Film buffs are getting set again for the annual trip to the Thessaloniki Film Festival, which this year, its 44th, runs from November 21-30. Having grown in prestige and size over the years, the festival, which began at the Olympion Cinema in Aristotelous Square and later expanded to embrace the port warehouse complex, has grown into a city-wide affair with screenings in mainstream theaters, exhibitions at the city’s museums and galleries, and parties at its many nightclubs. The festival has also extended its reach beyond Thessaloniki’s center to other parts of northern Greece with screenings in Kavala, Alexandroupolis, Florina, Grevena and Polygyros. The International Competition, put together by festival director Michel Demopoulos, comprises 14 first or second films by new and emerging directors. This year’s theme is women filmmakers and their struggle for emancipation. Other sections of the festival include the Balkan Survey, tributes to Otar Iosseliani, Wong Kar Wai, Joao Cesar Monteiro, Nikos Panayiotopoulos, a section titled Stars of the Steppe – which is composed of 27 films by directors from central Asia – and, of course, the recent and highly popular Balkan Fund event, which is meant to encourage script development in countries of the region. The first grants will be announced by an international jury during the first weekend following a three-day pitching session by the directors/screenwriters of the 11 selected projects. Main sections On an international scale, the festival’s main focus is the International Competition, which comprises 14 films vying for the golden and silver Alexander awards that are accompanied by a sizable purse. The international jury will be presided over by Georgian director Otar Iosseliani and photography director Walter Lassaly from the UK, while other members include actress Tamila Kulieva (Greece-Russia), directors Jafar Panahi (Iran), Xiaoshuai Wang (China) and Jean-Francois Amiguet (Switzerland), as well as film critic Samir Farid (Egypt). The widely popular New Horizons section, curated by Dimitris Eipides, offers a 45-title selection. Apart from its main section, highlights include tributes to Canada’s Michael Snow and Japan’s Shinya Tsukamoto. The tribute to Snow, one of the most acclaimed avant-garde artists, will consist of 10 of his films and an exhibition, «Selections from the Spectrum,» to take place at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art. Tsukamoto, the prolific filmmaker of «cult-entertainment» films (a self-styled term patented by the director himself), such as «Tetsuo: The Iron Man» and «Tokyo Fist,» will be represented by five of his most famous films. On a local level, the Thessaloniki Film Festival is often the event that «makes or breaks» Greece’s filmmakers. Required by law to screen all national films produced during the year, the festival will be showing 23 narrative films and five full-length documentaries, the best of which will, on Sunday, November 30, be nominated for the National Cinema Awards. Encouraged by the positive response from international guests, the festival’s Greek Film Department and the Market Screenings for local productions will operate for the third consecutive year, reserved for international film business executives and the foreign press present in Thessaloniki. A tribute to the award-winning Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai consists of screenings of the films: «As Tears Go By» (1988), «Days of Being Wild» (1990), «Ashes of Time» (1994), «Chungking Express» (1994), «Fallen Angels» (1995), «Happy Together» (1997) and «In the Mood for Love» (2000); as well as the ads for Lacoste (France, 2001) and BMW (USA, 2001), a music video titled «Six Day War» (China, 2002), and the documentaries «Buenos Aires Zero Degree» (China, 1999) and «Chris Doyle: Stirred not Shaken» (Australia, 2001). «Chris Doyle: Stirred not Shaken» is an Australian Film Financing Corporation portrait of the celebrated director of photography that highlights his longtime association with Wong Kar Wai. The Thessaloniki Film Festival has also organized an exhibition at the Mylos arts complex gallery, titled «Why I am not a Painter,» of Doyle’s photo-collages from the director’s films where Doyle served as DOP. The exhibition includes material from Wong Kar Wai’s new film, «2046,» which is currently in post-production. Visual treats A five-film presentation from the archives of the prestigious French Cinematheque is something else to look out for while in Thessaloniki. «L’Hirondelle et la Mesange» by Andre Antione (1920), «India, Matri Bhumi» by Roberto Rossellini (1959), «Saga of Anatahan» by Joseph von Sternberg (1953), «Wild Oranges» by King Vidor (1924) and «An-Nil Oual Hayat» by Youssef Chahine (1968) have all either been fully restored recently or are brand-new prints. Another recently restored film, «Astero,» a classic 1929 Greek silent movie by the late Michalis Gaziades, will be the object of a special presentation accompanied by live music performed by members of the Orchestra of Colors and singer Savina Yiannatou. More treats are in store in the Special Screenings section which showcases new movies that have not yet reached Greece’s mainstream theaters. These are «A Talking Picture» by Manoel de Oliveira, «Last Life in the Universe» by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, «Drifters» by Wang Xiaoshuai, «Good Morning Night» by Marco Bellocchio, «The Story of Marie and Julien» by Jacques Rivette, «Youthful Dreams» by Marco Tullio Giordana, and «Elephant» by Gus van Sant. The festival kicks off on Friday, November 21, with Takeshi Kitano’s «Zatoichi,» while Jim Sheridan’s «In America» will close the event during the awards gala on Saturday, November 29. Additional screenings of the prize-winning films and films from the retrospectives and tributes will be held on Sunday, November 30. For more information on the Thessaloniki Film Festival, visit its website (www.filmfestival.gr).