Subject central to many films at Thessaloniki fest

The issue that was front and center at the recent Thessaloniki docu fest, was, naturally, the ongoing economic crisis that has battered Greece, but the perspectives shown in the current crop of more than 60 new Greek docs — and the level and range of those pics — illustrated a triumph of no-budget creativity in a biz that’s been all but cut off from the traditional sources of production coin.

Under the austerity measures imposed on Greece by EU and U.S. lenders owed hundreds of millions of dollars, almost every part of the film production, distribution and exhibition sectors have been hit. While Greek pubcaster ERT is still funding docu producers — at least on paper — in reality, they will often wait a year or more to pay production companies even the meager fees agreed on.

That was the experience of Marco Gastine, producer of the critically lauded Docville series, which tells the story of Greeks all over the nation, one address at a time. In each episode, all by different directors, filmmakers discovered surprising turns in the lives of people coping with the economic mess, including some in episode 100, “173 Alexander Ave., Athens,” who call the local emergency police line to ask for help with their money problems.

Many of the filmmakers who filled out this year’s schedule at the spring Thessaloniki fest can sympathize with that feeling. One joked to Ally Derks, director of Holland’s IDFA fest, that they would prefer to hand her their film “to save the cost of postage.”

The lens that Greek documakers have turned on their country’s issues and characters has turned up a wealth of material few might have expected. Some show that the debt debacle has had far more serious consequences than long-overdue fees for production companies.

Documaker Omiros Evangelinos, whose preem “Toxic Crisis” screened at Thessaloniki, believes Greece’s most urgent problem may just be its physical environment. “Toxic Crisis” shows a country where heavy metals are routinely dumped into water supplies and where toxic waste winds up in landfills and, via grazing animals, into the food chain.

What’s really disturbing, Evangelinos says, is that under the current pressure to slash public spending, no one is regulating the waste disposal sector to stop this. “That’s why we made this film,” he says.

Another thing that’s clear from many of the films is that Greeks are as angry at their leaders as Western bankers seem to be — but for different reasons. The subjects in “Oligarchy,” a study by Stelios Kouloglou of how concentrated power threatens democracy, make the case that the Greek crisis is just part of an ominous global trend. The film, bound for IDFA, will certainly force those beyond Greece to reexamine the motives and official line of those behind the debt crisis.

Meanwhile, film like “Krisis,” by Nikos Katsaounis and Nina Maria Paschalidou, tell the diverse stories of those whose lives have been turned upside down by the events of the last two years, from a couple who abandons city life for an island, to street protesters who become radicalized after seeing how little their voices are heard.

Even golf course developers using the promise of tourism to fast-track their projects aren’t what they’re cracked up to be, according to Nelly Psarrou’s “Golfland?”

Not all the docs were about the economy, however. “Children of the Riots,” by Christos Georgiou, centers on school kids in shock over the fatal shooting of an unarmed student by police in 2008.

Thessaloniki mayor Yannis Boutaris, a strong advocate for film funding, says the breadth of the films on offer shows that stereotyping Greeks as spendthrift layabouts is unhelpful. “There are good Greeks and bad Greeks,” he says, “just like there are good Germans and bad Germans.”

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