When Greek-American filmmaker Chrysovalantis Stamelos took his first trip to Turkey in 2008, he was immediately besotted with Istanbul’s minarets, markets and countless layers of multicultural history. “I went knowing a lot about the Greek community’s past there,” Stamelos admitted, referring to grisly incidents like The Great Fire of Smyrna (present-day Izmir, a lively port city on the western peninsula of Anatolia), a monstrous blaze that prompted the systematic evacuation of Greek residents, circa 1922. “But it felt like home to me,” he continued, adding that he eventually moved from New York City to Izmir—permanently—approximately three years ago.
“Hello Anatolia,” Stamelos’s latest documentary, co-produced with Paras Chaudhari (the two launched their Queens-based production company, Crescent Street Films, in 2005) shadows Stamelos as he rediscovers the birthplace of his ancestors. “I couldn’t shake off the stories I grew up with…of old Smyrna and Asia Minor,” Stamelos recalled. Equal parts vibrant travelogue and poignant self-discovery, the film is a thoughtful blend of interviews, neighborhood exploration and artistic immersion.
Stamelos, who takes cues from travel-industry icons like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern, hopes his three-year journey sheds light on what is, above all, a human story; a much-needed cinematic bridge between two misunderstood cultures. He recalls an especially eye-opening day of shooting, which involved stumbling upon floral tiles, engraved with Hellenic script – the remnants of a Greek church on the outskirts of Izmir. “It had never been uncovered before,” he described, almost incredulously. “It made me realize that our history could soon be forgotten.”
Aarti Virani is an arts, culture & entertainment writer, covering the New York metropolitan area. You can follow her on Twitter at @aartivirani.