Documentary festival expands

It started out tentatively with modest means but also with determination. In the beginning, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival numbered 70 films and 8,000 viewers. At its 10-year anniversary last year, the festival, substantially expanded, screened 152 films to an audience of 40,000, while 25 percent of those films found distribution on European television channels. Having by now established a credible presence in the international market, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival is looking for the next step forward. Apart from wanderings through the social, historical, political and, above all, human reality of the 21st century as depicted by great documentary filmmakers, what matters to the festival is rousing the audience and «transforming this cinematic experience from an individual conscience and action into a collective vision,» according to Thessaloniki International Film Festival director Despina Mouzaki. The 11th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, which will take place from March 13 to 22, will feature day conferences that will explore alternative ways of finding information, the social role of documentary festivals as well as the unsolved problems of the African continent. It has also decided to host two film students from Africa. «Watching the films is not enough, we have to act as well,» said Dimitris Eipidis, the organizer and artistic director of the event. It was the «Africa from Within» section, with productions filmed exclusively by African filmmakers, that provided the motivation for that move. «So far, every Africa-related film we have screened was by Western filmmakers. In my opinion, there was something superficial, even suspicious, in their films, with a touch of contemporary colonialism. For the first time, we looked for African artists to convey mostly the problems of poverty, which the Western world rarely has an opportunity to investigate,» said Eipidis. The program features 170 films, 36 of which will make their world premieres. There will be seven day conferences, parallel events, three exhibitions, as well as tributes to Mexican and Austrian documentaries and acclaimed filmmakers Fotos Lambrinos and Stefan Schwietert. Also not to be missed is the tribute to Canadian director, documentary producer and political activist Peter Wintonick and master classes by two great artists, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and interactive documentary producer Arik Bernstein. A newly founded thematic section, «Hybrid Docs,» has been added to the pre-existing «Views of the World,» «Recordings of Memory,» «Portraits: Human Journeys» and «Stories to Tell.» In yet another innovation, this year the National Audiovisual Archives will make their presence felt through a special event that will present the institution’s structure and aims, accompanied by the screening of four documentaries little known to the wider public that have recently been given digital form. The 11th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival will also inaugurate an Annual International Documentary Conference that will be based in Thessaloniki. The event will open with award-winning filmmaker Gan Chao’s «The Red Race.» The awards for shorts and full-length productions, which have increased to 10,000 euros and 30,000 euros respectively, are this year co-funded by the Red Cross.

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