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Debut Thessaloniki Doc Fest Courts Youth and Technology

Debut Thessaloniki Doc Fest Courts Youth and Technology

Debut Thessaloniki Doc Fest Courts Youth and Technology

By Eugene Hernandez

The defining moment of the first Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival
(March 15 – 21) came at about 1:15 a.m. on the final Saturday of the
event, as a few hundred people settled in for what at first seemed like
a crazy idea — an all night doc marathon. When Festival Director
Dimitri Eipides first told me that he would be screening movies all
night on the final night of the festival, I was politely supportive, but
secretly a little concerned. As the day approached, I quickly changed my
tune, realizing that the energy among college-aged locals for this debut
festival would support Eipides’ vision of creating a “happening” on the
final night — a place where, as he told me, young people would gather
and be “looking at each other and flirting.” Subsequently, a few
hundred people showed up for the marathon, jamming the lobby to wait for
almost an hour and forcing organizers to move the screenings to the
larger Olympion I theater.

“I have a relationship with the (Greek) audience,” Dimitri Eipides
explained modestly as we sat in his office earlier that day. This became
quite apparent during last month’s trip to Thessaloniki, Greek’s
second-largest city. While locals are very supportive of the annual,
high-profile, international festival held each November in this Balkan
port city, Eipides — who programs the fall festival’s New Horizons
section (as well as serving as a programmer for the Toronto
International Film Festival
) — had been anxious to develop a
complementary Greek event which would explore only non-fiction work.

“Storytelling is a tradition,” the Festival Director told me. “I have
always been intrigued by documentary, [and] fiction cinema is becoming
an anachronism.” Describing people today as “more informed, more
involved, and more enlightened,” Eipides explained that “the very
informed person [is] perhaps more difficult to influence or manipulate.”
Smiling he concluded, “Documentary adds to the possibilities.”

The Thessaloniki Doc festival, dubbed “Images of the 21st Century,”
focused on technology as a catalyst for some of the
“possibilities” that Eipides hinted at. “Documentary film becomes the
means through which opinions and ideas are recorded and transmitted,” he
wrote in the Festival catalog, “A way for the modern, thinking
individual to become informed about issues that concern him, as a
citizen who chooses to be freely informed and actively involved in the
goings on all over our small planet.”

During our conversation he added, “I relate documentaries very much to
new technology, because the relaying of information is very much tied to
the technological fields.” Two afternoon sessions exploring new
technologies were held midway through the festival, welcoming panelists
that included Ana Serrano from the MediaLinx habitat at the Canadian
Film Centre
, filmmaker Jason Rosette (“Book Wars“), DocFest founder Gary
, and Professor George Papanikolaou from the University of
. A highlight of the festival’s new media segment was Noam
‘s attendance (via a live video and audio feed beamed over a
telephone line) at a Q & A session moderated by Canadian filmmaker Peter
(“Manufacturing Consent“). Overall, while most attendees
seemed compelled by the new media subject matter, some expressed concern
over the impact that the increasing reliance on new technologies would
have on their society. One festival organizer told me that many Greeks
remain quite cautious about embracing the Internet and new media. While
Serrano characterized the attitude as “healthily suspicious of
technology.” Others however, expressed impatience at the slow pace at
which Greek culture — and the local university — are providing new
media opportunities and instruction.

Other sections of the festival were less controversial, but certainly no
less compelling for attendees. Festival screenings were often quite
crowded, and sell-out showings were common. A spotlight on Greek
filmmaker Dimitris Mavrikios offered seven of his documentaries,
including “Polemonta,” and “Enigma Est,” while the “Anthology: Greek
” section included a few national docs, among them
Sinassos — Memories of a Displaced Village” and “Hercules, Acheloos
and My Granny
.” Among the Greek docs that played well at the festival
were award winners “98 Years” by Apostolos Karakassis‘ (winner of the
Audience Award) and Nicos Grammaticos‘, “Nightflowers” (winner of
foreign press award).

Among the sections that garnered the most interest was “On the Edge of
Love: The End of the 90’s,” a bold, and often graphic exploration of
gender and sexuality issues. While John Appel‘s “Outlawed” looked at
homosexuality in five countries, Alec Behrens‘ and Marijn Muijser‘s “I
Don’t Wanna Be a Boy
” studied black and Latino transsexual prostitutes
in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Other films screening in the section included
Simon Bischoff‘s “Mon Beau Petit Cul” and Susan Muska & Greta
‘s “The Brandon Teena Story.”

The entire four-film program for the aforementioned documentary marathon
remained a closely held secret leading up to the big night — screenings
began without any introduction, interrupted only by brief intermissions
for a quick stretch and, for many Greeks, a cigarette in the lobby.
Bennett Miller‘s “The Cruise,” which had already screened twice earlier
in the week, kicked off the marathon. Although a few of the more
nuanced moments were lost by the Greek audience, the film was screened
well and was met with an ovation when it ended at about 2:40 a.m. (The
film went on to win the festival’s Greek press prize the next night at
the awards ceremony).

Shortly before 3 a.m. organizers unspooled what was clearly one of the
most striking films of the entire festival: “Lucky People Center
.” A true descendant of such films as “Koyaanisqatsi,” and
Powaqquatsi,” “Lucky People” is an incredible audio-visual exploration
of the rhythms of life, told through documentary interviews (with a
Native American, a Japanese businessman, a naturalist, African
tribes-people and more) that are cut brilliantly to the beat of a
driving electronic soundtrack. At nearly 4:30 a.m., Timothy
‘ American Masters presentation, “Lou Reed: Rock and
Roll Heart
,” screened as the audience thinned slightly, followed by Maya
‘ “Erotica: A Journey into Female Sexuality.” The marathon
concluded around 7 a.m. with the hundred or so remaining attendees
enjoying a complimentary continental breakfast before spilling out onto
Aristotelous Square and heading home.

Admitting that his own views reflect a 60’s and 70’s influenced “utopian
attitude,” Festival Director Dimitri Eipides’ comments from the day
before echoed in my head as I embarked on the more than twelve hour trip
back to New York, shortly after the marathon ended: “I want to believe
that this work has a social purpose.” That said, he also acknowledged
that a festival shouldn’t take itself too seriously, “A festival has to
address young people, I want it to affect them — I want them to go out
into the streets excited.”

[Eugene Hernandez, the Editor in Chief of indieWIRE, participated as a
panelist in the New Media section of the Thessaloniki Documentary Film

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