Thessaloniki International Film Festival: Greek Horizons
by Anthony Kaufman
In this port city of Greece, littered with Byzantine ruins and modernized,
contemporary facades -- and home to the 38th International Thessaloniki
Film Festival, there is a definitive gaze toward the future. Only halfway
through the fest, Claude Chabrol has introduced his new film,"Rien Ne Va Plus", Jonathon Nossiter (here with two non-competition films, "Sunday" and
his earlier "Resident Alien") has created the wine list for the French
auteur, and Abbas Kiarostami, director of Palme d'Or winner "Taste Of Cherries", appeared at the opening of a new photography exhibit. And of
course, there are films, films, films -- at least 28 per day, screening at
various theaters across the mini-metropolis.
Beyond the films in the International and National Competitions, reputed
for their cash prizes of $35,000 and $50,000 respectively, there are a host
of other programs catching the eyes of international critics, Greek
audiences, and distributors alike.
Much attention is devoted to the New Horizons section, a diverse 6 year-old
sidebar, including everything from special spotlights on Alexander Sokurov
("Mother And Son"), Tsai Ming Liang ("Vive L'Amour", this year's masterpiece
"The River"), and Errol Morris ("Fast, Cheap, And Out Of Control") to new images
in French and American cinema. Dimitri Eipides, programmer of New Horizons
and also on the selection committee for the Toronto Film Festival, says the
function of the sidebar is the "promotion of young and independent cinema
from around the world and with the aim to bring to the attention of the
public in Greece the importance of young, creative directors that work
beside the established channels of production, distribution, and marketing."
Although technically given second fiddle to the main competitions, the
films in the New Horizons section are often the more popular -- and the
more financially viable for Greek distributors looking for theatrical or
television exhibition. "We have a very good record in getting some of these
films shown to Greek distributors," says Eipides. Directors like Atom
Egoyan, Abbas Kiarostami and Hal Hartley were all introduced to Greek
audiences through New Horizons. This year "distributors are at every
screen," reveals Eipides, "testing the reactions of the public." Although
no sales have happened as of yet, Greek television have inquired about
Alexander Sokurov's poetic visions. One of the most beautiful and powerful
films I have seen thus far in the festival also appeared in New Horizons, a
Japanese film by Sogo Ishii called "Labyrinth Of Dreams" which deserves
international art house distribution as much as any film here.
Since its inception, New Horizons has also included a spotlight on American
independents, this time given the cryptic title "Shadows in the Night."
This year the program is mostly filled with old news as far as States-side
is concerned: "Habit", "Year Of The Horse", "Boogie Nights", "Sick: The Life And Death Of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist" to name a few. One of the newer
films in the selection is a well-received US-UK-French co-production called
"Unmade Beds" by Nicholas "the most sadistic director in British television"
Barker about the sexual jungle of the New York singles scene. Eipides says
it is "only a glimpse of the new American cinema. . . It's very popular,
particularly with the young part of the public that associates with this
kind of expression and not to a more conservative one."
New kinds of expression have found their way into Thessaloniki in another
form with a digital filmmaking panel. ?The Digital Filmmaking Revolution?
included a dedicated panel of international artists from Greece and the
U.S. Frank Grow, director of "Love God", accompanied by Good Machine producer
Anthony Bergman and independent director Michel Negroponte were the
featured Americans on the panel, sharing an enthusiasm and passion for the
new media that many in the Greek audience seemed skeptical of. Fearing a
future of solitary and anti-social filmmakers, one Greek critic likened the
solipsistic production of digital film to the saying, "Wanking is fun, but
having sex is better."
Those on the panel, including a Turkish born director of a Beta SP feature
called "Dream Factory", a Greek actor turned director (whose video feature "No Budget Story" has received much buzz) and an Athenian based
filmmaking-theorist, all tried to allay the fears of the cynics in the
audience. Described as "autonomous" and "liberating," likened to the work
of poets and painters, and said to be the "most important technological
event since the early 60's innovations with lighter camera and sound
equipment," everyone on the panel shared a hopeful outlook on the future of
"Will people still go to a movie that has a lower resolution than film?"
Bregman asked himself. With the success of films like "Hoop Dreams" and Lars
Von Trier's works, Bregman contends with confidence that "when it comes
down to it, people will respond not to the resolution of the film and will
respond to the story of the film." As far as Good Machine is concerned,
Bregman says, "Digital video is another one of our tools now," likening it
to such basic options of production as choosing locations or actors. That
this discussion would take place in a Greek city, far from what most people
would consider a technologically obsessed society like the U.S. or Japan,
makes these arguments for a worldwide digital revolution all the more
[Thessaloniki's fest continues with a wide array of Balkan and Greek films,
and the International and National competition winners, all to be covered
in the December 2nd issue of indieWIRE.]