True stories, stranger than fiction

THESSALONIKI – An obsessed guy crisscrosses America in a quest to win the heart of (then) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, seven Indian boys make their living at the ancient Manikarnika Cremation Ghat, and a lone man on a devastated Earth in the year 2055 asks the obvious question: Why didn’t humans do something to stop global warming when they should have? «When» being now, of course. These are bits from the kaleidoscope of life – and lack of it – captured in more than 170 films that are showing at the 11th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (TDF) that starts in the charming northern port city tomorrow. Topping the familiar fare of hard-hitting pictures focusing on issues such as war, peace, human rights and personal stories, the 10-day cinematic extravaganza features a special Africa tribute, showcasing 10 movies crafted by African filmmakers. Powered by its energetic artistic director Dimitris Eipides, the annual event has grown in size and prestige to become the leading documentary festival in Greece and the broader Balkan region. Screenings will take place at the Olympion and Pavlos Zanas theaters in Aristotelous Square, the dockside warehouse complex and an additional venue, the IEK-AKMI theater. A record 40,000 people flocked to the theaters last year. The event gets under way with an opening-night screening of Gan Chao’s «The Red Race,» an uncomfortable account of the cruel treatment of Chinese 6-year-olds trained to become the country’s next Olympic gold medal winners. In the musical docu-tragicomedy «Courting Condi,» Sebastian Doggart follows the love-struck Devin on his unyielding quest to entice – yes – Condoleezza Rice, while on a less humorous note, «Children of the Pyre» by India’s Rajesh S. Jala depicts the daily travails of seven boys working at what is described as the biggest crematorium on the planet. The planet itself has burned down in Franny Armstrong’s hybrid documentary «The Age of Stupid,» one of the most hyped climate change films coming from the UK, as an archivist (Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite) living on a ruined future Earth ponders human self-denial and self-destruction whil he watches footage from 2008. Some 50 Greek productions are showing this year, topped by a tribute to author, journalist and filmmaker Fotos Lambrinos. In his 40-year career, the prolific Lambrinos has made over 250 documentaries for Greece’s state television, some 20 films on the collapse of the Soviet Union and the non-fiction film «Doxobus» (1987). Organizers have also scheduled tributes to Swiss director Stefan Schwietert and Canada’s Peter Wintonick, maker most recently of «In Cinema Verite: Defining the Moment.» Rubbing shoulders with the documentary crowd this year will be the Hungary-born cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and Arik Bernstein, a leading figure in the Israeli film and TV industry, who are here to deliver master classes on their work. The closing and award ceremony is on Saturday, March 21, while the festival wraps up a day later. For a full list of dates and venues, log on to

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