After the films, time for evaluation

Now that the cold Thessaloniki winds have aired out the smell of celluloid from the dockside establishment of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, it is time to take count of what passed, to evaluate the festival and to start making plans for next year. In an interview with Kathimerini’s English Edition yesterday, the festival’s president, Michel Demopoulos, and the coordinator for the international competition, Alexis Grivas, expressed their joy at the festival’s success. This year was exceptional for the festival, said Demopoulos. Ten years ago we made a wager that a new adventure would start for the festival – the festival is 42 years old. Very few people believed that this could be achieved and they looked upon us with skepticism, even distrust. Thanks to a special love for the festival and for the challenge of developing it from a limited family-like affair to something that will have international standing, we believed that we could achieve this. We always knew that the results would take time to show themselves and we were vindicated both last year and this one. Quick proof of this success lies simply in the figures: Attendance this year rose from 68,000 visitors to 79,000, making the 42nd Thessaloniki International Film Festival the biggest ever held in Greece. Through its constant resolve to maintain a high standard, the festival also succeeded in attracting a larger number of foreign visitors and press officials this year than ever before and in getting broader coverage in prestigious foreign newspapers and journals. The festival no longer has anything to prove, argues Grivas. It has reached a level where it is broadly accepted and respected as an event of its caliber. Of course it is neither Venice nor Berlin, but within its ranks it is esteemed. The content of the festival has also expanded along with its audience, featuring myriad special screenings and tributes, geographical focuses and tributes to important artists. On the Greek level the festival was successful because we succeeded in bringing the public, which had abandoned the festival for many years, back, said Demopoulos. It is especially difficult to revive something. What is most touching though, is that the festival has gained the audience’s trust in its choice of films. The choices are not expected successes; they show new things no one has ever heard of, new styles, new names. This choice of films and the assurance that the public will have the opportunity to see interesting work by new artists and feel part of the evolution of the art of cinema, is both the real focus of festivals such as Thessaloniki’s and their greatest challenge. Finding the balance Many members of the public and press criticized the festival on the fact that only one Greek film competed in the international section, while others argue that the festival, by becoming international, undermines the efforts of the Greek cinema industry. This problem is very difficult to solve. It is a question of balance, explains Grivas. The festival started off as one of Greek cinema and then it became international; successfully as well. Like all festivals it has a section on domestic production. Some say that the Greek films are overshadowed by the international section, but it is exactly the opposite. I have received press cuttings from foreign publications talking about them. Some Greek directors say that Greek films are disappearing from the International Competition. This is true. But nonetheless, they still get much more coverage than they otherwise would, he adds. The conflict between the Greek and international sections of the festival is the most controversial issue haunting the organizers. Demopoulos expressed his pleasure at having seen a broad presentation of Greek cinema at the festival, although the Greek Film Center’s obligation to show all films of Greek production in 2000-2001 is, he says, a burden which we don’t always carry with joy. Despite the success of the festival in terms of public appeal, however, there was also an observable decline in the quality of films shown – a decline which was also obvious in mainstream film theaters over the past season. Even the international jury noted that on the whole content was stronger than form, and there was an absence of poetic cinema. Films are like wines, explains Demopoulos, and this was not a very good vintage year in general. Grivas seemed somewhat surprised at the outcome of the International Competition. I find the three prizes to the Israeli film [Dover Kosashvili’s Late Marriage, which received the Silver Alexander, Best Screenplay and one Best Actress award] was a bit too much, though I found it an interesting film. The Albanian film [Golden Alexander winner Tirana Year Zero by Fatmir Koci] was not a great film, but it did reflect the situation in Albania very well and it is quite daring. It might not be a film of great inspiration that could get the Golden Lion in Venice, but it did get the Golden Alexander in Thessaloniki. The president of the festival was especially pleased by the tributes and special events. The Boorman retrospective was very interesting, as was his master class. Of course, Boorman is a very approachable man and a visionary, said Demopoulos. Also, the tribute to Stavros Tornes was a very important gesture because it allowed young people to see the work of a great director whose films are no longer being shown. I was very satisfied to see that many of the foreign guests admired his work. I also enjoyed the screenings of great artists like David Lynch, Shohei Imamura and Manoel de Oliveira. They are famous filmmakers and, though they are not young, they are still very experimental and they reflect the level and type of film we would like the festival to have. They also represent a level of aspiration for young artists. Grivas, on the other hand, would like to see fewer parallel events at next year’s festival. I think there are too many of them. There is too much to see. I would like the festival to remain within the limits that allow it to preserve its humanistic character. I am not convinced that so many films need to be shown. Plans for next year Next year, says Demopoulos, responding to the growth in audience numbers, we would like to have more screenings. This year, most of them were sold out by midday so we would like to start morning showings, just like they do at all the big festivals. I would also like to see it becoming a Panhellenic festival, not just a Thessaloniki event. For example, we could help people from around Greece attend by making special ticket price deals and helping them find accommodation. We also hope to become even better in our organization because we are going to apply a new software program designed especially for film festivals. This ought to help smooth out the technical and organizational problems we had this year. Some time ago I had set an aim to reach 100,000 viewers and I think that with a few changes, we will be able to reach this target.

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