Classics Professor Katerina Zacharia wrote, produced and directed a documentary film that won “Best Documentary” in December 2018 at the Festigious International Film Festival. The film also won the “Best Documentary Award” at the Eurasia International Monthly Film Festival.
Zacharia’s documentary, “Blessings and Vows,” follows an octogenarian villager from the Mani region in Southern Greece who committed to keeping her personal and village beliefs, traditions, and identity alive. The film will be screened at LMU on March 6 at 7 p.m. in Ahmanson Auditorium, followed by a Q&A with available members of the LMU crew. The screening is free and open to the public.
“My academic and professional work explores Greek identity formation and myths of origin narratives in visual culture,” said Zacharia. “The story of Metaxia Anaplioti’s devotion stood out for its connection to the church as a place of formation of cultural memory and identity. UCLA Byzantine art historian Professor Sharon Gerstel, an expert in the region of Mani and the executive producer of the film, had drawn my attention to this story, in the summer of 2016.”
Anaplioti, the villager featured in the story, maintained a 49-year-old vow to light a candle every day at the church of Hagioi Theodoroi in the village of Vamvaka. Built in the 11th century, the church carries its own history and complex identity. Her vow, and the church’s history, are central to the documentary’s themes of tradition and memory.
“The first afternoon in late June 2017, we arrived with Claire Andreae [LMU ’16, film production] at Vamvaka to scout the village before interviewing the villagers,” said Zacharia. “While admiring the exterior of the church of Hagioi Theodoroi, sitting beneath the shade of a nearby tree, I spotted the slim figure of Metaxia Anaplioti, key in hand, walking up the steep hill true to her vow, observing her daily routine of lighting a candle. Those first images of her daily ritual inside the church were so full of light and peace that we retained them in the final cut of the film. Her kindness, deep commitment to faith, and spirituality moved me deeply. We talked about the loss of people close to us, about loneliness and hope. She held my hand and looked at me and saw me. I told her about my adaptation of a moiroloi a few years before, a folk lament song, for which this particular region of Greece is known. She smiled and gave me her permission to record her singing a lament, that first moiroloi in our film that tells the story of a dead brother who comes back from the underworld to keep his vow to his mother and bring his sister back to her from her life abroad. After Anaplioti’s sudden passing on Feb. 13, 2018, her ritual lighting of the candle for 49 years became for me a story of light penetrating darkness.”
Zacharia, who won the President’s Fritz B. Burns Distinguished Teaching Award in 2018, funded her film project with a grant from the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts. She worked for several months in pre-production and spent a week filming in Mani. The post-production process, including the final cut for the script, editing, color correction, music and sound mixing, was finalized in October 2018.
Zacharia shared the film with the villagers through a digital link and was met with expressions of gratitude. One viewer called it “magical for recording the beauty of the soul of such a special lady, one who kept her vow at a time when all relationships seem so trivial and fleeting.”
Special thanks to Sharon Gerstel, acting director and professor of Byzantine art at UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation/Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture, for her contributions to this project, as well as UCLA for their financial support.
This article originally appeared in LMU This Week. Read it here.