By Rania Richardson | Indiewire November 23, 2008 at 9:28AM
At the 49th Thessaloniki International Film Festival, in the cosmopolitan second city of Greece, the staggering number of screenings and events requires daily sprints along the waterfront promenade between the Olympion Complex in the square, and festival venues on the pier. A spotlight shines on Greek films, but in the full lineup of 230 features and shorts from 55 countries, three international hotbeds of cinema stand out this year-- Turkey, Argentina, and-- from a foreign perspective-- the U.S.
On Saturday, revered Greek-born filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos screened "The Dust of Time," his second installment to the trilogy he began with "The Weeping Meadow" (2004), that echoes the history of Greece through the story of one family's plight. The film feels a bit musty, but stars the reliably good, Willem Dafoe. Earlier that day, Dafoe held a Master Class where he told a packed house that he chooses projects based on his sense of engagement with people, not because of a role or career strategy.
Turkish film, this year's focus in the Balkan Survey, was the subject for a panel moderated by programmer Dimitris Kerkinos. Critics discussed the thriving contemporary cinema that emerged in the mid-'90s despite, or perhaps in response to, state censorship and a lack of arts funding. Being addressed on film for the first time are issues of gender, class, and ethnicity. Highlights of the section include "Dot," a crime story by Dervis Zaim, set against the backdrop of expansive white salt flats, filmed with camera movements that follow a calligrapher's pen, and "Pandora's Box," the story of a mother's dementia, by the only female director in the group, Yesim Ustaoglu. Semih Kaplanoglu's "Suet," the second in a trilogy of "Egg," "Milk" and "Honey," and Oezcan Alper's "Autumn," center on the daily rituals and struggles of life in rural Turkey.
Two key figures in film production from Argentina, composer Gustavo Santaolalla and producer Lita Stantic, were honored for their body of work on Saturday before a crowded screening of their nostalgic film, "Cafe de los Maestros," a tribute to tango performers. Santaolalla is known for his scores for "Brokeback Mountain" and "Babel," and Lita Stantic is a seminal figure behind the new generation of filmmakers flourishing in Argentina, such as Lucretia Martel. Stantic screened "Lamb of God," directed by Lucia Cedron, a morally engaging true story of a woman who learns that her maternal grandfather was responsible for her father's disappearance and death. Also from Argentina, Pablo Agueero's unusual "Salamandra" follows a young mother adrift, who takes her son to a Patagonian commune of junkies and moochers, where Bible pages are used for toilet paper. In contrast, a group of children commune with privilege in Celina Murga's "A Week Alone," a colorful competition film that has siblings and their cousins ruling the household in a gated community.
Of particular interest to the huge population of students in Thessaloniki was a section devoted to "young Americans" which fell under the the fest's Independence Days- ID 08 section. Filmmaking brothers Josh and Benny Safdie designed a deceptively child-like poster for the series, and three of their shorts screened, including "The Pleasure of Being Robbed." Another set of brothers, David and Nathan Zellner, accompanied their missing cat film, "Goliath" to the festival. Filmmaking pairs in the lineup extended to partners Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden for "Sugar," and in a "someone to watch" sidebar, Azazel Jacobs with partner Sara Diaz for "The GoodTimesKid" (as well as his own "Momma's Man"). "The GoodTimesKid" stars Gerardo Naranjo, director of the thrilling Mexican teenage angst drama, "I'm Gonna Explode," from the international competition section.
The 49th Thessaloniki International Film Festival winners:
Best Feature Film Award - Golden Alexander (37.000 euros), "Aan Ja," (Over There)
by Abdolreza Kahani, Producer Vahdat Yeganeh, (Iran)
Special Jury Award - Silver Alexander (22.000 euros), "Pescuit Sportiv," (Hooked)
by Adrian Sitaru, Producers Adrian Sitaru, Marie-Pierre Macia, Juliette Lepoutre, (Romania / France)
Best Director Award to Celina Murga for "Una Semana Solos"(A Week Alone), Producers Juan Villegas, Inés Gamarci, (Argentina)
Best Screenplay Award to Matthew Newton for "Three Blind Mice," by Matthew Newton, Producer Ben Davis, (Australia)
Best Actress Award ex aequo to Iona Flora and Maria Dinulescu for "Pescuit Sportiv" (Hooked)
Best Actor Award ex aequo to Sid Lucero and Emilio Garcia for "Selda" (The Inmate), by Ellen Ramos and Paolo Villaluna, Producer Josephine Saba, Philippines
Artistic Achievement Award to Szalbocs Tolnai, for "Fövenyóra" (Hourglass), Producers György Durst, Miroslav Mogorovic, Szabolcs Tolnai, (Hungary /Serbia /Montenegro)
FIPRESCI award for a film in the International Competition Section 2008 to "Voy a Explotar" (I’m Gonna Explode), by Gerardo Naranjo, Producers Pablo Cruz, Gerardo Naranjo, Hunter Gray, Alain de la Mata (Mexico)
Human Values Award (15.000 euros - The Hellenic Parliament TV Channel bestows the award to a film of the Independence Days ID-08 section, to the film. Winner: "Teza," by Haile Gerima, Producers Haile Gerima, Karl Baumgartner, Ethiopia / Germany / France
Fischer Public Choice Awards
For a film in the International Competition section (3.000 euros):
"Le Bruit Des Gens Autour" (Sunny Spells), by Diastéme, Producers Thomas Anargyros, Edouard de Vésinne, France
For a film in the Greek Films 2008 section (3.000 euros):
"Makronissos" (Exile Island), by Elias Yannakakis, Evi Karabatsou, Producer Elias Yannakakis