Stripping reality down as art faces life’s truths

Now in its fourth year, the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival welcomes those cinephiles with a proclivity for realism from today to March 11 in a weeklong celebration of one of cinema’s most controversial and provocative genres. «The role of the documentary is to strip reality down,» explained the director of the festival, Dimitris Eipides, in an interview with Kathimerini English Edition last week. «What we see on television is a lie, fanfare that really deals with nothing important… In documentary, someone is saying something, they are making a clear proposal and creating a dialogue. Documentary is the purest form of communication, and that’s the role of an event like the festival.» Though still quite new, the documentary festival – launched in 1999 by the organizers of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival which takes place every November – has succeeded in becoming a prominent event both on the national and international level. It features over 80 full-length works of film or video and attracts – according to last year’s figures – over 15,000 spectators to the Olympion complex in the city’s Aristotelous Square. «The festival is now in its fourth year. It was very important for me to give documentary a place on the festival scene. Even in this brief period, the documentary festival has succeeded in becoming somewhat important,» said Eipides proudly. «It is talked about at other festivals, gets good press coverage and has wide access to many television stations.» This year the festival’s main themes are separated into the following sections: «Views of the World,» «Portraits – Human Journeys,» «Habitat,» «Recording Memory» and «Stories to Tell.» Each provides a different approach to matters of social interest, either with a contemporary or historical perspective, or through personal testimonies. The festival also presents a special program titled «Children of a Harsh Reality» comprising 11 films dedicated to highlighting the plight of children in developing countries. It includes a one-day conference on Wednesday dealing with the rights of children, a video-conference on Friday with special guest linguist/sociologist Noam Chomsky and a telethon on Friday on state channels NET and ET3 to raise support for Afghan refugee children. «The whole festival has this kind of human-centered character. I am interested in minorities, ecological problems, national identity; in man when his means of expression are removed, when his rights are ignored, when the basic reference points in life are taken away,» said Eipides, explaining his selection and clinging to an ideology that has driven him throughout his life. While an oddly refreshing blast of real life, the festival lineup is also, by and large, a dark reminder of problems and issues that are unsolved and growing, even to the extent that it may seem off-putting to a large section of the public. «It doesn’t need to be, and that’s what I’m trying to prove with the festival: that documentaries can also be very entertaining and very touching,» said the director by way of comfort. «I see it in the faces of the audience at Thessaloniki. They laugh, cry and think about what they are watching.» On a business level, the festival provides a rare opportunity for Greece’s documentary-makers to meet with representatives of television production companies and sell either their ideas or their films. One of these events is the Pitching Forum, in which artists appear before a panel of representatives from television companies around the world and present ideas they have for future documentaries. The representatives evaluate the proposals and, if they accept them, commit to their production. This year, for example, the festival will screen several documentaries which were made as a result of previous forums. Eipides has also organized the Doc Market, a NET-funded venture that brings together artists, producers and distributors. «I felt like I had to do this,» he said. «All these people come and show their work and what do I have to offer them? The least I can do is provide a new outlet, a financial one. Thessaloniki is well placed, right in the center of the Balkans, surrounded by countries with television stations which need to create a program, but don’t have enough money to go to Canada or the USA to buy documentary films. The artists find some reward for their work and the breadth of films produced widens when they know that there is a market abroad for them.» Another original aspect of the festival lies with the presentation of Greek documentaries. Thirty in number, 23 of them are complete, thematically varied works, while the remaining seven are works in progress. The artists will be present at the screening of portions of their films to discuss with the audience approaches to their completion. The surprises do not end here. Festival-goers will also have the opportunity to enjoy a three-documentary film tribute to the eccentric German filmmaker Werner Herzog, a presentation of the work of American photographer and documentary filmmaker Bruce Weber, a selected filmography of Germany’s Monika Treut showcasing her exceptional handling of transgressive subjects, and an all-night marathon of the most popular films shown during the festival. The festival promises to offer a week of sensations and emotions, covering many different themes, approaches and topics. «I created something from my experience and now I have to help it grow anyway I can,» concluded the festival’s founder. The films Awarded documentaries: «Elsewhere,» «Howrah Howrah,» «Daughter from Danang,» «Hamsaran-e Haj-Abbas,» «Sister Helen,» «Senorita Extraviata» and «Children of Shadows.» Stories to Tell: «Fatherless,» «The Lovers of San Fernando,» «Thieves’ World,» «Missing Allen,» «Good Husband, Dear Son,» «Sumud,» «Daddy & Pappa,» «La Deviniere,» «Kurdistan: Off the Map,» «Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House,» and «Daughter from Danang.» Views of the World: «Elsewhere,» «The Idle Ones,» «The Island of Lost Children,» «The Back of the World,» «The Land of Wandering Souls,» «Seeing is Believing,» «Aftermath: The Remnants of the War,» «In Cane for Life» and «Beneath the Borqa in Afghanistan.» Habitat: «Herdsmen,» «Howrah, Howrah,» «Fuente Alamo, the Caress of Time,» «Roof on the Moonway,» «Bearded Vulture: The High Mountain Hermit,» «Birds,» «March of Time,» «Vanished with Water» and «Asta.» Recording Memories & Portraits: «Lalee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton,» «The Pinochet Case,» «Gosta and Lennart,» «Missing Young Woman,» «Kiki,» «Sister Helen,» «The Execution of Wanda Jean,» «Hamsaran e Haj Abbas,» «Omia,» «Stratis Tsirkas,» «The Painter Pol. Georgiou,» «Marlene Dietrich – Her Own Song» and «Uncle Frank.» Diversions & Children’s Focus: «Start Up.Com,» «Queens Don’t Lie,» «The Cockettes,» «Orlan, Carnal Art,» «Good Rocking Tonight,» «Runaway,» «Children of Shadows,» «Imit Ikula,» «Nisha,» «Children of Kosovo 2000,» «Close to Home,» «Promises,» «Casual Lives,» «Afghan Alphabet,» «A Child’s Century of War» and «Children’s Stories.» Spotlights: «The Land of Silence and Darkness,» «Fata Morgana» and «My Best Fiend: Klaus Kinsky,» by Werner Herzog, «Gentle Giants,» «Chop Seuey,» «Broken Noses» and «Let’s Get Lost» by Bruce Weber, and «Female Misbehavior,» «Didn’t Do It for Love,» «Gendernauts» and «Warrior of Light» by Monika Treut. Greek documentary section: «The Song of Life,» «Words of Silence,» «An Encomium of Slowness,» «Guardians of Time,» «The Death Match,» «Hail Proud and Immortal Labor,» «Odyssey: A Journey of Passion,» «Never Lose Sight of the Light,» «,» «Athanasios Christopoulos: A Forgotten Poet,» «Sailing Souls,» «Employed by Life,» «The Dance of the Horses,» «Contact,» «Backstage: A Tribute to Katina Paxinou,» «Balkan Pedlar,» «Stories from Africa» and «Stories from Greece.» Works in Progress: «Caretta-Caretta, the Sea Turtle,» «Macha Sivaratri, the Wedding of Siva,» «K.AF.K.A.’s Children,» «The Street Behind the Lights,» «Gaion,» «Like a Fly in Milk» and «Raki Galddens the Heart.»

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