Documentary festival kicks off in Thessaloniki

The Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (TDF), Greece’s biggest film gathering dedicated to fact-finding features, kicked off its ten-day program in the rainy northern port city on Friday with a topical movie highlighting Europe’s anti-austerity protests and social malaise.

Using footage shot in Spain, France and Greece, director Tony Gatlif employs a fictional character, a young illegal alien from Africa, to demonstrate the social turmoil sparked by the Continent’s economic meltdown. But the French-Algerian’s docudrama ?Indignados,? which was shown in front of a packed Olympion theater, failed to inspire. The pretty pictures and XL dose of symbolism in the hybrid film did not manage to disguise its na??ve shallowness and awkward ambivalence between what is real and what is staged.

The 14th edition of TDF, which runs March 9 through March 18, is this year showcasing some 185 films from more than 40 countries coupled with a rich selection of parallel events including master classes, exhibitions, and roundtable discussions.

Like previous years, the line-up is divided in a number of categories — human rights, views of the world, music, portraits, recordings of memory, stories to tell, Greek docs, habitat and docs for kids. The event this year has a double focus, showcasing documentaries by globe-trotting Danish cinematographers as well as their more regionally-minded Balkan counterparts.

Speaking at opening night, festival director Dimitris Eipidis hailed the transformative power of documentary films. ?Documentaries help cast a clear-eyed look beyond commonly-held wisdoms,? said Eipidis, who founded the festival in 1999.

Organizers have chosen to highlight the career of award-winning director Eyal Sivan, showing seven of his 19 works. Known for his controversial takes on contemporary Israeli identity and the Mideast conflict, the Haifa-born and London-based filmmaker, who interestingly started his career as a fashion photographer, is back in town for the screening of his latest film ?Common State,? a world premier.

Greece’s debt crisis, now in its third year, has taken a hefty toll on the festival which has this year been put together thanks to a big chunk of European Union funds.

The nation’s financial woes have naturally hijacked the interest of homegrown documentarists who are in Thessaloniki with six features — including ?Krisis? by Nikos Katsaounis and Nina Maria Paschalidou, based on material from ?The Prism GR2011? multimedia project, and TV journalist Stelios Kouloglou’s ?Oligarchy.?

On Friday Eipidis confirmed that a 470 films will be available at this year?s Doc Market, while some 60 buyers will be attending from Europe, the United States and Canada.

Organizers have launched a free iPhone app offering access to the full film program, directions and real-time movie ratings and comments. The Twitter hashtag for the festival is #tdf14.

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