After 20 years, Eipides still revels in finding films

Will a B&W post-film noir thriller from Bulgaria be the next big thing?

When Javor Gardev’s debut feature, “Zift,” which won two prizes at June’s Moscow fest, makes its North American bow in Toronto, audiences will get a look at one of the unique new films on the circuit thanks to programmer Dimitri Eipides.

Discovering such gems (he saw the film before Moscow programmed it) is what makes viewing thousands of films each year worthwhile for Eipides. Now moving into his third decade at TIFF, his seniority there as an international programmer is surpassed only by Piers Handling, the fest’s co-director and CEO.

With a world cinema mandate, the Athens-based Eipides estimates he’s abroad six to seven months of the year attending festivals, researching programs and serving on juries and panels. “I never can refuse anything proposed,” he confesses with a twinkle.

This openness, stamina and insatiable passion for cinema drive him to look for new talent in places where others may fear to tread. He was among the first Western champions of Iranian cinema, paving the way for helmers such as Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf to become arthouse names.

With his taste shaped by his studies in London, San Francisco and New York during the independent cinema boom of the late 1960s, Eipides is attracted by personal, poetic work, unique artistic expressions and creative use of the medium. He’s known for presenting cinema that’s not easy in many respects, but his choices are always provocative.

Eipides, who also programs for the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in Greece, Iceland’s Reykjavik Intl. Film Festival and Cyprus’ Intl. Documentary Film Festival of Nicosia, can count Krzysztof Kieslowski, Claire Denis, Bela Tarr, Hirozaku Kore-eda, Alexander Sokurov, Costa-Gavras, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Goran Paskaljevic among the talents he’s introduced over the years.

“The reward is to come in contact with great directors,” he says. There’s also “the deep sense of satisfaction” he feels when his selections connect with audiences.

Praising Eipides’ ability to “find the filmmakers that matter,” Handling says: “He has an incredibly fine eye for discovering filmmakers who love cinema, for filmmakers who are working in the counterculture. His taste is immaculate, and he is very rigorous in what he selects.”

In his rare leisure moments, Eipides indulges in discovering treasures of another kind: antique carpets. Just as in getting the film he wants to Toronto, here, too, according to one Iranian observer, he demonstrates a great eye and consummate negotiating skills.

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