Thessaloniki Film Festival, Part II
by Anthony Kaufman
After Greek photographers boycotted the closing awards ceremony in a fury
of protest because they had no space to shoot, and a marching band tramped
down the aisle in overwrought pomp, the awards were handed out to
international and national films at the Thessaloniki Film Festival
Sunday night. Efforts like the marching band, huge parties, and tributes to
Greek-American production designer Dean Tavoularis and Greek actress Irene
Papas all revealed the festival's attempts to turn the Thessaloniki fest
not into simply the last international festival on the calendar, but an
important worldwide cinematic and cultural event.
"Five years ago, it was considered the worst city for Greek distributors,"
says festival director, Michel Demopoulos. "They said the market had
collapsed." But with the festival going international 6 years ago and new
theaters sprouting up on every block, the fest has revitalized the movie
industry in the small metropolis. "Year after year, we expand the whole
image of the festival in order to bring something new," continues
Demopoulos, and "create an alternative net [opposed] to the official
distribution of films," aspiring to the likes of such festivals as Turino,
Locarno, and Rotterdam.
Although the festival still has a ways to go in achieving Locarno status,
the international competition is restricted to only 1st or 2nd time
filmmakers, giving lesser known films and filmmakers a chance to be
showcased. The winner of the first prize, Golden Alexander and 12.5 million
drachmas (around US $50,000) went to a minimalist comedy from Australia
called "Road To NHill". With great comedic timing, the director and its
actors deservedly received some recognition, but first prize was definitely
a surprise to some in the audience.
Other awards included Paddy Breathnach for direction ("I Went Down"), a
special artistic achievement award to Finland's "The Collector", a screenplay
award for Shane Meadows and Paul Fraser's "Twenty-Four Seven", and a special
mention award to the New Zealand film "Topless Women Talk About Their Lives",
whose title and generation-X dramatic-comedy of interconnected lives make
it a marketer's dream. "Topless Women" has been around the festival circuit,
debuting at Cannes months before. The film opens in Germany and British
distributors are also looking at the film. One of the lead actresses, Willa
O'Neill, who was on hand at the festival said, "We're touching all these
people who don't have any idea of our culture -- and we of theirs -- I
guess people are people -- whatever they eat for breakfast."
One of the dark horses in the race for recognition was a small film from
Turkey called "Somersault In A Coffin" by Dervis Zaim, about a homeless man
stealing cars and royal blue peacocks to survive in modern day Istanbul.
The film ran away with the Silver Alexander, a cash purse of 7.5 million
drachmas (roughly US $27,000) giving support to a talented new director
whose simple drama and use of non-actors harkens back to the days of
Italian neorealism. He shot the film with a borrowed camera, the equivalent
of $16,000 and only over a 24 day period.
In the national competition, "No Budget Story", another small, independent
film that in story and sentiment is basically a Greek version of "In The Soup" came away with a supporting actor award and a special mention from the
Greek critics organization. Demopoulos said the film represented a "healthy
new generation of film." The director, Renos Haralambidis, felt jilted by
not receiving the award for a First-Time Director. After the ceremony, he
said, "it was a direct hit against new independent Greek cinema." Shot on
video and sending Greek audiences to uproarious laughter, the film was
clearly inspired by U.S. independents like Rockwell, Jarmusch, and the
Coens. But from the response from the cinema establishment here, he still
has a way to go to achieve success. Still, he told indieWIRE that Greek,
French and even U.S. distributors were interested in his film.
Snubbed by the international competition jurors was a slick and stylish
German film from director Tom Tykwer called "Wintersleepers", which did
however, win the audience prize and a nod from the international
association of film critics, FIPRESCI jury for "its fusion of visual style
and storytelling technique and its intriguing study of the dynamics among
five lost souls." Tykwer has already finished another feature "Lola Runs" and
is currently working on a new psychothriller called "The Boss". Don't be
surprised if this Wuppertal native is picked up by U.S. distributors, not
to mention Hollywood talent scouts.
With all of its programs, tributes, sidebars, Thessaloniki provides a
smorgasbord of cinematic possibilities. Although international critics
found many of the Greek competition films disappointing and even some of
the international films conventional, the international festival is still
in its formative years and its purpose of bringing worldwide independent
films to Greece is surely successful.