‘Think locally, act globally’

Art and politics are inextricable parts of the daily agenda of any film festival director. He or she must carefully navigate the rough waters of personal egos, infighting, niggling practical obstacles and complex issues in which a balance must be struck on a variety of levels (social, financial and political). Moritz de Hadeln, who was for years at the helm of two major international film festivals, those of Venice and Berlin, a short while ago said to the magazine Screen International that often the role of festival director is split in two: artistic director on the one hand, organizer on the other. «I do not agree with this,» he is quoted as saying. «The best is to have one group in which each person has his own responsibility. But the director should have the final say.» This has been the organizational structure followed by Thessaloniki International Film Festival Director Michel Demopoulos; for the last 12 years, he has been in charge of the largest cinema event in the Balkans. From the director’s seat, he has a lot to contend with, not least of which is the dilemma between promoting new talent or putting together a program that’s attractive and original. He has many hurdles to overcome and so far has managed to do so while also keeping a steady hand on the wheel. Successful course Comments from the international press have confirmed the successful course of an institution that dragged Greek cinema out of the shadows and onto the map of international cinema. Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis is expected to make announcements of the government’s plans for boosting the local cinema industry and on planned changes to the festival and to the Greek Film Center. [These announcements are anticipated amid rumors at last November’s Thessaloniki International Film Festival that Demopoulos will be replaced before the end of his tenure and that the festival will once more take on a local character.] Kathimerini got in touch with the directors of two of the world’s biggest festivals – Dieter Kosslick (referred to below as D.K.) of the Berlin International Film Festival and Marco Mueller (referred to below as M.M.) of Venice – to get their views on the Thessaloniki festival. How significant is the Thessaloniki International Film Festival on an international level? D.K.: Thessaloniki is the city of Alexander the Great and a city with great cultural heritage and wealth. In this context, the festival plays a significant role. As a European festival that enjoys an excellent reputation internationally, it closely monitors the evolution of global cinema. Focusing on independent and European cinema, it has created a unique profile that attracts both professionals in the field from around the world and local audiences. M.M.: I have been closely following the Thessaloniki festival ever since it went international. From the beginning, and after talking with Michel [Demopoulos], I was of the opinion that the Balkans should have a festival of high standards. And I think that Michel has succeeded, over the years, in establishing the festival as the focal point of the Balkans in terms of cinema. He took a festival that had a clearly local character and made it international. Year by year, the reputation of the Thessaloniki festival continues to grow, especially since it acquired such wonderful venues [the Olympion cinema and the refurbished port authority warehouse complex]. How much do you think an international festival depends on the character of its director? D.K.: The real «stars» of a festival are its films. The director can create a program that stands out, has originality and variety only when he is a person filmmakers and producers trust. Without a specific artistic orientation – and this is entirely the job of the director – a film festival ends up becoming a commercial extravaganza. M.M.: Festivals in general have a very abstract identity, unless they have a very specific plan of action. Michel and his associates, Dimitris Eipidis, Alexis Grivas and others, are all working very systematically and doing so toward the same end, achieving that which seemed impossible 12 years ago: a film festival of international caliber in Thessaloniki. Greek cinema What place should local production hold at an international festival? D.K.: Think locally, act globally. It is important for a festival to present local productions as well. Festivals must reflect a connection to the location in which they are held, to its cultural traditions and, therefore, to the films that are made in the country. M.M.: I think that Michel has succeeded in presenting the variety of Greek cinema, juxtaposing the work of established artists, by organizing tributes to them with young and promising artists. At Thessaloniki, I was able to form an informed opinion of Greek cinema, to distinguish the changes it has undergone over the years and see its variety. I just think, and I know that this is an opinion shared by Michel, that the presentation of new local productions has to be selective so that a foreign visitor to the festival will see the newest things Greek cinema has to offer. This interview was translated from the Greek text.