By Anna Mazarakis
While film buffs in Greece normally circle September and November on their calendars for the Athens and Thessaloniki film festivals respectively, there is one more event trying to break out: the Syros International Film Festival.
Now in its second year, the event, which runs July 26 through August 1 on the Cycladic island of Syros, presents debut performances by four feature filmmakers as well as a selection of five shorts from the broader Balkan and the southern Mediterranean region, among other fare.
There is also a parallel program featuring screenings of silent films, a documentary and a series of Greek-French experimental shorts, as well as a two-day masterclass studying the work of Elia Kazan and John Cassavetes with photographer Platon Rivellis.
“It’s really exciting how many film festivals are starting in Greece,” festival co-director Cassandra Celestin said in an interview before the program was announced last week. “The more and more regional and smaller festivals start, I think that the appetite for film will hopefully grow.”
She said that while the Thessaloniki International Film Festival is a large, renowned event and the Athens International Film Festival tends to show bigger budget movies, the aim of the Syros event is to screen independent films from Greece and the southern Mediterranean region, and to showcase other forms of art through the parallel program.
Celestin and co-director Jacob Moe screened 24 films at their first festival last year, which was funded with the help of a Kickstarter campaign. This year, they received a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which will cover half of the operating budget. Sponsorships from media, local businesses and private donors, together with proceeds from ticket sales are expected to cover the other half, Celestin explained.
Though admission to all screenings was free last year, this year guests will have to pay – albeit a very reasonable 2 euros per screening or 10 euros for a pass to the whole festival. The “symbolic” ticket price has the effect of “legitimizing” the festival so guests are less inclined to wander out of the screenings, Moe said.
When choosing the nearly 50 films from a selection of hundreds, the co-directors said they were looking for films that fell under their designated theme for the year – “borders” – which was kept open-ended on purpose. Geographical borders, social borders and the borders between film and arts will all be addressed in the festival.
Of the 36 films in the main program, 12 are from Greece.
“One of our aims for the festival is to really show and highlight what Greek film is doing right now,” Celestin said at a press conference last week. Though she said that the competition is open to every country in the region, she added that “it is important to us to show Greek films within this international context, to really show it’s unique aspect.”
Producer Maria Drandaki, director Penny Panayotopoulou, editor-in-chief of the East European Film Bulletin Moritz Pfeifer and writer/screenwriter Thanassis Valtinos will judge the competition categories, with a marble award sculpture being presented to the winners.
The festival will take place at various locations in Syros and all the films in the main program will be subtitled in Greek and English. The closing ceremony on August 1 will include a performance by the Cycladic Orchestra.
The competition films
“Hide Your Smiling Faces” is a coming-of-age drama about two brothers experiencing a friend’s mysterious death. Directed by Daniel Patrick Carbone, the US film has won seven awards at other festivals.
The Greek film “The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas” is about a Greek anchorman who has faked his own kidnapping in an attempt to save his career. Directed by Elina Psykou, the film won three awards at the 2013 Thessaloniki International Film Festival.
Spanish entry “Falling Star,” directed by Luis Minarro and Sergi Belbel, portrays the reign of Spanish King Amadeo of Savoy in the 1870s.
The docu-fiction “To the Wolf,” directed by Aran Hughes and Christina Koutsospyrou, comes from Greece, France and the UK and follows two shepherd families in western Greece as they struggle for survival.
The five competition shorts are Kosovan “Balcony,” Greek “Schoolyard,” Hungarian and Romanian “The Execution,” Greek “Washingtonia” and Turkish “Houses With Small Windows.”