You might ask yourself why the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (TDF) decided on travel and journeys as its theme this year when such things are so out of reach. The fact is that a documentary festival, or any film festival for that matter, is by its very nature a metaphorical journey of discovery of new cinematic continents, an expedition into a wilderness of different points of view, and embarkation on a train of shots and images that, we hope, form a harmonious picture. There’s also the fact that the latest pandemic lockdown feels much like being trapped in an airport departure lounge when all flights have been canceled until further notice. We might as well watch something interesting while we wait.
Titled “Destination: Journey” and coming to our screens digitally on March 4-14, the 23rd installment of the TDF comprises 19 documentaries and two fiction films that explore the experience, or even the anticipation, of a journey. The audience will travel from India to Alaska and from Tel Aviv to Patagonia, with stop-offs to explore memories, logbooks, dreams and contemplations on the meaning of life.
This year’s selections include “The Train Stop,” directed by acclaimed Russian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, who trains his camera on people sleeping at a station in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a train that will never come. Also being screened is “Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania,” by pioneering filmmaker Jonas Mekas, who died in 2019. The cinematic journal of the director’s return to his homeland was deemed significant enough to be included on the National Film Registry for preservation by the US Library of Congress.
Legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog, a favorite among Greek audiences, is also part of the festival. His film “Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin” is about the charismatic travel writer who was Herzog’s friend. In it, with Chatwin’s backpack over his shoulder, Herzog wanders the globe retracing his friend’s footsteps and discovering mysteries, people and experiences along the way.
“Expedition to the End of the World” features the scientific crew of an expedition to the rapidly melting ice massifs of Greenland and their musings and contemplations. The migrant crisis is also broached by two very promising films. The first, Karim Ainouz’s “Central Airport THF,” will give audiences a glimpse into the makeshift city put up to house migrants at Berlin’s airport. The second, “Midnight Traveler,” depicts director Hassan Fazili’s own flight from Afghanistan and the Taliban. It is a visual diary comprising various media, even footage recorded on a mobile phone.
Festival viewers will also have the opportunity to watch the 1983 Oscar-nominated documentary “First Contact,” introducing them to the mountain tribes of Papua New Guinea just 50 years after their first contact with the rest of the world.
Alongside the digital festival, the organizers have prepared a special bilingual publication on the theme of traveling and journeys featuring texts by artists and academics and published by Nefeli.