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Thessaloniki Doc Fest ’12: Docs In the Works Spotlight Greek Mothers & Food, Immortal & Electrical Men

Thessaloniki Doc Fest '12: Docs In the Works Spotlight Greek Mothers & Food, Immortal & Electrical Men

For its 14th edition, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival inaugurated “Docs in Progress,” an addition to the Thessaloniki Doc Market, which boasts nearly 500 projects from the Balkans and around the world and more than 60 accredited industry representatives. Extended clips from the twelve projects in “Docs in Progress” screened to buyers, co-producers, sales agents, and other industry this past Thursday morning, providing an advanced look of projects in the pipeline.

Projects were presented in much more casual manner as compared to similar events at IDFA or Hot Docs. Filmmakers only offered a brief introduction to supplement information provided in the festival’s catalogue (with nearly all stating a desire to find co-producers and pre-buys in order to fill their financing gaps) and did not take questions or comments, though meetings were encouraged to be set up later in the Doc Market. Roughly evenly split between projects in post and those still in various stages of production, many were promising:

“Flying Food”
Director: Marianna Economou
Producer: Lilette Botassi
Country: Greece
Production Company: Inkas Film Productions
Budget: €182,000

Synopsis: Traditional Greek society is explored through the stereotypical but true relationship between Greek mothers and their children, mediated by food.

While I’m culturally biased here, I responded very strongly to this project. The focus is on two families whose sons are studying abroad, and how the doting, over-involved mothers adjust to the separation. Linking them, and other families in the film, is a service that transports home-cooked meals from mothers’ kitchens to their children’s homes – pointing out the central role food plays in Greek culture. The filmmakers have found appealing, expressive characters, and the themes should easily transcend ethnic lines to resonate with disparate audiences.

“The Grocer”
Director/Producer: Dimitris Koutsiabasakos
Country: Greece
Production Company: KinoLab
Budget: €80,000

Synopsis: Over four seasons, a green grocer and his family deliver fresh food weekly to ever-dwindling rural populations.

Continuing the food theme, Koutsiabasakos’ project additionally speaks to the changes wrought on traditional Greek society over the past several decades. The grocer, Nikos Anastasiou, feels compelled to keep up the deliveries he’s been making since the 1980s, despite diminishing returns due to the migration of younger people away from the villages and into the cities for economic opportunity. Clips screened also boasted impressive DP work.

“Music Village”
Director/Co-producer: Andreas Siadimas
Producer: Yannis Angelakis
Country: Greece
Production Company: Fractal Productions
Budget: €181,300

Synopsis: Three friends create a personal utopia in a traditional village, promoting musical education and collaborative workshops for professional international musicians and locals.

Like the previous project, Siadimas’ explores changes to traditional Greek society – in this case, the coexistence of the international music camp and its modern ways with villagers steeped in customs and mores going back thousands of years. Music-focused docs are more usually problematic than not in my view, often finding a poor balance between performance and an actual narrative, but this project looks to avoid that issue. Footage suggested at least a couple of characters of interest, including a Japanese classical musician who unexpectedly finds her style fitting in with the looser structure of traditional Greek rebetika music.

“The Immortals at the Southern Point of Europe”
Directors: Yorgos Moustakis & Nikos Labôt
Producer: Yorgos Moustakis
Country: Greece
Production Company: Geometry Films Ltd
Budget: €85,000

Synopsis: On a small Greek island which marks Europe’s southernmost point, seven Russian scientists live harmoniously with the local villagers – until they reveal their plans to escape death.

Despite the clunky title (I’d suggest “The Immortals at Land’s End” instead for thematic contrast), the concept is firmly in “stranger than fiction” territory and makes for a great hook. Beyond the Russian outsider/village insider relationships, added details, like the diversity of science backgrounds for the Russians and a Chernobyl connection, just increase my interest. That said, whether purposefully or not, the details about the group’s search for  immortality as revealed in the clips proved entirely too esoteric and philosophical, so I hope the finished project proves more accessible in this regard.

“Battery Man”
Directors: Dusan Saponja & Dusan Cavic
Producer: Snezana Penev
Country: Serbia
Production Company: Ciklotron
Budget: €132,000

Synopsis: Biba, a real-life superhuman who can control electricity, attempts to understand how his powers work and to enter the Guinness Book of World Records by sustaining exposure to one million volts of electricity, despite the skepticism of scientists.

I heard a fantastic pitch on this project at IDFA in 2010, so it’s good to see how it’s developing. New scenes include Biba’s mother and brother, as well as a confrontation with disbelievers, and additional TV appearances demonstrating his abilities – each expanding the character development of the unusual main subject.

“Hassan’s Odyssey”
Director: Francisco Araúja
Producer: Oihana Olea
Country: Spain
Production Company: Altube Filmeak & Malas Compañias
Budget: €250,000

Synopsis: After thirteen years away from home, Hassan decides to return to Morocco from Spain. His mode of transport, and means of future income: a tractor.

While David Lynch’s “The Straight Story” will inevitably come to mind, Hassan is a much younger man, an immigrant, and his motivation is very different – all bringing a different focus to this project. He’s likable in the face of an incredibly difficult task, demonstrating humor while at the same time engaging the viewer in support of his unlikely mission and hope for a better life. Araúja’s storytelling is also aided by crisp verité cinematography.

Director: Anca Hirte
Producer: Froidevaux Damien
Country: France/Romania
Production Company: E2P/entre2prises
Budget: €167,000

Synopsis: In a small office in a small Romanian town, a woman’s job is to keep citizens’ petty concerns away from the mayor.

Another project that should consider a more palatable title, at least outside Romania, Hirte’s film is about the Office of Social Dialogue and Advice to Citizens, a municipal office that hears the comments and complaints of petitioners seeking an audience with the popular mayor. Recognizing the paternalistic relationship the townsfolk have with authority figures, the woman who heads the office doles out harsh advice to stop the citizenry from wasting her boss’ time. Appropriately described as “a documentary film constructed like a play by Ionesco,” the footage impressed with its ability to find absurdist humor in bureaucracy and structures of power, no matter how small.

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