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Climbing Olympus

Tyro helmers boosted by Greek fest's competition

For tyros, just getting the chance to direct a movie is like summiting a high peak. It’s grueling to reach the pinnacle and, once there, it can be very hard to even catch one’s breath.

Thessaloniki’s Intl. Competition aims to discover new helmers and provide them the oxygen they need to survive: publicity.

It’s a daunting task, though, as the quality of the competition will always be measured by the helmers’ subsequent success. If they go on to succeed, it lends luster to the competish. If not, the fest loses prestige.

Nonetheless, fest director Despina Mouzaki, who handpicks the Intl. Competition program, insists that the tyro faceoff is the heart of the Thessaloniki fest. The competish, which is limited to debut or second features, has an impressive history. Past highlights include Alexander Payne’s “Citizen Ruth” and “Vacas” by Spaniard Julio Medem, who went on to make “Sex and Lucia.”

Even last year, when Mouzaki had very little time to choose the entries, the winner was “Someone Else’s Happiness,” from Fien Troch, which became this year’s Belgian entry for the foreign-language Oscar race.

Troch also became one of six helmers in the 2006 Cannes fest’s Residence program.

This year, Mouzaki intends to turn heads by including five preems in the competition: the international preems of Canadian pic “The Point” by Joshua Dorsey, Teuton helmer Markus Herling’s “Riding Up Front” and “On a Friday Afternoon” by Iranian helmer Mona Zandi Haghighi, plus European bows of “Family Ties” by South Korean helmer Tae-yong Kim and Chinese pic “Troublemakers” by Cao Baoping.

For Mouzaki, securing preems is crucial for the competish’s international standing and Thessaloniki’s success within the increasingly competitive worldwide fest circuit.

Some of her Greek critics argue that Mouzaki is more of a businesswoman than a cineaste, and she has been expanding the fest with a new digital sidebar, a co-production forum and a small market. But Mouzaki also has defined a creative vision for this year’s Intl. Competition, focusing on politics, controversy and social issues.

“In these harsh times we live in, films addressing sensitive social issues are very important for the present as well as the future of cinema,” she says, adding that many of the pics express “a hidden violence. A quiet, smooth surface covers a setup that is ready to explode. We are looking for new directors with a strong vision challenging established perspectives.”

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