After funding boost, TIFF comes back swinging

Greek-American director Alexander Payne will be opening the 52nd Thessaloniki International Film Festival on Friday, November 4, with his seventh and most recent feature, ?The Descendants.?

Payne is returning to the northern port city to present his film at the Olympion Cinema, the festival?s flagship venue, seven years after his critically acclaimed comedy drama ?Sideways.?

The challenges that life throws at us is again central to the plot in ?Descendants,? which stars George Clooney as a successful businessman and absent father who needs to redefine his priorities when his wife falls into a coma.

After presenting his film at the invitation-only screening at the Olympion, Payne will also give a press conference that is open to the public, at the festival?s port complex venue, at noon on Saturday, November 5.

Following a rocky few years that saw the TIFF and its springtime documentary festival struggling for financial survival, the event has come back stronger this year thanks to a fortunate boost to its coffers of over 1.6 million euros from the European Union-backed National Strategic Reference Framework (ESPA).

The injection of funds should allow the TIFF to do what it does best — show audiences what projects filmmakers around the world are involved in at the moment and shine a light on the work of relatively obscure artists as well as the past forays of better-known directors.

At the event?s core is the international competition, in which 15 films will compete for the Golden (20,000 euros) and Silver (10,000 euros) Alexanders, as well as the Special Jury Award for Originality and Innovation (5,000 euros).

This year?s panel is comprised by: Laurence Kardish, senior curator of the Department of Film and Media, Museum of Modern Art, New York (jury president); Sitora Alieva, program director of the Kinotavr Film Festival, Russia; Frederic Boyer, director of the Les Arcs European Film Festival, France; Constantine Giannaris, the Greek film director, and Hisami Kuroiwa a US-based film producer.

A second panel, from the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI), will also be awarding films in the international competition as well as in the competition of all recent Greek productions.

On the tributes front, the spotlight this year will fall on Sara Driver, Ole Christian Madsen, Paolo Sorrentino and Constantine Giannaris, with screenings of their entire oeuvre.

The tribute to the New York-born indie director Driver will also include screenings of Jim Jarmusch?s ?Stranger Than Paradise? and ?Permanent Vacation,? which are the first two films Driver has produced.

A key member of the new wave of Danish cinema with Thomas Vinterberg and Per Fly, Madsen first made an impact at European art-house theaters in 2008 with his World War II drama ?Flame and Citron? and now presents his first stab at comedy, with ?SuperClassico,? which comes as the third part to the director?s so-called ?marriage trilogy,? after ?Kira?s Reason? and ?Prague.?

The intricacies of the human mind and psyche remain at the heart of the work of Italy?s Paolo Sorrentino, which includes the acclaimed and disturbing portrait of Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti ?Il Divo? and his most recent ?This Must Be the Place.? This is the director?s first English-language film and stars Sean Penn as an ageing rock star who tracks down a Nazi war criminal in order to avenge his father.

The tribute to Giannaris is a must, especially for non-Greeks, as it includes all of his short and 17 feature films for the first time in one single showcase. A filmmaker who has been exploring different genres since 1987, Giannaris is perhaps one of Greece?s best-known filmmakers outside the country of the past two decades, as he addresses themes such as identity, intolerance and displacement that are both poignant on a domestic level and resonate with international audiences. The tribute will further include the director?s cut of his recent tale of immigration, ?Man at Sea.?

The New Horizons section of the festival, compiled by Dimitris Eipidis from 1992 to 2005 and brought back to life this year as the renamed Open Horizons, is the event?s strongest card as it presents new trends in world cinema. The globetrotting section travels audiences to new, exciting and often dark places with over 50 films, including British actor Paddy Cosidine?s directorial debut ?Tyrannosaur,? the disturbing ?Michael? by Austria?s Markus Schleinzer — which was inspired by the chilling case of pedophile Georg Fritzl — and ?Terraferma? by Emanuele Crialese, which earned the Special Jury Prize at the 2011 Venice film festival.

Open Horizons will also include a tribute to the idiosyncratic Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl, with screenings of ?Dog Days? and ?Jesus, You Know,? among others.

Turkey features prominently in this year?s Balkan Survey section, which is comprised of nine films from around the region and another nine films by Erden Kiral in a tribute to the Turkish filmmaker and screenwriter.

Closing the TIFF on Sunday, November 13, is the psychological thriller ?Martha Marcy May Marlene,? the debut feature by Sean Durkin, winner of this year?s Sundance Directing Award.

Sideline events

Running in parallel to the screenings and presentations are a round-table discussion, a workshop and three exhibitions.

In the discussion, on the theme ?Shooting Through the Periphery,? Andrei Tanasescu (programer at the Toronto and Romanian film festivals), Katriel Schory (executive director of the Israel Film Fund) and Fenia Cossovitsa (producer at Blonde Audiovisual Productions) will address the obstacles and advantages of film production in their respective countries and explore the factors that have contributed to all three countries — despite their small size and complicated social conditions– succeeding in in recent years in leaving a mark on the international film scene.

The discussion will take place at the port complex?s John Cassavetes Theater on Wednesday, November 9, at 11 a.m.

At the same venue and time on the following Friday, Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl will present a workshop on his new project, ?Paradise,? which began as a plan for one film and eventually evolved into three different films that are currently in progress.

Art shows

?A World without Margins? is a photography exhibition by Spyros Staveris, running at the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography from Saturday, November 5.

Staveris has been one of the most distinguished magazine and portrait photographers in Greece since the 1990s. The exhibition, a retrospective of his work, reveals the lesser known aspects of his photography apart from his published work.

Staveris shoots anything and anywhere where life takes place: seedy music bars, the underground side of Athens, the religious festivals of the Greek islands, demonstrations and street happenings.

?Looking behind the Images — Photographs and writings from America? is another photography exhibition, by Rainer Simon.

On at the Goethe Institute Gallery from November 2-11, the exhibition is a chronicle of the journeys of the German filmmaker through South America while shooting 1988?s ?Ascent of Chimborazo,? a film about Alexander von Humboldt, the founder of modern geography, for East Germany?s DEFA Studio.

The exhibition includes photographs and film screenings from many of his Latin American travels, as well as Simons? writings about his experiences there.

Over at the French Institute, students from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki will be showing works of photography and video installations in an exhibition titled ?Rrose Selavy ou Eros c?est la vie,? from November 1-21.

The exhibition is inspired by a series of photographs by Man Ray in which artist Marcel Duchamp (who used Rrose Selavy as a pseudonym) is dressed as a woman.