Opening Nights expands, deepens

More plethoric than ever before, this year’s Opening Nights Athens International Film Festival, which kicked off last Friday and runs to September 25, is celebrating its second decade of operation in the knowledge that it has made a significant contribution to the capital’s cinema scene. Boasting numerous tributes, fresh ideas and new thematic units, the festival is breaking new ground, but without compromising its special character; one that has had Athenian films buffs flocking to the designated movie theaters each year. They are the Attikon, Apollon and Danaos I and II. The official competition section of the program comprises 15 entries vying for the festival’s three big prizes. Many of the films come to Athens already boasting awards, such as Rodrigo Garcia’s «Nine Lives» (Bronze Leopard from Locarno), Rebecca Dreyfus’s «Stolen» (Avignon) or Ilya Khrjanovsky’s «Four» (Rotterdam). In the meantime, the festival will also include master classes with Theo Angelopoulos today at 11.30 p.m., French actor Melvil Poupaud on Friday at 10.30 a.m. and Sally Potter on Saturday at 11.30 a.m. All classes are held at the French Institute auditorium (31 Sina, Kolonaki) and are free of charge. Independents The independent American cinema scene, despite recent signs of fatigue, is still producing interesting fare and Opening Nights also continues to screen these films which have, over the years, been very much a part of the festival’s overall identity. The films this year are «Down in the Valley» by David Jacobson, «The King» by James Marsh, «Hair High» by Bill Plympton, «Junebug» by Phil Morrison, «Crash» by Paul Haggis, «The Dying Gaul» by Craig Lucas and «When Will I Be Loved» by James Toback. The Panorama section of the festival features nine films from around the globe, including «The Syrian Bride» by Eran Riklis, «Tony Taketani» by Jun Ichikawa, «Bullet Boy» by Saul Dibb and Maria Blom’s «Dalecarlians.» Another interesting section is Music & Film: Pick Up Your Ears, which comprises the films «George Michael: A Different Story,» «Punk: Attitude,» «No Direction Home; Bob Dylan,» «Screaming Masterpiece,» «Young Rebels» and «Jeff Buckley: Amazing Grace.» The country tribute this year is to Greece with screenings, among others, of new productions by Nikos Grammatikos, Vangelis Seitanidis and Renos Haralambidis, as well as the surprise «Light Blue and Orange» by 14-year-old Stefanos Sitaras, or the Graziella Kanellou documentary «The Approaching of the Hour,» which focuses on the pop-rock scene of Greek bands using English lyrics, showcasing the group Raining Pleasure. There are also four large tributes at this year’s Opening Nights festival. Bugs Bunny creator Chuck Jones is represented by seven films, including «Kung-Fu Hustle,» «The Rocky Horror Picture Show» and «Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.» The late French director Jean Renoir is also honored with screenings of eight of his films, which highlight his versatility and strength. «The Southerner,» «Le regle du jeu,» «La bete humaine,» «La grande illusion,» «Le crime de Monsieur Lange,» «Une partie de campagne,» «Toni» and «La petite marchande des allumettes» show the attraction of controversial issues and of a non-conformist, modernist style of a filmmaker whose work became properly recognized only after his death. Korean director Kim Ki Duk will be presented with the films «Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring,» «Bad Guy,» «The Isle,» «The Birdcage Inn,» among others, while there is also a focus on the Brothers Quay. Born in Philadelphia USA, the London-based twins, Timothy and Stephen Quay, are two of the most sui generis film-makers working today. From the late 1970s to the present, their hallucinatory stop-motion animation shorts are irresistibly enticing. Better known for their 1986 short «Street of Crocodiles,» the brothers have also directed music videos for well-known performers and commercials, while in 1994 they directed their first live action feature film titled «Institute Benjamenta or This Dream People Call Human Life.» They have also designed the sets for plays and operas, and in 2002 created the dream sequence for Julie Taymor’s «Frida.» There is one special screening taking place this year, of the stunning 1964 film «I Am Cuba,» made with Soviet backing by Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov. Avant premieres A regular highlight at Opening Nights is the avant-premiere screenings of movies that will make it to mainstream theaters later in the year, such as Ron Howard’s «Cinderella Man,» Gus Van Sant’s «Last Days» and Jim Jarmusch’s «Broken Flowers,» among others. Having won a Grand Prix Prize from Cannes, «Broken Flowers» stars Bill Murray as the eternal bachelor and womanizer in a part written especially for him. Jilted by his last girlfriend, Murray’s character receives an anonymous letter informing him he that has a son. In trying to solve the puzzle, he works his way through a long and impressive list of former lovers played by Julie Delpy, Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swindon.