Celebrating George Chakiris

2018 LAGFF Orpheus Awards

The festival’s famed Orpheus Awards ended the 12th Annual Los Angeles Greek Film Festival. Held at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles on June 10th, the ceremony was the culmination of a week of film screenings, Q&A sessions, parties and events aimed to bring Greek filmmakers and film aficionados together. This year’s theme for the Orpheus Awards was The Academy of Greeks, which was a tribute to all Greeks in film who have won or been nominated for an Academy Award since 1935. This year’s ceremony honored the Academy Award winner and jack-of-all-trades George Chakiris with the 2018 Honorary Orpheus Award.

George Chakiris receives the 2018 Honorary Orpheus Award. PHOTO BY ELIZABETH TZAGOURNIS

George Chakiris is best known for his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as Bernardo in West Side Story. However, his talent is not in film alone. Chakiris has succeeded in roles ranging from dancer to singer to jewelry designer and collector. His artistic passion was born out of a love for watching musicals as a kid. Chakiris said he appreciates LAGFF for its positive impact on Greek filmmakers and Greek cinema.

“I love the Greek Film Festival because of the opportunities and exposure that Greek filmmakers get thanks to this festival,” Chakiris said. “Making a movie is so hard it’s amazing people ever get a movie made… There’s no stopping all the great filmmakers of that beautiful thing of following your dreams and how wonderful it feels on special days when things go right.”

Chakiris remembers his humble beginnings at MGM studio during his first movie Song of Love in 1947. At 12-years-old, Chakiris had the opportunity to work with Katherine Hepburn as a choir boy. He described the feeling of being on a movie lot with the hopes of being discovered as “dreamy thinking”.

“Being in a movie studio was so amazing to me. I couldn’t believe I was there,” Chakiris said. “Everywhere you looked there were movie stars. It was quite an impressive experience… when we finished working on that movie it convinced me of what I really wanted to do.”

Chakiris remembers his parents as beautiful people with wonderful values who encouraged him in his entertainment dreams. He said he was inspired by his Greek immigrant parents and the way they loved and supported him and his siblings in whatever it was they wanted to pursue.

George Chakiris (center) in West Side Story. PHOTO COURTESY GEORGECHAKIRIS.COM

“I go back to my beautiful Greek parents from the old country. They had those values and we learned their values and their values were so wonderful,” he said. “I learned how to connect with other people and how to interact with other people and it was always based on what I learned at home with my Greek parents.”

The actor said he hopes that with the LAGFF more exposure will be given to Greek filmmakers and artists. He said that it is important to give Greek filmmakers as much support as possible and that there is no stopping all the great filmmakers who are following their dreams.

“That’s what I hope for some of these Greek filmmakers in the festival this year,” he said. “One of the things that we want is to reach as big an audience as possible because that brings that much more attention to Greece and to Greek filmmaking.”

His said his greatest advice to future filmmakers and artists is to follow their instinct and listen to their inner voice. For Chakiris, that inner voice has lead him to art in all forms. He currently runs his own jewelry business and collection, which is available in Los Angeles and Tokyo. After learning to work with silver to make art, Chakiris transformed his garage into a jewelry making studio and focused on his newfound passion.

“I loved the experience of making things, creating something that you could give to someone as a gift or you could wear,” Chakiris said. “(I loved) the way it would shine and I loved silver. So because I fell in love with doing that, I just kept doing it.”

George Chakiris and Rita Moreno. PHOTO BY ELIZABETH TZAGOURNIS

Chakiris was honored with a video tribute and presented the 2018 Honorary Orpheus Award by his dear friend and fellow West Side Story actress Rita Moreno. The committee chose Chakiris as this year’s award recipient due to his “worldwide contributions to movies and his extraordinary dedication to the preservation of its history”, according to the LAGFF website.

Director Dora Masklavanou wins Orpheus Awards for POLYXENI. PHOTOS COURTESY LAGFF

The evening was hosted by television warm-up host Chuck Dukas, who entertained audience members by taking shots of ouzo for every name he mispronounced while on stage. Award presenters included actress Gia Carides from My Big Fat Greek Wedding and “House M.D.” director Greg Yaitanes. Other Orpheus Award recipients included Dolphin Man by Lefteris Charitos for best documentary, Perfect Strangers by Thodoris Atheridis for best feature, “Goldfish” by Yorgos Angelopoulos for best short film, Polyxeni by Dora Masklavanou for best fiction feature and the documentary 1968 by Tassos Boulmetis for the special jury award. Overall, the 12th annual LAGFF festival presented more than 50 films from Greek writers, producers, directors, and actors across the world. Visit lagff.org.

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Email the author: Elizabeth Tzagournis

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