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Thessaloniki International Film Festival Asks: Do Filmmakers Like Being Classified?

By Rania Richardson | Indiewire November 18, 2013 at 10:56AM

An artistic inquiry threaded its way throughout the 10-day event: Are film movements and classifications a good thing or are they limiting?
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"Nebraska"
"Nebraska."

"It might have something to do with the Greek personality-- they want to be individualists so they deny being part of a group," said "Nebraska" DP Phedon Papamichael half-jokingly, on the phone from Los Angeles.  The Greek-born cinematographer generally believes that being part of a movement is a good thing.

"During the French New Wave, directors were up against a rigid, established system of making films that didn't allow for much creative, alternative filmmaking, so it was helpful to have an identity.  In the long run, they changed the industry," he said.  "The only danger now, is if every Greek filmmaker tries to copy that style because it's found international success."

Plenty of new Greek films fall outside the parameters of the new style, and the festival screened work with a more traditional bent, often plainly commenting on society's ills.  But since they don't fit into the Weird (or just New) Wave, will these films get their just recognition?  Surely, quality stands out no matter what the type.  In "Wild Duck" by Yannis Sakaridis, a phone hacker's investigation leads to the discovery of a carcinogenic cellular network hidden in a residential apartment, and evidence of unbridled telecommunications surveillance.  Despite a solid narrative, the conventional approach feels outmoded in comparison to the film's higher profile compatriots.

The festival's Balkan Survey celebrated its 20th anniversary with a selection of highlights from past iterations, including-- as an early champion of post-Communist Romanian cinema--  Corneliu Porumboiu's "12:08 East of Bucharest" and "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," by Cristi Puiu. The Romanian New Wave label has united the country's films with a standout identity for more than 10 years. 

Festival juror and producer Ada Solomon said at a press conference, "Speaking from my experience in Romania, it is important to take advantage of the attention some films draw, because it doesn't last very long.  In 2013, around 22 Romanian feature films were candidates for the Cannes Festival. Not all of them are masterpieces of course, nor are the filmmakers well-known, but the fact remains that these films travel abroad, carrying the voice of their makers."

The international jury, headed by Payne, awarded the top Golden Alexander prize to "The Golden Cage" by Diego Quemada-Diez.  The film emerged from a current hotbed of Mexican cinema that Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (helpfully known by the catchy moniker,  "The Three Amigos") galvanized in the previous decade.  It follows a group of teenagers on a dangerous journey from Guatemala through Mexico, on their way to freedom up north, and also won best director, audience, and human values awards. 

"The Golden Cage"
"The Golden Cage"

Festival jurors agreed that a few countries in Latin America are the next hot spots.  Will a new "movement" arise?   In addition to those represented in the international competition-- Mexico: "The Golden Cage," Venezuela: "Bad Hair" by Mariana Rondon and Chile: "The Devil's Liquor" by Ignacio Rodriguez--  other nations to watch are Colombia, El Salvador, and Peru.

Argentina, though, has had decades of solid filmmaking.  New directors may be seeking to distinguish themselves from their forebears in three films that could be called "Argentine Mumblecore." "Leones," by Jazmin Lopez, "Night" by Leonardo Brzezicki, and Matias Pineiro's "Viola" relay low-fi stories of  youth, adrift.  They address a new generation of audiences, but there is no name to the movement, if in fact there is one.

New Wave or no wave at all-- which is better?  Do film movements benefit their filmmakers?  It's anyone's guess how many cineastes are uniquely attracted to the "weird" subset of recent Greek movies.  And how many more of them will be made?  No artist wants to be dismissed for prejudiced assumptions based on their colleagues' work.  Nevertheless, a cinematic association gains attention and support through screening series, discussion, academic analysis, and the creation of community.  The tag of a new movement gives the work an identifiable mark as an exciting nexus of filmmaking. 

Follow Rania Richardson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RaniaRichardson

This article is related to: Greek, Features, Filmmaker Toolkit: Festivals, Thessaloniki International Film Festival, Alexander Payne






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