A Xylouris family affair

Three generations, two countries, one family of musicians - here is the story of Psarantonis and the Xylouris clan, to be captured on screen.

Playing music in the Xylouris family was never an expectation; it was simply hoped that the Xylouris children would follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.
It began with Nikos Xylouris, nicknamed Psaronikos – a symbol of resistance against the Greek dictatorship – and his brother, Psarantonis, the living legend who reinvented Cretan music. They acquired their nicknames from a tradition started by their grandfather – also called Psarantonis – who would chase children around the village like a fisherman (psaras) as a child. Psarantonis now heads three generations of musicians, with the same love and passion for Crete and its traditional rhythms.
The family Xylouris is now a theme of a Greek Australian documentary currently in production and shooting in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney. The film follows the three generations of the family, who uphold and pass on the vibrant tradition of Cretan music, performing to followers around the world. It focusses on Psarantonis, his son Psarogiorgis and his three grandchildren – Nick, Antonis and Apollonia.
This March, the film crew lead by director Angeliki Aristomenopoulou followed the family to Australia to film them performing at the Golden Plains festival, Womadelaide festival, and their Sydney, Castlemaine and Melbourne performances. At Womadelaide, the film crew captured a historical moment for the Xylouris family – it was the first time that Psarantonis performed with his son Psarogiorgis, as well as his grandchildren Nick, Antonis and Apollonia.
The award winning Athenian director, whose previous documentaries were awarded in festivals around the world and broadcasted by CBC/Canada, Al-Jazeera/UK, and other television channels, Aristomenopoulou first met the Xylouris family three years ago, while filming a documentary on Greek rock legend Angelakas.
She was filming in a shepherd’s stone hut on a mountain nearby Anogia, where Psarogiorgis and his sons were playing around the fire. Surprised by the energy of the family, the strong ties connecting the generations and the respect they showed for each other – Angeliki thought their family would make a great story.
“Gradually, the Xylouris clan accepted me into their world, and allowed me to observe the intimate moments of their lives. I have become fascinated by their unique bond to music, which connects them both to the land they come from and to each other,” Angeliki tells Neos Kosmos.
“Angeliki came to me one day and asked me if she could make a film about our family,” explains Psarogiorgis of how the documentary came about.
“Since I already knew her and her job, and how she loves what she does, I believed that she and her crew [director of photography Stelios Apostolopoulos and Angeliki’s brother Mike Aristomenopoulos] were the right people to make this great idea happen.
“It depends on who does the movie as well. In this situation the guys from the film crew had a good polite approach which helped me overcome this fear of media attention and trust them. We got used to it and hopefully it will all end up well,” Psarogiorgis says.
Making movies in Greece right now is difficult. With no funding available, most artists rely on their own resources. Until now, applications for the documentary have been submitted to a national broadcaster ERT and the Greek Film Centre.
“Right now it is very hard,” Angeliki confirms, “I’ve been able to shoot for over a year, as the film is supported by two production companies who really believe in the project – Anemon in Greece and Unicorn Films in Australia.”
Unicorn Films, based in Melbourne, have been key in allowing the crew to film in Australia, and have already submitted the movie to ABC and SBS. Yet, to have the documentary released in cinemas in 2014, more than 30,000 euros needs to be raised to cover the basic costs of the film.
“It is also a positive story that we all need,” says the director who is doing all she can to bring this documentary to life. “It’s a story about the past that looks towards the future and that’s why I believe the film can resonate so powerfully to a modern, multi-ethnic audience and can help regenerate Greece,” Angeliki explains.
Once the movie is finished, it will be distributed in cinemas across Greece and Australia.
“We are also working on promoting the film in the US and Europe, through TV and festival screenings. If the funding is raised, the movie is expected to be finished in early 2014.”
With their Australian trip reaching its end, Angeliki says working with three generations of Xylouris’ was an honour for her.
“All three generations have a mesmerising appeal. I am honoured to film Psarantonis, and very excited to see his gift passed on to his grandchildren, Nick, Antonis and Apollonia. Psarogiorgis and his wife Shelagh connect the family and provide the heart of the film. I am also very lucky to be able to film their first ever performance together, featuring three generations of the Xylouris family,” she concludes.
To help promote Crete’s unique musical tradition further, donate through their kickstarter campaign, on http://www.kickstarter.com – A Family Affair and visit the website http://www.afamilyaffair.gr/.