Thessaloniki doc fest returns with tribute to Austrian, Romanian filmmakers

Hubert Sauper and Alexandru Solomon are but a couple of the filmmakers heading to this year’s Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (TDF), according to organizers as they unveiled the lineup of tributes to be screened at the annual international festival in the northern port city, this year from March 13 to 22.

Ten years after his Oscar-nominated “Darwin’s Nightmare,” a riveting film on the fishing industry in Tanzania’s Lake Victoria, Sauper last year returned with another political work. In “We Come as Friends,” the 49-year-old Austrian filmmaker takes a look at the neocolonialist exploitation of South Sudan in the wake of independence – and does so flying in his homemade aircraft.

“I think that if you were to make a film about the state of our times, it would be about nothing more than economics,” the France-based director, writer and actor has said in an interview with Issue Magazine.

“Before it was more about the ideas, Marxism, etc. Now the bottom line is always the dollar. All human relations have been reduced to this sort of game, ‘I give to you, you give to me,’” said Sauper, who teaches film in Europe and the USA.

The Sauper tribute features three more works: Shot in 1993, “On the Road with Emil” tells the story of an old circus director as he travels with his troupe through the wintry Austrian landscape. “Kisangani Diary” documents the 1997 massacre of Rwanda refugees at the hands of the so-called liberating rebel army of the new “Democratic Republic” of Congo. The movie was released in 1998, four years before “Alone with Our Stories,” a collection of testimonies by female victims of domestic violence in France.

The Austrian will be joined in Thessaloniki by his colleague Solomon from Romania, also 49.

Drawing from interviews with a number of powerful magnates in post-communist Romania, Solomon’s most recent film, “Kapitalism: Our Improved Formula,” paints a portrait of a corruption-wracked country stuck in limbo between communism and capitalism. The film was released in 2010, three years after Solomon made “Cold Waves,” a documentary on Radio Free Europe, the US-funded broadcaster that spread anti-Soviet propaganda across Eastern Europe during the Cold War.

Communism under later-to-be-executed dictator Nicolae Ceausescu also served as a theme for Solomon’s 2004 film “The Great Communist Bank Robbery.” Solomon, who works as a filmmaker, cinematographer and producer, used interviews and archival material on a Romanian propaganda film inspired by a late-1950s bank robbery, later attributed to high-ranking members of the nomenklatura, to expose the absurdity of life behind the iron curtain.

“In the end, it is more important to understand there is no ultimate truth left after 45 years of propaganda,” Solomon has said about the movie. “I think despair leads people to the kind of gestures that aren’t logical at all.”

In the same lineup is 2008’s “Apocalypse on Wheels,” in which Solomon looks at how roads and traffic in his motherland also function as a metaphor for contemporary Romanian society – a theme bound to strike a chord with audiences here.

The Thessaloniki doc fest, now in its 17th year, will also host a tribute to German documentaries, offering a wide-ranging selection from the country’s recent crop, including “Katharine Hepburn – The Great Kate,” a portrait of the Hollywood icon by directors Andrew Davies and Rieke Brendel; Oswald von Richthofen’s “35 Cows and a Kalashnikov,” a lyrical tribute to the captivating beauty and sublime strength of the African continent; and Alexander Gentelev’s “Raiders,” an expose of the mafia network in Putin’s Russia.

More films and highlights are to be announced in the coming days.