1. What is "Blessings and Vows" about?
It’s about the journey of an elderly woman, Metaxia Anaplioti, who lived in a rural area of southern Peloponnesian Greece. When she was around 30 years old, she visited the city of Athens and was hit by a bus, which sent her to the hospital for a long time. While she was there ... she prayed that if she ever came out of the hospital and was able to walk, she would light a candle every day [in the church of Hagioi Theodoroi]. She managed to recover. So — for 49 years every day — she kept her vow. This film honors her commitment to her vow but also has a second focus, which is to fundraise for the restoration and stabilization of Hagioi Theodoroi.
2. What was your goal in making this documentary?
The [goal] is to disseminate information about the church of Hagioi Theodoroi and to raise funds from all over the world to pursue this cause of restoring the church. Given her unfortunate and sudden passing, it's also about honoring the memory of Metaxia Anaplioti. I’m sure this effort is going to take a while, but it’s probably going to set an example for how Greek Americans around the world can contribute to worthy causes like this. The Greek state does not have the funds to restore so many of its worthy archaeological treasures.
3. What inspired you to cover this woman’s story?
A very well known Byzantine art historian at UCLA, professor Sharon Gerstel, approached me to collaborate. She mentioned to me that she visited this area of Greece, and she told me the story of [the woman]. She knew that I have been involved in Greek cinema for over twenty years, and I’m also the director of education for the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival. So we both started raising funds within our respective universities so that we could travel to Greece and tell this story.
4. Have you wanted to make a documentary before this opportunity?
Through my work in Greek cinema and my involvement with the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, I’ve read scripts and written scripts and consulted documentaries, feature films and short films. It’s been my intention to work with film as a creator for a number of years. I have collaborated on short films before and consulted before.
5. What was the directing process like?
The first day we went out for scouting ... we got to meet Metaxia Anaplioti, and we told her what we were doing. She was such a loving person and eager to tell us about the church and share her experiences. Also, with the assistance of the acquaintances that professor Gerstel had developed over her years of research, we made appointments with a number of people to interview. The people of Mani hosted us and were very generous with their time.
6. Were there any challenges you faced as a first time director?
For all the filming we did, we only had one camera. The sound was difficult because we were filming outside, so there were cicada noises and wind. With limited financial means, it’s difficult to capture the natural environment and have the sound and color that you need. I would have to set up interviews, transcribe them and then decide what needs to go in and create the narrative. I had to evaluate these things constantly during post-production. The post-production took us quite some time.
7. Were there any cinematic influences that you wanted to channel when making the film?
There are a number of documentary filmmakers in Greece whose work I admire. One is Filippos Koutsaftis. His work is very poetic and gives the narratives of people that live in specific areas and countrysides in Greece. I admire his cinematography and his respect for the local residents, as well as the way he allows their stories to capture our hearts.
8. What was your reaction upon learning about the awards you won?
I was excited because I had just submitted the film to the festivals, and I received the awards two or three weeks later. I wasn’t expecting it to happen so quickly. It’s always wonderful to have people who have watched so many films appreciate this effort. However, it is the message that is most important. It’s about how these awards can help promote the message of the film more.
9. What is your favorite documentary and why?
I’m not sure. I’ve seen numerous documentaries. In general, I’m interested in documentaries that focus on human stories. I like the narratives that help people in unfortunate situations find support, and [narratives] that change the world one step at at time. Documentaries that showcase humanitarian causes are of interest to me, and I also have an interest in Greek filmmakers that tell stories about the people of Greece.
10. Do you want to make another documentary in the future?
Very much so. I found this work so fulfilling and exciting, and I hope I’ll be able to make a longer documentary and showcase some of the other issues that I am interested in and passionate about. Now that I’ve started, I hope this will be the first of many.
11. What is a personal goal of yours in regards to your involvement in film?
Having had this experience, and seeing the great possibilities for the dissemination of information and the impact this information can have, I want to pursue more. One of my goals is to create a program in Greece where I can have American students come and shoot short documentaries for two weeks, then come back to the states for post-production.