Greek cinema celebrates centennial at Thessaloniki film fest

In 1914 Costas Bachatoris adapted a novel by Spyros Peresiadis to produce “Golfo,” a bucolic drama that became Greece’s first-ever feature-length fictional film. During the coming days, the 55th Thessaloniki International Film Festival – opening Friday and running through November 9 – will be celebrating the centennial of Greek cinema with a retrospective made up of fan selections from a list of 200 films representing the highs and lows of domestic film production.

With the exception of a few selections, the fans seem to have got it right too: the retrospective includes some of the most exciting, cutting-edge and thought-provoking works that the country’s filmmakers have produced in the past 100 years. “Golfo” did not make the cut, but Greek cinema lovers will have the opportunity to trace the different trends that marked domestic production, from Alekos Alexandrakis’s “Synoikia to Oneiro” (1961), Alexis Damianos’s “Evdokia” (1971) and Theo Angelopoulos’s landmark “Traveling Players” (1975) to works that address modern societal issues, such as Constantinos Giannaris’s “From the Edge of the City” (1998), and on to the new generation of filmmakers (Panos Koutras’s “Strella”) and those who heralded what has been dubbed “weird Greek cinema” (Yorgos Lanthimos “Dogtooth”). The Greek greats are on the list – Nikos Koundouros (“The Dragon”), Pantelis Voulgaris (“It’s a Long Road,” “Little England”), Michael Cacoyannis (“Stella”) and Tonia Marketaki (“The Price of Love”) – along with filmmakers who pushed the boundaries to explore the surreal and the avant-garde, such as Nikos Nikolaidis (“Sweet Gang”), and those who stuck to more conventional routes to produce films inspired by Greek history and aimed at a wider audience (Tassos Boulmetis “A Touch of Spice”). The omission of Costa-Gavras comes as something of a surprise, though he is considered a French rather than Greek filmmaker. 

The 55th TIFF has also put together a tribute in its Balkan Survey section – a staple at the event showcasing production in the region – to Serbian filmmaker Zelimir Zilnik, the only surviving proponent of the critical Yugoslav Black Wave movement of the 1960s and early 70s. The tribute includes films that marked his career – either by earning him international acclaim or by prompting the ire of the censors, sometimes both – as well as more recent work which since the start of 2000 has focused on issues pertaining to immigration.

In other tributes to prominent artists, the film festival will honor Hanna Schygulla with a special ceremony at the Olympion Theater, starting at 8.30 p.m. on Friday, November 7, during which the German chanteuse and muse of Rainer Werner Fassbinder will be presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. She will also perform live before a screening of short films she either directed herself or starred in. Hungarian filmmaker Kornel Mundruczo, winner of the Grand Prix in the “Un Certain Regard” section at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, will also be present at this year’s festival with “White God,” which has been selected as the event’s curtain-raiser on Friday. The tribute to his work will further include four more of his feature films. Another exciting tribute is to Ramin Bahrani, an influential director of American independent cinema hailed by the late Roger Ebert as “the director of the decade” for his 2007 drama “Chop Shop.” Absurdist Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson is also the subject of a tribute with screenings of “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence,” “Giliap,” “Songs from the Second Floor,” “Swedish Love Story” and “You, The Living.”


Fun facts


* Costas Bachatoris’s 1914 romantic drama “Golfo,” Greece’s first domestic, feature-length fictional film, cost 100,000 drachmas to produce but failed to make an impact at the box office, leading to the closure of Bachatoris’s production company.

* Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos was so delighted by Dimitris Gaziadis’s “Astero,” first screened in 1929, that he decided to reduce the tax on Greek films from 30 to 10 percent.

* In 1939, Filopimin Finos, the prolific producer and founder of Finos Films, which backed 175 films during the so-called Golden Era of Greek cinema, shot his first and only feature, “The Parting Song,” in 1939. It was the first Greek talkie to be recorded exclusively in a Greek studio.

* In 1948, Giorgos Tzavellas’s comedy “Marinos Kontaros” became the first Greek film to travel to an international festival, while in 1954, Grigoris Thalassinos (aka Gregg Tallas) became the first Greek filmmaker to win an international award, taking first prize at the Edinburgh Film Festival for “Barefoot Battalion.”

* When Michael Cacoyannis’s “Electra” was screened at Cannes in 1962, Hollywood heavyweight Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer invited its producer, Filopimin Finos, to join the company after being impressed by the film’s technical qualities. He declined.

* Theo Angelopoulos’s 1975 screening of “The Traveling Players” at Cannes earned him a standing ovation. German filmmaker Werner Herzog was in the audience and kneeled in front of Angelopoulos to kiss his feet. [Kathimerini English Edition]

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