A sociologist could spend days at a film festival taking notes and making comparisons on the demographic dynamics of an international gathering of relatively like-minded souls, restricted to roaming the same venues and other places frequented by movie lovers.
To be fair, the bulk of the crowd here at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival is made up of bona fide cinephiles, aged anywhere from 16 to 61, who tick off the days until the festival comes round every year in their calendars, do their homework before committing to a screening, and wait dutifully in the queue for their tickets from the early hours of the morning. They represent the backbone of the festival, the people who save up in order to have enough money to watch as many films as they like and the ones who’ll hang around after a screening to listen to the directors and actors discuss their work.
Among this crowd are a smattering of ingenues; teenage boys and girls in outlandish outfits and sporting intricate hairstyles, and who strike a pose whenever anyone even remotely related to the film industry flits by, showing off their best profile in the hope that they will catch a director’s eye and get their much-coveted place before the camera. They tend to stand apart from the crowd, often leaning against a pole or wall, smoking languidly and staring into space in what is supposed to pass as an evocative gaze.
In this category you also have the kooks: aged has-beens or thespians imaginaires, who stalk directors and producers like a lion does a gazelle, waiting to pounce on them when they are separated from the herd in order to deliver their pitch.
Next, you have the local talent. This species of festival-goer is split into two subcategories: the active or aspiring filmmakers who are here to learn, take in movies from around the world, listen to their more experienced colleagues, mingle with them, meet other artists who share their passion, maybe get a chance to share a film idea with a producer. The second group, which is growing rarer at the TIFF after management decided to pull the plug on invitations to casts and crews from every recent Greek production, is manifested in large posses of directors, photographers and actors, who watch one another’s films, slap each other on the back and take up the tables at the festival’s common area at Warehouse D, drinking copious quantities of alcohol and noisily criticizing the technical specifics of films they haven’t seen. Occasionally they will make their way into a theater to watch something by someone they don’t know, gathering more fodder for their smug critique, which again is delivered in a loud voice.
In the midst of this hullabaloo are the shadowy members of the press. They can normally be seen eating and drinking alone, reading a newspaper or the festival’s program, or racing from one screening to another and frantically bashing out a story in the press room. When they do manage to catch the eye of one or more of their own, they will gravitate to each other in groups of twos and threes, talk about Cannes and Fassbinder, or shut down for the day, head to one of the city’s many great tavernas and live it up for a night like a proper social animal.
Deeper in the shadows of the common areas and free events of the festival are the gate-crashers: Thessaloniki kids taking advantage of a whole new vista of flirting opportunities, curious passers-by, freeloaders of all stripes, and, more interestingly, a small handful of the city’s migrants, who see a rare opportunity to enjoy a coffee or a beer among a merry crowd, without standing out for the color of their skin or their worn clothes, blending in perfectly with the multi-culti, artistically scruffy lot that make up the film crowd.