Greek heat growing

Fest boasts local product; 'Shower' shines

THESSALONIKI, Greece — With the local industry finally starting on a roll after years in the doldrums, the Intl. Thessaloniki Film Festival (Nov. 12-21) wrapped its 40th edition on a high.

With a stronger than usual lineup of new Greek pics (including a couple with overseas potential) and fest admissions up by some 40% (despite a reduction in the number of screens), fest director Michel Demopoulos and president Theo Angelopoulos had every reason to look pleased.

‘Shower’ power

A seven-member jury, led by Italian scripter Tonino Guerra, gave its top prize, the Golden Alexander, to Chinese dramedy “Shower,” directed by Zhang Yang.

Fortissimo, the sales company for the pic (which also won the main audience award), reported that it’s the most successful title ever in its catalog, with almost every territory closed since its bow at Toronto in September. Sony Classics releases Stateside.

The special jury award (Silver Alexander) went to political torture drama “Garage Olimpio,” an Italian-French-Argentinean production helmed by Marco Bechis. It also copped the Fipresci prize for best film in competition.

Kerrigan stops ‘Traffic’

First-time British director Justin Kerrigan walked away with two nods, best director and the Media Program’s Europa Cinema Award, for his youth clubbing comedy “Human Traffic.” Other notable prize winners included ironic Czech comedy “Return of the Idiot” (already a huge hit on home turf earlier this year) and U.S. indie helmer Ed Radtke’s “Dream Catcher.” Actor Paddy Connor and lenser Terry Stacey rated special mentions by the international competition jury for their work in “Dream Catcher.”

On the celeb side, Catherine Deneuve breezed into town for two days with her starrer “Night Wind,” bringing a touch of glamour to the northern Greece port town, followed by Spanish diva Marisa Paredes, here for Pedro Almodovar’s “All About My Mother” — part of an extensive retro of the helmer’s oeuvre.

Thessaloniki is no stranger to celeb visitors. In the past decade or so, the Macedonian city with a population fast approaching 1 million has spruced up its image and transformed itself into a lively, hip center that rivals (some would say even surpasses) Athens as the country’s cultural hub. Fest audiences, which packed screenings, are young and sophisticated, with the city’s smart bars and eateries abuzz during the 10-day event.