THESSALONIKI – It is all starting to come together here as the Thessaloniki International Film Festival enters its second half and the bitter cold of the weekend gives way to the welcoming November sun. After a rather sluggish start, the beautifully renovated port complex that houses the festival’s headquarters and where most of the films are screened is starting to buzz with cinema lovers and artists – now arriving in droves to attend the awards ceremonies – as well as special events and parties being organized for the last four days of the festival. Of the 186 films that have been shown in total at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival this year, there are 12 that cinema buffs are keeping a close eye on to see who will walk away with the festival’s top prizes: The Golden Alexander, with a 37,000-euro purse, and the Silver Alexander, worth 22,000 euros – a substantial boost for directors in the International Competition, all of whom are presenting their first or second feature film. The decisions rest in the hands of a strong international jury, this year presided over by a formidable director, the groundbreaking Hungarian auteur Miklos Jancso, who tackled Monday’s press conference with humor, reluctant to give out too many tips as to how he sees the competition. On the matter at hand, Jancso said, «We have the power to judge young directors, but we cannot. My young colleagues are very talented. I see all these films and scenarios and find that the young directors are really fantastic.» Other members of the panel include the celebrated Italian painter Valerio Adami; internationally acclaimed Canadian-Armenian actress Arsinee Khanjian, who is best known for numerous collaborations with her husband; director Atom Egoyan; the esteemed Greek film critic Yiannis Bakoyiannopoulos; American film director Alexander Payne (his first feature film «Citizen Ruth» won Best Screenplay at the 37th Thessaloniki International Film Festival); producer Donald K. Ramvaud, whose credits include «Farewell My Concubine» and «City of God,» and lastly, film critic, alternate director of the cinema club of New York’s Lincoln Center and editor-at-large at Film Comment, Kent Jones. One of the main issues at the panel’s press conference was that of a European cinema identity. Jones argues: «It would be very difficult to talk about European cinema as a whole, because there are many different trends. But in opposition to American cinema, which has flooded the world, I am always thankful that there are films being made in a different way without an emphasis on the technology, the financial machine you see in the United States.» Expanding on the subject of the global domination of American films, Payne, an American himself, provided a different point of view. «You have to remember one thing: In America, we don’t really have films about Americans, American films. We also suffer from not having films truly about people. I think that one thing that is kept alive in European cinema is that which is about human beings.» Septuagenarian painter Adami explained the hold cinema exercises over people, especially the early generations of cinema-goers, and also addressed the issue of a European cinema identity. «My generation was bred on the cinema. It was a generation that grew up during the war. It was a generation that learned everything from cinema. In my time, the cinema was dubious. If we brought a young lady to the cinema, she was compromised. Cinema was new, without memory, and at the time, we were looking for stories without memories. European cinema remains one that relies on the story of images, on allegory and metaphor.» Khanjian, the only woman serving on the jury, commented on the «indisputable femininity of cinema,» going on to discuss how films made by women are often referred to as «feminine cinema.» «We make this distinction. It is a very generous effort to put it that way, but still, the fact that we do talk about it that way, as if it is altogether another activity, remains very strange to me.» The issue of American studio domination over international film production and distribution, effectively a form of cultural hegemony, however, is where events such as the Thessaloniki International Film Festival step in. Their role is an educational one, as they bring films that rarely see domestic distribution to audiences and organize events and activities to help the public understand art cinema better. On the other hand, the festival acts as a mediator, boosting art-house filmmakers so that they may one day insinuate themselves, and their ideas and style, onto the international arena of cinema. «If you look at the catalogs of the festival’s history, the films that went through the competition stage, new films, by young people, you will notice that many of the directors are today established internationally and the awards they got here represented their first steps along that course,» said Greek critic Bakoyiannopoulos. On an optimistic note for Greek cinema, producer Ramvaud said that the Thessaloniki International Film Festival and the Greek Film center are helping Greek films to develop an international reputation.