A hint of sameness at Salonica film fest

At a lukewarm press conference held yesterday at noon at the Goethe Institute in central Athens, the new management of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival announced the highlights of this year’s event, running from November 18-27. Despite promises of radical changes in content and focus last May – when the new management succeeded the old in a politically charged takeover – this year’s program, or what was announced of it, follows much the same lines as previous festivals, though festival director Despina Mouzaki said that changes will become apparent over the next few years, arguing that the management had little time to fully implement its new policies. However, it is worth noting that the management is backed by many of the previous management’s associates in integral programming positions. The new president of the festival, French-Greek actor Georges Corraface – whose participation was announced in late August, following the controversial resignation of appointed president Pantelis Voulgaris – was optimistic about the event this year. «I accepted the position for the adventure. And it is an adventure,» he said. «It is like a train that is going forward very fast, with many different cars and many different people riding in the cars.» The 46th Thessaloniki International Film Festival is structured along the usual lines of an international competition section, though the jury has yet to be finalized. The main sections include a segment on independent filmmakers titled Independence Days, a series of tributes to specific filmmakers featuring a representative example of their overall oeuvre, national focuses, the Balkan Survey, the Balkan Fund, master classes, exhibitions, and a forum for producers, directors and distributors to exchange ideas and network. The tributes in the Independence Days section are to established filmmakers Kim Ji Woon and the veteran Japanese director Seijun Suzuki, while there will also be a presentation of the work of three young filmmakers – Miranda July, Jerome Bonnell and Andrew Bujalski – in the Someone to Watch section. In the Balkan Survey, which presents the region’s most recent output, the honored figure this November will be Turkish director Kutlug Ataman. Most interestingly, the Spotlights on Masters series will present selected work by Hou Hsiao Hsien, Patrice Chereau, Michael Winterbottom and Vittorio Storaro, while the country focuses are on Mexico, Denmark and Ireland. The political hot potato this year, however, has been the new management’s strategy toward the Greek film industry. In May, Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis had vowed to shift the festival’s focus back to local productions, raising concerns that the international character of the festival, which has been painstakingly built over the years, would be put in jeopardy. However, at yesterday’s press conference, Mouzaki said that «a festival, as successful as it may be, cannot solve the problems of the national industry.» While noting the issues plaguing the Greek film industry – such as the absence of a film school, a hostile working environment, poor infrastructure, etc – the director of the festival fielded questions regarding the management’s policy on the Greek section and was unable to announce the bill for this year, pending a Culture Ministry decision. Another issue left vague was the future of the Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival, held each spring and run by Dimitris Eipidis, whose absence from November’s event (he used to organize the highly popular New Horizons section) does cast some doubt over his working relationship with the new management. Another press conference is expected to take place on October 31 in Thessaloniki, when more details will be released.