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Thessaloniki to Open 7th Doc Fest with an Eye on Human Rights and Films with Social Interest

Thessaloniki to Open 7th Doc Fest with an Eye on Human Rights and Films with Social Interest

by Brian Brooks


A scene from Liz Mermin's doc, "The Beauty Academy of Kabul," which will screen at this year's Thessaloniki Documentary Festival. Image courtesy of the filmmakers.

With its theme, "Images of the 21st Century," the 7th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival is set to unfold with 150 films, taking place in Greece's second largest city of the same name. Human rights issues and immigration will be two primary themes for the event, starting today and running through April 10. Also on tap this year are selections from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, New York as well as a look back at Auschwitz, 60 years since the Holocaust in addition to special tributes and other films screening in the festival's six main sections.

Thessaloniki's "Views of the World" section includes 19 works from around the world "dealing with subjects of social interest." Among the selections is Liz Mermin's "The Beauty Academy of Kabul," which captures American women, some of whom emigrated from Afghanistan in the '80s, who travel to Kabul, the capital, to open an "American-style" beauty school following the fall of the Taliban. Also screening in the section is Nahid Persson's look at Iranian women who risk strict social constraints at home to earn money as sex-workers in, "Prostitution Behind the Veil."

The festival's 14 films in its "Stories to Tell" sidebar deal with "brief stories of human interest that stand out for the nature of their subject and the way they have been dealt with," according to a festival announcement. In filmmaker Joe Berlinger's "Gray Matter," the director chronicles his journey to Vienna, Austria in pursuit of Dr. Heinrich Gross -- known as that country's "Dr. Mengele -- who is believed to have participated in the killing of hundreds of children at a Nazi euthanasia clinic. Along the way, Berlinger meets survivors of the clinic, who face a country that has yet to fully understand its dark past. American director Patricia Riggen's film, "Family Portrait," meanwhile, recalls Life Magazine photographer Gordon Park's 1968 expose on the Fontenelle family, an African American family living at the time in Harlem. Park's photos galvanized the American public to help the family buy a home in Long Island. Riggen's film re-visits the family's surviving members, and sees how the family's struggle today still mirrors the African American community as a whole.

The Human Rights Watch will have its own focus in this year's Thessaloniki doc fest. The section's six films include Jonathan Stack's "Liberia: An Uncivil War," which won a special jury prize in November at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). The film captures the frightening civil war that unfurled in Liberia in the summer of 2003, a country populated by freed American slaves, as it looked to America to end the violence. Also screening in the section is Jim de Seve's look at the same-sex marriage debate in the U.S., "Tying the Knot."

Other themed sidebars scheduled for this year's festival also include "Habitat," a look at environmental issues and their social context, as well as "Night-Time Moods," musical documentaries as well as adult-subject films in after midnight screenings. Films screening in the latter sidebar include Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey's Sundance 2005 doc "Inside Deep Throat" and Margaret Brown's look at songwriter Townes Van Zandt, "Be Here to Love Me." Local selections will screen in the fest's Greek Panorama, while last year's Athens Olympics will be the theme for the four films in the 'Olympic Games' section. Finnish director Pirjo Honkasalo ("3 Rooms of Melancholia") will be feted with a four-film retrospective, while Canadian doc-maker Pierre Perrault ("The Shimmering Beast") will receive a tribute, with nine of his films offered to festival attendees.

In addition to the regular festival, Thessaloniki will again host its International Doc Market. The market, founded in 1999, will take place April 4-8 featuring over 500 films. Organizers of the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival also host the annual International Thessaloniki Film Festival, which takes place in November.

[ For more information, please visit: www.filmfestival.gr/docfestival/2003/uk/panorama.php ]

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