How did little known Syros, capital of the Cyclades island group that includes the sexier Mykonos and more scenic Santorini, get its very own Syros International Film Festival? It's all due to two young culturpreneurs, Jacob Moe and Cassandra Celestin, who decided to plan one on an Aegean island known more for its commercial port than its fine beaches.
This spring, Moe and Celestin, who both have family ties to the island, launched a fund-raising campaign on Kickstarter.com, where 66 backers pledged $7,500 to make the Syros International Film Festival happen. It is scheduled to take place August 6-9, 2013 on Syros, in and around the main town or chora of Ermoupolis.
In a July write-up in Serious, a Greek culture e-zine, the authors approved the festival taking place there, noting, "Syros is 'always a cultural pioneer.'" And so it seems to be.
Syros International Film Festival Programming
According to the co-directors, the inaugural festival will include films from Greece, Russia and elsewhere, on the topics of travel, diaspora and immigration. Moe and Celestin explain that Syros' history of immigration by those persecuted under Ottoman rule makes these issues a natural focus for the Syriot audience, as well as visitors drawn by the roster of documentaries and panels with filmmakers.
In addition to the outdoor Pallas cinema in Ermoupolis' main square, screenings will be held in other pleasing and unusual spaces, promise the organizers. Lined up so far are a shipyard, a schoolyard on the traditional St. George's Hill (known as Ano Syros, a hilltop Medieval village well worth exploring), commercial theaters and possibly some private patios.
Moe adds, "There are many films at our festival accessible to the younger set — of the over 20 films in our programming, two are marked as 16+. We have a lovely short from Italian animator Simone Massi as well as many fun short films."
Having raised money to cover their initial expenses, and fully aware that support from the cash-strapped Greek government is unlikely to happen, Moe and Celestin are hoping to make all screenings free of charge. They have also organized sponsors of free pizza and sweets after screenings.
What to See & Do on Syros (when you're not watching movies)
Jacob Moe took time away from pre-production to answer a few questions from this reporter about his island home.
Q. What favorite places would you show visitors to your island?
A. "I'd be sure to show visitors the Apollon opera theater downtown, which is fabled to be a scale model of La Scala — it hosts opera as well as various tango, jazz and classical music festivals throughout the summer. Also nearby is the Asteria bar, located right on the ocean in the historic, neoclassical neighborhood of Vaporia. It's a laid back alternative to the island's many beaches, where you can grab a drink (or juice) and listen to good music.
Q. Does Syros have any activities or programs for kids?
A. The island has many cultural festivals geared towards the younger set: puppet theater, accordion and a variety of animation movies playing at the outdoor cinema. The main square in town also is a nice place to hang out, with various coffeeshops and bars as well as a large space where many of the island's youth congregate."
Having written the Frommer's guides to Greece for a dozen years, I can confirm that Syros is the real deal, an authentic Greek island charmed by an economy that is less reliant than most on tourism. The Syros International Film Festival is a great reason to visit, stay a few days and have an enriching vacation. Since it's only about 4 hours from Piraeus, the port of Athens, by ferry, it's also a convenient jumping off point to explore many of Greece's most unique sites.
So to all of you planning a getaway on a beautiful Greek island, we say go — drop by Syros and see how two minds of one heart can bring something new, positive and constructive to an island in need of fresh air. As they put it on Kickstarter.com, "We're starting SIFF because we believe in film's ability to engage some of today's most pressing issues," and we hope the world will join them.
Planning your Syros, Greece Beach & Film Vacation
For more information on the very first Syros International Film Festival (and the schedule changes and grows every day), please visit their website.
There are many places to stay around the island and some public transportation. Moe mentioned the Hermes Hotel in the main town as a nice seaside option. There are four furnished Pino di Loto apartments on Kini beach (about 5 miles from Ermopoulis) for those looking for a more relaxed beach-and-pool location on one of the western beaches. Each unit can sleep up to four. For more information on Syros, its attractions, and the many value rooms-to-let and pensions you can stay in, visit the Greek National Tourism Organization site.
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