CULTURE

Dimitris Eipides: New Horizons out of place in new scheme of things

Dimitris Eipides, former director of the New Horizons section of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, wooed people into movie theaters by showing them how to discover new talent and discern innovation. He started his journey in film with the Montreal International Film Festival, which he introduced in 1971 as a Greek immigrant in Canada. From there, he went to the Toronto festival, where he has served as program director for the past 18 years. In 1992, he was invited by then-director of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival Michel Demopoulos to run a program in parallel to the festival. New Horizons was the fruit of this collaboration, and it has grown over the years into the most popular section of the festival, especially among young filmgoers. Over 70,000 people have attended New Horizons screenings since 1992. On Monday last week, the new director of the festival, Despina Mouzaki, announced that New Horizons was no longer on the festival’s bill and said that Eipides would be staying on as an adviser. Eipides responded with a letter of resignation. He had already said this spring that he was planning to leave. But in his letter, he said he disagreed with «the intentions and aims of the new management.» The coup de grace from Mouzaki came when she later announced that the annual Thessaloniki Documentary Festival – which Eipides conceived and has run with growing success for the past eight years every spring – was also going to be subject to the same regime as the film festival. Kathimerini met with Eipides to get his take on this turn of events. Is your leaving a resignation or a dismissal? It’s a matter of interpretation. Officially, it’s a resignation. The new management certainly had no intention of finding a solution that would be satisfactory to me. I asked for certain improvements. I discussed these with them, but they did not accept. I also discussed a few changes to the documentary festival. Very little was achieved. What I gather from Ms Mouzaki’s letter is that I am being «punished» through the documentary festival. In your letter you said that you disagreed with «the intentions and aims of the new management.» How do you expect to leave one section (New Horizons) and stay on in the other (documentary festival)? It’s quite simple. I only organized one part of the November film festival. Under the directorship of Michel Demopoulos, the festival’s program focused on international cinema, creative trends, artistic appreciation of cinema, and the quest for new ideas. New Horizons shared the same identity. It complemented the program. Under the new management, the viewpoint has changed. The direction is very different. They are gravitating toward having a festival that focuses on the Greek film industry, on co-productions, on the product and the industry. This is unfamiliar territory to me. I believe that cinema is art. I believe the role of a festival to be educational, to improve quality of life, to contribute to the cultural evolution of cinema. I’m afraid that New Horizons would have been completely out of place in the new scheme of things. The intentions of the new management were made public by Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis on March 31. Why did it take you so long to reach a final decision? I made my decision in early April, right after the last documentary festival. The management asked me to delay announcing it so I would not fuel the fire it was feeling at the time. I accepted and said nothing. All of a sudden, two Mondays ago, when I got back from a trip to Russia, I learned that Ms Mouzaki had announced my resignation at a press conference and had said that I would be staying on as an adviser at the festival. A few days ago she asked me if I would be interested in organizing a tribute, as many other associates of hers are doing. I was deeply insulted. I am not 20 years old. I have been in this business for decades. I think the intention was quite clear: They wanted to push me away. And maybe that makes sense. After all, Ms Mouzaki has every right to give the festival whatever character she sees fit. Was leaving it painful to you? Of course. It was a nightmare. First of all, I love Thessaloniki. I love this audience; I have lived with them for 13 years. I would go into the theater to watch a film again and again. And I tried something that had never been done in Greece. I tested the potential here of a very cutting-edge type of cinema: The films were innovative, daring, challenging. They were all independent productions, frequently by unknown directors. I remember the huge queues lining up outside the theaters. Twice the police had to come and restore order when we were showing films from Kazakhstan and Cuba. I remember a moment with a Cuban director showing his first film. We had to elbow our way into the theater. When we got in, his eyes welled up with tears. He had never seen so many people. Do you think you created an audience? Absolutely. And if we had continued to do so, we would have in Thessaloniki an audience with a refined education in cinema and a good feel for quality. What frightens me is this sense of going back in time rather than moving ahead. It makes me very sad indeed. The new government has every right to change management in these positions. Of course it does. I just wish the transition has been done more logically, with more finesse, better etiquette. You can’t just dismiss a man of Theo Angelopoulos’s stature in that way. I agree that there should be a new air in the festival, but not that it should change course so entirely. Why do you think the festival is going back to the past? I don’t feel as sure as I did when Michel Demopoulos was at the helm. He is very well educated in cinema. He has the knowledge of the historian and the critic. He has a very definite point of view and excellent intuition. My respect for Demopoulos does not mean that we haven’t had our run-ins over the years, nor does it cancel out our disagreements. Just think about what the festival was before he took it on and see what he made of it. Remember the empty theaters, the lack of respect for the institution. [Iranian filmmaker Abbas] Kiarostami once told me than when he came to Thessaloniki in 1992, he presented one of his films to an audience of five or 10 people. Two years later, the queue to get in to another one of his films was so long that he thought the theater was showing an American blockbuster. I am waiting to see what Ms Mouzaki will do. I wish her the best of luck, sincerely, because the festival is very important to Greece.