Opening Nights raise season curtain

Only a few days remain before before the curtain goes up on the 17th Athens International Film Festival. Known as Opening Nights, the festival is scheduled to take place at the capital?s Attikon, Apollon and Danaos 1 and 2 cinemas from Wednesday, September 14, to Sunday, September 25. As is customary, the film festival is the opening act of the city?s big-screen winter season and showcases dozens of recent productions.

There is little doubt that the new season will be a tough one for local theaters. Ticket sales have seen a considerable drop lately, while this year?s major films — the kind of movies with the power to lure cinemagoers — have yet to be released.

Nevertheless, Opening Nights is maintaining an air of optimism which goes beyond the effects of the current crisis. In a symbolic yet substantial move, the festival?s organizers are offering some 1,500 free tickets to the unemployed. About 100 accreditations for unemployed movie-lovers will be distributed — corresponding to five free-of-charge admissions to the event — while another 100 free tickets will be distributed on a daily basis for the duration of the festival at the event?s press office, situated at the Ianos bookstore on Stadiou Street in Syntagma.

Tickets cost 7 euros — a price which has remains unchanged for the last seven years — while morning screenings will be open to the public at a reduced price of 4 euros.

This year?s festival maintains the Opening Nights tradition of offering a film categories — independent productions, music and film and documentaries, among others — while premieres of major films still make up its core program. A much-anticipated premiere is Michel Hazanavicius?s masterpiece ?The Artist,? which is scheduled to open the festival on Wednesday. A last-minute addition to this year?s lineup at Cannes, ?The Artist? is a black-and-white silent film which ended up as the French festival?s success story, with Jean Dujardin picking up the award for Best Actor and the director earning a nomination for the Palme d?Or. The movie, in which a silent-era Hollywood superstar (Dujardin) crosses paths with an aspiring starlet (Berenice Bejo), is ripe with emotion and humor as well as an unsurpassable love for the world of cinema.

Another offering which drew interest at Cannes and is scheduled for screening in Athens is Lynne Ramsay?s ?We Need to Talk About Kevin.? Starring Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly, the film comes with an uncomfortable subject matter: the despair of two parents after their son goes on a high school killing spree.

The festival?s closer is Iranian director Asghar Farhadi?s ?A Separation,? winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlinale earlier this year. The film, which also earned best actor (Peyman Moaadi) and best actress (Leila Hatami) at the Berlin festival, follows a middle-class couple in today?s Tehran. While the wife wishes to leave the country in order to provide a better future for their adolescent daughter, the husband is adamant about staying in Iran to take care of his ailing father.

Among the screenings making up the festival?s documentary section are ?Khodorkovsky,? ?Senna? and ?We Were Here.? Cyril Tuschi?s ?Khodorkovsky? takes a look at Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former Russian oligarch who headed the Yukos oil company, a Vladimir Putin rival and one of Russia?s most famous prisoners. Asif Kapadia?s ?Senna? tells the story of the late Brazilian Formula One star Ayrton Senna, while in ?We Were Here,? directors David Weissman and Bill Weber use a series of interviews to narrate the emergence of the AIDS epidemic and the homosexual community?s combative collective reaction.

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