mem­ory lane for the Mon­treal direc­tor who views his im­mi­grant boy­hood neigh­bor­hood through the lens of its chang­ing cul­tural land­scape; and LAST DANCE ON THE MAIN by direc­tor Aristo­fa­nis Soulikias, an an­i­mated doc­u­men­tary about the de­mo­li­tion of a row of his­toric build­ings on St. Lau­rent Boule­vard. PA­TRI­ARCH'S ROOM, a riv­et­ing doc­u­men­tary by Mon­treal film­maker Danae Elon is the true-life ac­count of the Greek Ortho­dox Pa­tri­arch Ire­neos who was ac­cused of sell­ing church prop­erty to Jewish set­tlers in Is­rael. DICHOTOMOUS a film about love for a bro­ken na­tion directed by Peter James Kot­siras and Philip Bal­a­banos rounded out the even­ing.

One of the most im­por­tant short films STATUE OF THE GREEK IM­MI­GRANT directed by Athan Tom Sklavos doc­u­ments the story of how the Mon­treal Greek com­mu­nity com­mis­sioned a statue to be given as a gift to the city of Mon­treal for its 375th An­niver­sary. Ious­tine Fran­gouli-Arg­eris a lawyer and Pres­i­dent of the Lyceum of Greek Women of Mon­treal was in­stru­men­tal in mak­ing this hap­pen.About 5 years ago for­mer Mayor De­nis Coderre met with all the con­suls gen­eral of the EU coun­tries who agreed to send gifts to the me­trop­o­lis to com­mem­o­rate its 375th birth­day. How­ever, be­cause of the eco­nomic cri­sis in Greece, she says, Greece was not able to keep its end of the bar­gain and the Greek com­mu­nity here had to pick up the tab. With the help of the mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lor for Villeray/Saint Michel/Park Ex­ten­sion Mary Deros and three lo­cal Greek or­ga­ni­za­tions - the Lyceum, the Hel­lenic Com­mu­nity of Greater Mon­treal and the Hel­lenic Congress of Que­bec - the Statue of the Greek Im­mi­grant was born.

"The Greek com­mu­nity has done many good things," Fran­gouli-Arg­eris says. "They have churches, schools, but there is no trace of the Greek im­mi­grant. This is a trib­ute ded­i­cated to all the Greek and non-Greek im­mi­grants who ar­rived in Mon­treal to have a bet­ter life," she says. "In the statue you see the story of all im­mi­grants: the fa­ther, the mother, the child, the suit­case, and the arc over­head sym­bol­iz­ing the pas­sage to the new world. Mon­treal is a mul­ti­cul­tural, sanc­tu­ary city so we ought to have this kind of art­work." The bronze sculp­ture by in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned artist Gior­gos Hou­liaras was in­au­gu­rated and in­stalled at the corner of Jean Talon and Park Av­enue on June 30, 2017 af­ter ar­riv­ing by ship from Greece a month ahead of sched­ule."The whole project from A-Z was 8 months," she says with ev­i­dent pride.

Caous­sias says that he would even­tu­ally like to see one big Greek fes­ti­val hap­pen in­stead of dis­parate events.

This way the com­mu­nity could more read­ily fund and co­or­di­nate the ven­ture in part­ner­ship with dif­fer­ent lev­els of gov­ern­ment. "Long term we would like to have a 'Greek Week' where we would com­bine art, culture, the pa­rade, food, every­thing. It's been dis­cussed - a nice 10 day event like Italian Week." As it is Caous­sias brings over singers and other the­atri­cal per­form­ers from Greece year-round to en­ter­tain the lo­cals. "We have a lot of folk­lore and dance troupes," he says. "Films are an­other type of cul­tural event be­ing de­vel­oped," he says not­ing the so­cial in­fra­struc­ture is al­ready there to make the big tent idea a re­al­ity.

left stand­ing is Andy Cril­lis (vice pres­i­dent of greek com­mu­nity), right stand­ing is John Caous­sias (fes­ti­val direc­tor), left sit­ting is Ni­cholas Pag­o­nis (pres­i­dent of Greek com­mu­nity) and right sit­ting is Ni­cholas Si­galas ( Con­sulate Gen­eral of Greece)

Statue of the Greek Im­mi­grant by Gior­gos Hou­liaras

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