The antithesis of business-driven events, the Syros International Film Festival (SIFF) invites the public to discover restyled venues and get lost in moving pictures in the cool of the evening after hot summer days between July 16 and 21 in the capital of the Cyclades, and to explore the connections between nature and film.
Launched in 2013, SIFF was a plucky venture in the world of film festivals. Hosted out of the historic port town of Ermoupoli in its inaugural year, the self-financed, nonprofit festival was not expected to thrive as it has done – seven years later, founders Cassandra Celestin and Jacob Moe, along with their organizing team and sponsors, have transformed Syros into something of a global film destination.
“It does something quite different from every other festival that takes place here, which is that it brings these cultural events and this cultural program to different outdoor sites across the island,” says Moe.
In the festival's seventh edition, visitors will be able to take in silent classics, live performances and fringe works, all relating to the theme “Overexposure.”
“Vampyr,” a classic silent film by Carl Theodor Dreyer on vampires' fear of the sun, will be screened on the festival’s first night to live music scored by Polish composer and electronic musician Ela Orleans. Other highlights include presentations and workshops by Filmmakers in Focus Jem Cohen, Eva Stefani and Rainer Kohlberger, and an evening of performances at the island’s former quarry.
“We like that there’s this immediate connection between the place and also film itself,” says Celestin. “You think of a Greek island in the summertime, you think of sun, you think of everyone being outdoors and enjoying the sun, the sea, and then overexposure [relates] to a very basic and fundamental property of filmmaking itself.”
With a great roster of films, the festival includes several experimental works that have not received mainstream exposure. The inventive Rainer Kohlberger, for instance, brings an original performance to the island, merging 16mm film and digital projection.
In recent years, SIFF has also contributed to the rise of Greek filmmakers, and this year’s edition is no different. Eva Stefani, whose short film “Manuscript” garnered acclaim at documenta 14 in Athens in 2018, will lead a masterclass on documentary filmmaking.
Ermoupoli will host seafront screenings in locations like grocery store-turned outdoor cinema Cine Pallas and the 159-year-old Tarsanas Shipyard. Outside the center, film buffs can visit the Venetian Ano Syros Amphitheater, De La Grazia Drive-In and Komito Beach.
As part of the Komito screening, SIFF will host a beach cleanup in collaboration with the SeaChange Greek Islands program, tying the setting of Syros to a larger environmental mission.
“[We’re] thinking about things like hosting the screening but then also thinking about what it takes to have these spaces exist sustainably throughout the whole year,” says Moe.
With almost half of its venues in natural locations around Syros, SIFF’s seventh edition emphasizes the island’s environmental heritage.
At the Pallas cinema on July 18, meanwhile, festival-goers will be treated to a fascinating presentation by Forensic Architecture, a research group based in the United Kingdom. The agency, which specializes in media investigations into human rights abuses, will present three of its recent investigations, two of which concern major cases unfolding in Greece right now.
The first reconstructs the night of September 18, 2013, in the Piraeus suburb of Keratsini when rapper Pavlos Fyssas was stabbed to death by a member of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. The team presents a combination of audio files, video footage and court documents that are a key part of the evidence being used by the prosecution in its case against the party's leadership.
The team will also present its investigation into the death of Zak Kostopoulos, an LGBTQ activist who was beaten to death in downtown Athens last year. Forensic Architecture’s reconstruction of the incident through CCTV footage prompted investigators to reopen the case after it had been initially shelved.
All films at the festival will be subtitled in Greek and English. One-day tickets cost 5 euros and festival-long passes are 25 euros. For more information about the festival and transportation to Syros, visit syrosfilmfestival.org.