The Modern Greek Studies Foundation, based in San Francisco, and the San Francisco Greek Film Festival, along with the Nikos Kazantzakis Estate in Athens, the International Society of Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis, the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum, the Cinema Club of Hydra, and the Historical Archives Museum of Hydra, presented the First Annual Nikos Kazantzakis Festival, held on the picturesque island of Hydra, Greece, with Opening Ceremonies held July 6-9, 2023. A unique exhibit of manuscripts and personal artifacts of Nikos and Eleni Kazantzakis will be on display at the Historical Archives Museum of Hydra through August 31, 2023.

The Festival theme is, “Crete Meets Hydra: Nikos Kazantzakis, 140 Years of Light”, celebrating the author’s 140th birthday. The festival is also sponsored by the Hellenic and Modern Greek Studies Program at UC Berkeley, the Hellenic Studies Program at Sacramento State University, and several generous donors.

Following the launch of the Nikos Kazantzakis Visiting Scholar Program at the University of California at Berkeley, endowed by the Modern Greek Studies Foundation with a gift of $1 million, the Foundation sought new initiatives to promote public awareness of the value, importance, and depth of the works of the monumental Cretan author. Chris Kanios, President of the Modern Greek Studies Foundation, stated, “In Hydra we found an enthusiastic and welcoming community who shared our admiration and respect for the work of Nikos Kazantzakis and our desire to share his work with new audiences and new generations of readers.”

Ms. Niki Stavrou, CEO of the Nikos Kazantzakis Estate and goddaughter of Eleni Kazantzakis, agreed to collaborate with the Foundation to curate a collection of rare and personal artifacts from the Kazantzakis household for a unique exhibit at the Historical Archives Museum of Hydra, under the direction of Ms. Dina Adamopoulou. The Kazantzakis Museum in Crete, celebrating its fortieth anniversary, contributed informative and artistic storyboards to line the exhibit hall and further inform visitors of the life and work of the renowned writer and thinker. The exhibit will be visited by tens of thousands of both Greek and foreign visitors to the island, which enjoys a rich tradition of celebrating the arts and literature.

The exhibit consists of rare manuscripts and personal letters never before presented publicly, including letters written by the young Kazantzakis to his mother and sisters expressing his grief over the loss of his father, Captain Michalis. Visitors can view one of several original drafts of the manuscript of The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, consisting of hundreds of pages typewritten by Eleni with handwritten edits by Nikos, along with the actual typewriter and desk used by Eleni. Also on display is a very rare postcard written by the “real” Zorba, Giorgos Zorbas), to Kazantzakis’ first wife, Galatea, and the actual record player and records played at the Kazantzakis house. There is the travel trunk used on their many travels, along with gifts and mementos from those travels; and many other personal and household items.

The Opening Ceremonies were enriched with traditional Cretan folk dancing, including a rousing rendition of the syrtaki to “Zorba’s Theme” by Mikis Theodorakis. The Festival also presented a theatrical reading of excerpts from the dramatic novel, The Fratricides, by Nikos Kazantzakis, performed by Niki Stavrou with musical accompanient by Vassilis Hadjimakris and Manos Karteris, under the direction by Olga Moraitis. The performance took place on the rooftop terrace of the Hydra Museum before an enraptured audience of over two hundred. The performance was preceded by a presentation by Dr. Katerina Zografistou, President of the Greek Chapter of the International Society of Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis, which highlighted the longstanding work of the Society, which consists of over nine thousand members around the world, and dedicated the performance to Mr. Georges Stassinakis, President of the International Society. In tribute to Kazantzakis, the first page of Zorba the Greek was introduced and read, in English, by Sofia and Athanasia Kanios, niece and daughter of Modern Greek Studies Foundation President Chris Kanios.

As part of the Festival, the San Francisco Greek Film Festival teamed up with the Cinema Club of Hydra to present late night screenings of films based on the works of Kazantzakis over three evenings: Zorba the Greek, The Last Temptation of Christ, and He Who Must Die were all screened to packed audiences. Introduced by Cinema Club President Lakis Christidis, SF Greek Film Festival Executive Director Kleon Skourtis, and Kazantzakis Estate CEO Niki Stavrou, the films were played at the charming outdoor Garden Cinema on Hydra, one of the remaining outdoor cinemas of Greece.