A rags-to-riches tale with an environmental twist, the movie “A Green Story” is a biography about Eftichios “Van” Vlahakis, a Greek immigrant who arrived in the United States with $22 in his pocket and became a green pioneer, founding the natural cleaning products empire Earth Friendly Products, the maker of the #1 green laundry product ECOS.

Opening in New York and Los Angeles May 24 and other cities in June with a DVD and video-on-demand release thereafter, the movie is a testament to one man’s determination and dedication to his convictions despite obstacles and opposition. Nika Agiashvili wrote, produced and directed a cast that includes Malcolm McDowell, Annabella Sciorra, Shannon Elizabeth, and Billy Zane, with George Finn and Ed O’Ross playing the younger and older Van Vlahakis.

Ask Van Vlahakis about making his own American dream come true and he credits others he worked with over the years, including chemists, engineers and other EFP personnel. But when pressed, he says his success is a result of doing what he loves. “My business is my hobby. I love scuba diving, traveling. But when I come off my boat from scuba diving or snorkeling the first thing I do is check my cell phone to see how things are going. I love my work and that’s what brings success,” he believes, adding that at 78, he works every day, even when he’s on vacation, and has no plans to retire. “I’m having fun and the company’s growing."

EFP’s latest launch is ECOS 4X, which requires a quarter the amount of regular detergent to do the same job. The fact that it’s highly concentrated saves the consumer and the company money and is better for the environment, as it cuts down on plastic usage and the number of bottles that fit on a truck, and the compact container fits better on shelves. Its two sizes can do 50 or 100 washes. Also new, says Vlahakis, is a line of natural hand soaps available at Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, licensed under their name.

Vlahakis, a chemist, founded Venus Laboratories in 1967 to make industrial nontoxic cleaning products, and launched EFP in 1987. “I wanted to make products that were safe for people,” he says, later also motivated by the effects of global warming. “I’m trying to keep this planet from the major damage we are doing to it with the carbon dioxide we’re pumping in. We need to start using renewable solar and wind energy and depend less on gasoline and coal.” He has solar panels at his main residence in southern California and his vacation home in Turks & Caicos, and just bought an electric Ford C-Max for his home in Key Largo, Florida.

He gave consent for “A Green Story” not only to publicize EFP but to “hopefully make people think a little differently about immigrants and what they can do for this country and think about our environment.” He’s pleased with the finished film and doesn’t mind that some plot points were exaggerated for dramatic effect, though he emphasizes that a health scare late in the film did actually happen. (He’s fine now.)

Vlahakis’ mission is to change consumers’ mindsets about going green, and says the simplest way to do it is through economics. “People love saving money. If you invest $15,000 in solar panels for your home and save $1500 a year, you’ll get it back in 10 years. No bank investment will give that. Then there’s the health part of it. We have so much cancer and other problems because we don’t watch what’s around us.”

He approaches life with a seize-the-day attitude and the energy of a man 20 years younger. “I feel like I’m in my 50s,” says the septuagenarian. “Success in life depends on a little bit of hard work and intelligence. It doesn’t matter where you came from. There’s a lot of opportunity in this country.” He’s living proof.

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Nika Agiashvili directs actress Shannon Elizabeth in a scene from "A Green Story."

Director Nika Agiashvili, who was born in the Republic of Georgia and came to the U.S when he was 11, related to the theme of an immigrant reaching for the American Dream. He met Vlahakis, a family friend, several years ago, and as he learned more about him he thought he’d make a compelling and timely subject for what he calls “a true story about a pioneer of green.” Armed with the Vlahakis family’s blessing and full cooperation, which granted him access to EFP facilities and their homes, he researched by traveling to Crete and Athens, and EFP factories in Chicago and Los Angeles and would later return to Greece to shoot the opening sequence of the film.

The production itself was eco-friendly, everything from catering to the way the sets were built. "We wanted to be as green as possible. The EFP factories and Van’s and his daughter Kelly’s houses, where we shot, are all solar powered,” says the director, noting that those solar panels show up on screen in one scene. He hopes audiences pick up on that and become “more mindful of how important living green is. I learned a lot myself, simple things like why using natural plant-based cleaning products is healthier. There are so many cancer-causing chemicals in detergent.” As a result, he eats a healthier diet, drives a Prius, and is an EFP customer. “The ECOS brand really does work.”

Agiashvili, who made the indie film “The Harsh Life of Veronica Lambert” in 2008, is currently shooting his part of “Tbilisi, My City,” anthology of shorts by ten directors about his hometown in Georgia. A late 2013 release is planned, and “Athens, My City” is next. He’ll be in the Greek capital before then, however, as “A Green Story” will have a premiere there in July.

“It was a great adventure making this film,” he says. “The American dream is alive, and the idea that a man can achieve anything that he wants and this country provides that. It doesn’t matter where you come from. That’s what really excites me about the story.”

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