Letter from Thessaloniki

Behind bars, Eduart, a young Albanian imprisoned under extremely harsh conditions, has a jittery vibe and at least one rumble looks uncomfortably real. Film director Angeliki Antoniou created savagely beautiful and heartbreaking images. Her hero passes from crime to punishment, crying out his guilt, as in a Dostoevsky novel. It is one of the exceptional films at Thessaloniki’s grand film festival this year. Every now and then, the 47th Thessaloniki International Film Festival got an adrenaline charge. Although Thessaloniki is surely not Cannes or Venice, it has found its niche between Berlin and Edinburgh. Although Thessaloniki has hardly ever been a playground for celebrities, this year we had a German (Wim Wenders) as well as a celebrated Chinese master (Chen Kaige) just to name a few of the worthy filmmakers visiting the city. They both received a special Golden Alexander for their impressive and influential careers as well as their contribution to the art of filmmaking. The International Competition included illustrious films out of competition, plus special programs such as Independence Days, Greek Films 2006, the Balkan Survey, a Brazilian Survey and much more reminding one of the huge film festival in Istanbul in spring. Well, maybe we are, after all, «Turkey’s separated twin, forever locked in a scorpion’s embrace of sibling rivalry, shared blood and history» as a British reviewer, Fiachra Gibbons, elaborated last year in The Guardian after visiting the Thessaloniki festival. For the 13th year in a row, the Balkan Survey section presented some most significant films. The most significant being «Border Post» by Rajko Grlic, a Croat who worked on a team with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia, the United Kingdom, Hungary and France. The plot involves a practical joke that devolves into war hysteria. Now, Thessaloniki really craves to be the region’s most important city, a so-called «Capital of the Balkans,» as it has been falsely labeled. It should work on its Balkan Survey, however. With some care and knowledge, this festival could develop to be the film showcase of what is happening in Southeastern Europe. Anyway, just to watch the Greek movies produced this year (18 full-length fiction films, four documentaries, as well as the award-winning shorts from the Short Film Festival in Drama) was a most edifying experience. Greek film directors seem to have finally found some blueprint to guide viewers back to cinemas. This is a film-loving city. With something like 60,000 students in town, total attendance this year hit record numbers. Under the former directorship of Michel Dimopoulos, the film festival had a reputation of being highbrow and serious. Despina Mouzaki, in her second year as the head of this organization, has done her best to put on a little glitter. The facelift succeeded magnificently. Thessaloniki has a thriving downtown area and locals will tell you it holds the soul of the historic Constantinople cuisine. So the northern port would not just be good for business, but also for a feast of excellent food. The festival gets bigger every year, with its special sections, digital films, seminars and symposia. Exceptional this year was the introduction of DigitalWave, a competitive program reserved for digital works which also featured a selection of 10 films shot in formats that run the gamut from mobile telephones to HD. As in other countries, these new ways could produce the burgeoning wave of fresh Greek cinema.

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