Next in our celebration of Women’s History Month, meet Greek-American Filmmaker Shelly Papadopoulos, preserving SoCal’s Greek history, one doc at a time.
Women’s History Month: Shelly Papadopoulos
Born in Thessaloniki, Shelly Papadopoulos was a young girl when her family immigrated to the States. Her family has deep roots in Makedonia, specifically from Kozani, Kavala, and Thessaloniki. The family settled in Portland, OR for 8 years. Offering many more opportunities, Los Angeles beckoned, and her family relocated once again. She’s lived there ever since.
By day, Shelly works as the firm administrator for a boutique law firm in L.A. She began as a legal secretary and transitioned to management about 15 years ago. She’s done much volunteer work within the community-at-large, however, Shelly’s true passion lies in her decades-long involvement in Southern California’s Greek community. This passion is so strong, she’s on a mission to preserve this history in film.
It all started with a protest
Shelly revealed that her first SoCal community connections came when she protested the Cyprus invasion in front of the Turkish consulate back in 1974.
Soon after, she got married and had children, and became very involved at L.A.’s St. Sophia Cathedral. There, she taught arts & crafts and Sunday School. For many years, she was chairperson of the dance group and raised funds for costumes as well as the group’s participation in the Folk Dance Festival. Over the years, she’s volunteered in many capacities, and remains an active member of the parish.
A LAGFF force
In early 2007, filmmakers Angeliki Giannakopoulos and Ersi Danou contacted Shelly about starting a Greek film festival in Los Angeles. They tapped into her extensive development and non-profit experience.
The very first Los Angeles Greek Film Festival (LAGFF) premiered in June 2007. For a decade, Shelly was a driving force behind LAGFF, but scaled back last year when “life got a bit too hectic”. She continues to help with LAGFF whenever asked.
“It’s still exciting to promote this wonderful film festival now is in its 12th year. I continue to believe in the mission and goal of LAGFF: ‘to promote Greek cinema and cultural exchange while bridging the gap between Greek filmmakers worldwide and Hollywood, film capital of the world.’”
A mailer changed everything
Shelly’s community involvement grew when she got involved with the Greek Society of Southern California (GHS), in early 1996.
“The Greek Heritage Society mailed me a Historical Calendar on Greek pioneers and their families. I was totally intrigued by it and sent a donation, along with a letter saying something like, ‘If you need help, let me know.’ Well, President Zoye Fidler didn’t miss a beat! She called me, we had lunch, and the rest is history!”
For more than 20 years, Shelly has chaired many events and fundraisers. She served a 4-year stint as president from 2009-2013 and was recently elected once again as president, to continue the work begun on the Society’s 3rd documentary.
Preserving the Greek history of SoCal
Shelly revealed that one of the reasons the Greek Heritage Society was formed was to preserve the Greek history of Southern California.
“The pioneers who came to the greater Los Angeles area had a history and stories that needed to be documented. Their struggles, stories, heartaches, and successes needed to be recorded and documented for future generations.”
Beginning in 1986, the Greek Heritage Society set out on that journey — to videotape the pioneers – “Oι Πρωτοπόροι.”
Those interviews led to the idea of a documentary series, called ‘The Greeks of Southern California Through the Century and Beyond.’ With much hard work from dedicated volunteers, GHS has have amassed a library of more than 500 interviews, which became parts 1 and 2 in the series.
Part 1, The Pioneers 1900-1942, chronicled the difficulties and hardships of early Greek immigrants who settled in the greater southern California area. It was narrated by Greek-American actors Olympia Dukakis and John Kapelos. The Pioneers premiered in 2002 at Fox Studios, via the generosity of Greek-American studio chief Jim Gianopulos.
The second documentary, The Promise of Tomorrow 1940-1060, focused on the first generation and their struggle with dual identity – Greek at home, American outside. Olympia Dukakis returned as narrator.
“During these years, the Greek-American community became an integral part of the American fabric while maintaining a strong Greek identity.”
The film premiered in 2009 to a sold-out audience at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in Beverly Hills.
Shelly, along with the Society’s dedicated board members and production team, is working on the final chapter of trilogy, called The New Greek Americans 1960-2018. She said that Part 3 highlights a more progressive, successful Greek-American who understands the importance of continuing the Greek traditions yet finds it more difficult.
“Today, second and third generations compete to have a stronger voice in academia, business, politics, sports, and entertainment. Millenials either have a connection to the patrida or insist they are American. Will Millenials succeed in keeping their ancestry alive? Only time will tell if these New Greek-Americans keep the flame burning, pass it on, and never let it die out.”
Post-production on part 3 began in January. To date, they’ve raised 90% of their budget, but still need $17,000 to complete the film.
“Our goal is to finish post-production by mid-summer. In early summer, we’ll begin planning for a November 2018 premiere.”
Always ready to support a fellow Greek
Shelly is grateful to all the Greeks she’s worked with over the years.
“In all my years working in the L.A. Greek community, I’ve been very privileged to work with some fantastic, dedicated, talented, and hard-working people, most of whom are now dear friends. I’m truly a lucky gal, having the best of all worlds!”
What happens after Part 3 is completed remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: Shelly will continue to be a fixture in the SoCal Greek community. She’s always ready to support a fellow Greek.
“I’m a firm believer in Greeks supporting Greeks. We need to be there for each another, support one another. Only in this way will our beautiful Ellada rise again to the glory it once was.”