Top names on film festival bill

In anticipation of an answer from their guest star Isabelle Huppert, the Thessaloniki International Film Festival organizers are putting the finishing touches to the screening program of the well-respected event, scheduled to take place from November 19-28. The festival has extended its invitation to the award-winning French actress, but they do not yet know whether her busy schedule will allow her to make an appearance. But the event will not be lacking in interest: There is much for cinema lovers to see this year, starting with the main retrospective, which focuses on the opus of the esteemed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, a friend of the festival of old and a regular visitor to Thessaloniki. Kiarostami has been widely credited with putting his country’s cinema production on the world map and giving his Iranian counterparts a voice in global cinema. A recipient of the highly coveted Palm d’Or at the 1997 Cannes International Film Festival for «A Taste of Cherry,» Kiarostami will be present at the festival himself to show and discuss the retrospective, which consists of 33 films ranging from his early shorts, to his first features film, «The Report» (1977), and his recent productions, such as «10» (2002), «Ten on 10» (2004) and «Five» (2004). The festival will also be publishing a study on Kiarostami’s work that will be on sale during the event. Tributes and highlights Other directors who have been invited by the festival to show their work are the visionary Spanish director Victor Erice and Japan’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa, an artist in the vanguard of new Japanese cinema. Erice is something of an oddity, partly due to the fact that since his earliest film, 1969’s «Challenges,» to the present, he has only made one film a decade. His latest, «Lifeline,» which forms part of the collective effort «Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet» (2002), is co-signed by the likes of Werner Herzog, Jim Jarmusch, Chen Kaige, Aki Kaurismaki, Spike Lee and Wim Wenders. On the other side of the productive spectrum, Kurosawa has directed an impressive 23 films since 1983, though the festival will only be showing some five or six titles, including «Cure,» which won him international acclaim in 1997, «License to Live» (1998), «Charisma» (1999) and «Kairo» (2001). These films highlight the influence Kurosawa has had on the boom of Asian thrillers – such as «The Ring,» «The Eye» and «The Curse» – internationally. Furthermore, on the international side of things, the festival organizers have put together a follow-up section of the 2001 tribute «Argentinean Cinema: A New Beginning» by taking five or six films (the exact number remains to be decided) by new or established Argentinean artists to showcase recent developments in the country’s blossoming film industry. Balkan Survey and Fund Another significant part of the festival, the Balkan Survey, is the section that has made the Thessaloniki International Film Festival a force in the region by presenting a diverse group of artists from all around the area. In further support of Balkan cinema artists, the festival also continues with its fast-growing Balkan Fund, a project aimed at ensuring seed money for new artists and creating a network for Balkan artists to meet with producers, distributors and other artists from around the world. The main parts of the international section of the festival are, as usual, the International Competition – a selection of 14-16 films compiled by festival director Michel Demopoulos, which will vie for the Golden and Silver Alexanders – and New Horizons, a selection of 30-plus titles representing the newest and most cutting-edge trends in worldwide film production. The full list of films that will make up these two sections will be announced within the next couple of weeks. On the local front, organizers have put together tributes to two Greek artists: Alexis Damianos, who has made only three films, but was considered a ground-breaking director in the 1960s, and Costas Sfikas, a self-taught veteran of experimental cinema, who tried his hand at documentary and fictional film, and who worked on the influential documentary «Dawn of Thera» with Stavros Tornes. The festival will also be publishing a monograph on Sfikas that will be presented at the event. Last, but not least, as far as the Greek Films 2004 section is concerned – the most interesting section regarding the local film industry – this year’s entries comprise 20 feature films and four documentaries that will compete for the National Cinema awards. Opening and closing films It is also worth noting that organizers just yesterday announced which films will be opening and closing the 45th Thessaloniki International Film Festival. Events begin on Friday, November 19, with a screening at the beautiful Olympion Cinema of «The Sea Within,» a 2004 Spanish-French-Italian production directed by Chilean Alejandro Amenabar. This drama about a man fighting a 30-year campaign in favor of euthanasia stars Javier Bardem, Belen Rueda and Lola Duenas and has already won three awards at the Venice Film Festival. The curtains will close on Sunday, November 28, with the award-giving ceremony, followed by a screening of Zhang Yimou’s 2004 production «House of the Flying Daggers.» Following the widespread success of «Hero,» the Chinese filmmaker returns to the myths of his country to recount the tale of two military agents trying to capture the new leader of a resistance group. The film received the Golden Rooster – China’s leading award in the film industry – for Best Art Direction.