20th Century Fox Film Head Links Hollywood To Hellenism

Archbishop Demetrios and Charles H. Cotros present Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Award for Excellence to Jim Gianopulos, center.

Jim Gianopulos, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Twentieth Century Fox Film, spoke to a rapt audience on February 7, 2013 on the rich and deep historical link of “Hollywood and Hellenism”. He was introduced by his pastor, the renowned Fr. John Bakas, Dean of Saint Sophia Cathedral in Los Angeles, who spoke of the leadership and generosity of Gianopulos and his wife, Ann, to the Cathedral.  The son of Greek immigrants and a native New Yorker, Gianopulos attended the Master’s program at the New York University School of Law, the Fordham School of Law, earning a Juris Doctor in 1976 and Boston University, earning a BA in 1973. He resides in Los Angeles with his wife and their three daughters.

One of the longest-tenured studio chairmen in the film industry, Gianopulos oversees News Corporation’s motion picture companies, including Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., Fox 2000, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox Animation Studios, Blue Sky Studios, Fox International Productions, and their related entities, including all feature film production and marketing, as well as global distribution through all windows and platforms spanning the theatrical, broadcast, cable, home entertainment, digital and mobile markets.

Gianopulos gave a 90-minute presentation punctuated with rare historical film clips that cleverly wove together the history of Fox and Hollywood with the fundamental contributions of Hellenic culture, innovative Greek American pioneers of the business  and art of film from the earliest days of the 20th century to the current day, which included post-World War II developments in Greece. Along with the widely acknowledged gifts of Ancient Greece to life, culture, science, society and the arts, he jokingly mentioned the Allegory of the Cave from Plato’s Republic as the beginnings of the motion picture itself “thousands of years before the Lumiere Brothers and Thomas Edison.” Later in the talk he addressed the centrality of the story, moving to a more serious exposition of Aristotle’s thought in the Poetics, which conceptualized the dramatic arts and gave birth to dramatic structure, and still reigns as the classical source for all Hollywood scripts, as well as all great stories and great books. Gianopulos declared: “Hollywood is the cinematic lovechild of Ancient Greek Drama.”

The celebrated studio head paid homage to the earliest Greek Americans in Hollywood, Pericles Pantages, who created the “first tenable financial model” with his Fox West Coast Theatre chain in 1902 that first showed silent and then introduced talking pictures, and his legendary predecessor at Fox, President from 1942 to 1962, Spyros Skouras, who was a visionary of both technology, such as Cinemascope, developed at Fox, and of talent, such as Marilyn Monroe. He traced those developments to Fox’s leadership today with digital 3D cinema or stereoscopic filmmaking, seen in its avant garde productions of Avatar and Life of Pi, both of which won Academy Awards - Avatar in 2009 for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects, and Life of Pi, in 2013, for Best Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score.

Before taking the audience on the journey beyond technology and business and talent, to the art of the story from Aristotle to Alexander, jokingly adding, to Alexander Payne, Gianopulos gave a remarkable analysis of why Hollywood dominated the world in films, seeing its roots in a multi-cultural, immigrant society that purveyed popular culture as against the several European traditions based on theatre and/or opera in their respective homogeneous cultures, transcending all cultures and heritages. He recognized, as a realist, that this was aided by America’s global dominance after World War II and even by protectionism against imports.

He began this journey with one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Elia Kazan, who brought a Hellenic sensibility, who began as an actor and was acclaimed as a director in the theater in 1934 and a director of numerous memorable films from 1945 to 1976, which won him seven Academy Award nominations, two Oscars and the highest honor of the Academy Awards, The Lifetime Achievement Award, in 1999. Kazan, said Gianopulos, championed the struggles of the common man and confronted social issues exemplifying the Hellenic understanding of important subjects, such as the very creation of democracy and philosophy and the fundamentals of modern society, while recognizing that life is a gift to be celebrated and enjoyed. He went on to illustrate his point with clips and references from award-winning firms such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Gentleman’s Agreement, A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, East of Eden, Splendor in the Grass, and the autobiographical America, America. Kazan also encouraged and mentored incredible talent such as Marlon Brando, James Dean, Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood, to name just a few. He said that films since Kazan are still addressing controversial issues but not often enough, and did not skip over the controversy surrounding Kazan himself who had acknowledged and responded regarding names in the 1930s on the “Hollywood Blacklist” in questioning by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952.

Bringing his presentation to the modern day, Gianopulos moved on to the post-war recovery and into the 1950s and 1960s, with films such as Never on Sunday in 1960 and Zorba the Greek in 1964, which represented a reversal of sorts. The first film was made by an American-born director, Jules Dassin, who found refuge, love and transformation in Greece with its star, Melina Mercouri, and was nominated for five academy awards, winning for Best Song. The second, a Fox production, based on the book by renowned author Nikos Kazantzakis, directed by the Greek Cypriot, Michael Cacoyannis and starring Anthony Quinn, won three Academy Awards. It was what Gianopulos described as “sheer poetry”, “illustrating all the Aristotelian principles about life, the highs and the lows, tragedy and comedy, loves and losses, and the great concept of catharsis.” He also mentioned John Cassavetes, the 1950s actor who was a pioneer of the American independent film from the late 1960s to the 1980s, and whose three children, Nick, Alexandra and Zoe have followed in his footsteps.

In conclusion, Gianopulos gave credit to recent films such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding, written by and starring Nia Vardalos, and Mamma Mia, produced by Rita Wilson, as humorously and effectively gaining a worldwide audience for the Greek spirit and the beauty of Greece, respectively. He concluded with high praise for Alexander Payne, his fellow speaker, for his emotional power as a writer and director acclaimed by cinema critics for a bevy of movies that include Sideways and The Descendants, both produced by Fox and both of which won Academy Awards for Best Screenplay and were nominated for Best Picture, as well as his other multiple Academy-Award nominated and award-winning films. He rounded out his presentation by acknowledging other contemporary Hollywood Greek American filmmakers and cinematographers, including Phedon Papamichael, his father, Phedon Papamichael, Sr., and Harris Savides, the last two recently deceased. Apologizing for not including numerous other Greek American filmmakers, he ran credits on an accompanying screen for many of them to the accompaniment of stirring Greek music and resounding applause.

During his time as Chairman of Fox, the studio has had its most profitable years ever with the release of Life of Pi, the X-Men series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Night At The Museum, Taken (and its sequel), The Simpsons Movie, Borat, The Day After Tomorrow, Walk the Line, the Star Wars trilogy, Live Free or Die Hard, Minority Report, Moulin Rouge, Avatar and Titanic. Under his leadership, the studio’s animation division, Blue Sky Studios, produced the Ice Age series, and Fox Searchlight Pictures, the studio’s specialized division, produced The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Descendants, Black Swan, and the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, among many others

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