Thessaloniki gets set for doc fest

A tribute to the 86-year-old Greek-Cypriot filmmaker Michael Cacoyannis, as crafted by Lydia Carras, will kick off the annual Thessaloniki Documentary Festival on March 7, organizers said at a press briefing yesterday. The 10-day cinematic marathon, currently in its 10th year, will showcase some 200 productions and is expected to draw over 35,000 viewers. This year’s lineup features the familiar fare of hard-hitting pictures from the real world, including a shocking documentary on assisted suicide, a portrait of contemporary China and a story of a sex change. Apart from the event’s established themes, such as human rights, the environment, music and human interest stories, this year’s offerings include a tribute to Canadian documentaries and a special feature on fascism prompted by the 70th anniversary of the events of Kristallnacht, the first Nazi pogrom against the Jews carried out on November 9, 1938. Organizers will also present a tribute to the work of the US directing-producing duo Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (creators of the much acclaimed «Brother’s Keeper,» 1992, detailing the murder trial of Delbert Ward) as well as Finnish director and DocPoint founder Arto Halonen, all of whom are expected to be in town to discuss their seminal works. «My Life and Times: Michael Cacoyannis,» a profile of the Greek-Cypriot director, will kick off the festival. Best known for his 1964 film «Zorba the Greek,» Cacoyannis has been nominated for an Academy Award five times. Other entries narrate personal journeys, of various sorts: self-discovery, gender transition, suicide tourism. «The Suicide Tourist,» a controversial film by Academy Award-winner John Zaritsky, follows the progress of two couples as they turn to Dignitas, a Swiss non-profit organization that helps people die – a legal practice in that part of the world. The movie, to be screened under the Canadian focus section, has touched off a great deal of controversy as Craig, a 59-year-old euthanasia candidate with terminal Lou Gehrig’s disease, eventually dies on camera. To premier at the festival, «Love and Sex in China» by Italy’s Annamaria Gallone, follows the existential journey of Yang Li Na, a young Chinese journalist in marital crisis, as she takes her own journey against the backdrop of a changing and often contradictory China. Simon Brook’s «Culture 68,» also a world premiere, recounts personal stories from the transformative events of May 1968, while Gwen Haworth’s award-winning «She’s a Boy I Knew,» which falls under the human journeys section, tracks the director’s own seven-year journey from man to woman. The festival will also showcase a tribute to «War Zone,» a very successful monthly series that has been broadcast on Greek television since 2003. Reporter Sotiris Danezis has so far shot 40 documentaries on humanitarian, political and religious crises across the globe. The Mega channel reporter will also deliver a master class at the festival, organizers said. Powered by its outspoken and highly energetic artistic director Dimitris Eipidis, the festival seems to be going from strength to strength, attracting growing numbers of visitors and enhancing its status among similar festivals across the continent. The festival, which started out with screenings at the flagship Olympion and Pavlos Zannas theaters on Aristotelous Square, has expanded to embrace the dockside warehouse complex. The event will also host a market for buying and selling movies, while a five-day pitching session will give local and foreign filmmakers a chance to argue the merits of their work to commissioning editors, distributors and producers. The festival does not offer awards, such as the silver and golden Alexanders of its bigger and more glamorous brother, the annual Thessaloniki International Film Festival. Documentary-makers rather have to settle for two public choice and two FIPRESCI awards carrying 2,000- to 4,000-euro cash prizes.