Kim Petalas has spent thirty wonderful years as national programming director at the historic Palace Cinemas.
As he plans to step down from his role by end of the year, the Greek Australian director takes with him a huge recognition, the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Australian Independent Distributors Association (AIDA), for his contribution to Independent and Australian cinema.
“I was incredibly humbled and most gracious in achieving the Lifetime Achievement award from AIDA. It was something that was totally unexpected, but I was very honoured to be acknowledged by peers in an industry that is so close to my heart,” Mr Petalas told Neos Kosmos in an interview about his journey in the film industry.
“I have been absolutely honoured to have met so many high-profile people over my career. I’ve had dinners with Samuel Jackson, with Catherine Deneuve, William Defoe, Roger Corman. I have met Jerry Lewis, Jon Voight, Peter Fonda and these are the things that as a boy I dreamt of. I dreamt of meeting people like that,” he says with awe.
Mr Petalas is also grateful for the many wonderful friendships he established in the film industry, not only in Australia but also internationally, from film distributors to cinema owners.
“It is a small community, but we all have the same vision and passion to present films on the screen, in the best environment. For us, movies is not just work, it is our way of life. We breathe and live our movies in everything we do.”
Mr Petalas’ passion for the cinema, was nurtured from a young age, as he discovered the classic masterpieces in the home theatre his father, Angelo Petalas, had set up.
He grew up learning from the very best, Visconti, François Truffaut, and enjoying commercial classics such as ‘The Midnight Cowboy’, ‘The Graduate, ‘Death in Venice’, ‘The Damned’.
“From a young boy I had a real passion for film and in my teen years when my father ran the Union Theatre, at the Melbourne University, I used to assist him with the programme. It was a very successful cinema, that was regularly full on Friday and Saturday nights. So, I got a real education for film in that period.”
It is this time in his life that reminds him of Cinema Paradiso, a film that has always stayed with him.
“Sometimes when I see the boy in the film, I remember me. Cutting all those little pieces of film. When I was winding films with my dad I would stop the film and look at each frame. I was absolutely entranced.”
Mr Petalas believes that in some ways he was at the right place and the right time, when he joined Palace Cinemas in 1991.
“I was fortunate to join the company, a family who was wonderful to me, over the journey. When I started, Palace Cinemas, was about to expand dramatically and I think together we were able to establish a wonderful circuit and one that I am incredibly proud of.”
Palace Cinemas really changed the face of cinema then, bringing in a new sophistication, a new sense of hospitality, very European, very welcoming to the patrons, with beautiful bars, that redefined the cinema-going experience.
Another important initiative was establishing the international film festivals for the Australian audience.
“We established a film festival circuit where patrons were given the opportunity to see international films in a cinema environment.” And it was in one of those film festivals that Kim Petalas would meet his future wife, Anna, from Crete, who regularly attended the Greek Film Festival.
His brainchild however is the the British Film Festival, as he noticed over the years that when British films played across their circuit they did incredibly well. “I felt it would be a great opportunity to offer the best of British cinema on a yearly basis in a festival environment.” The festival also gave them a chance to see how the films would perform.
“Sometimes real gems are discovered and distributors may even change their complete strategy on the way a film is released, based on the outcome of the British film festival.”
In this season, he points to the film ‘Mothering Sunday’ with young Australian actress, Odessa Young. “She is absolutely extraordinary in this film. These are the type of actors, the Margo Robbies who will go out and make a big name for themselves in Hollywood or international cinema,” he adds.
Looking back, we ask him if there is an actor that stands out in his memory from the many encounters he has had at the Palace Cinemas.
“They were all very gracious and extremely polite. One that made a lasting impression on me was Jon Voight. We had dinner at the European in the city and ended up at a bar in St. Kilda. He was incredibly friendly, very interested in me and my family. He even phoned my father to have a chat with him. Can you imagine the surprise my father got when he answered the phone and Jon Voight was on the other end?”
There is so much more we could ask Mr Petalas about his career, about the actors and actresses he met, and the films that stand out in this year’s programme. After all, cinema is the most popular art form, and a reference point for many of us.
“Films teach us about other countries, we visit other places, we escape for a few hours, we learn about relationships, we discover new stories… we are constantly educated with cinema.”
Sometimes, a film will go down in history. “It will become a classic, as it stands the test of time, and is sometimes more relevant today than it was when it was first released.”
Though Mr Petalas is stepping down after 30 exciting years, to spend more time with family, he says that he will always be available to assist and help out wherever he can.
The Greek Australian director hails from Ithaca and Kefalonia.