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Iran pic tops Greek fest

Laffer 'Bitter Dream' nabs top honor in Greece

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THESSALONIKI, Greece — Iranian black comedy “Bitter Dream” scooped up the top Golden Alexander award (plus a check for $50,000) at the 45th Thessaloniki Film Festival, which closed Sunday.

Russian poetic drama “Harvest Time” and Uruguayan foreign Oscar entry “Whisky” dominated the rest of the prizes at Greece’s premier fest, held 30 miles from Alexander the Great’s birthplace in Macedonia.

However, the main topic of conversation among industryites in the university city’s hip bars and restaurants was the future of the fest’s heads, program director Michel Demopoulos and prexy Theo Angelopoulos, the country’s most famous helmer. Issue dominated headlines the day after the fest closed.

In the past 13 years, Demopoulos has given the event a substantial international profile. This year’s guest list included French actress Isabelle Huppert plus directors Todd Solondz, Abbas Kiarostami, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Victor Erice and Peter Greenaway, all in for tributes or retrospectives. Competition jury, headed by Hungarian vet Miklos Jancso, included U.S. helmer Alexander Payne (who is of Greek origin) and Armenian-Canadian actress Arsinee Khanjian.

Demopoulos’ position is now under reconsideration by politicos down in Athens following the March victory of the center-right Nea Demokratia party led by Costas Karamanlis, who’s also culture minister. Angelopoulos has publicly stated that he’ll quit if Demopoulos is axed.

Most hotly tipped name to take over is Despina Mouzaki, prexy of producers association Sapoe and formerly with the Greek Film Center.

Mouzaki told Daily Variety that she had heard nothing official yet but said the job would be “challenging.” Most agree the urbane and internationally connected Demopoulos will be a tough act to follow.

Though only the Greek entries were world preems, this year’s competition was the best in several years, with even strong pics like “Viva Algeria” going unprized.

The crop of new Greek Films, unveiled in the parallel national competition, were weaker, though teen lesbian hooker drama “Hardcore” and saga “CC TV,” both first features, caught the attention of foreign critics and scouts.

Most hopes for next year are riding on Constantinos Giannaris’ gritty drama “Hostage,” based on a bus hijacking by an Albanian, which got a surprise midnight preview. Country’s current B.O. hit, the Martin Scorsese exec-produced “Brides,” drew mixed reactions from foreign attendees. Period drama has drawn 600,000 admissions in a country of only 11 million.

And the winners are…

Best Feature:
“Bitter Dream” (Iran).

Special Jury Award (shared):
“Harvest Time” (Russia), “One or the Other” (Argentina).

Best Director:
Fernando Eimcke (“Duck Season,” Mexico).

Best Screenplay:
Gonzalo Delgado Galiana, Juan Pablo Rebella, Pablo Stoll (“Whisky,” Uruguay).

Best Actress:
Mirella Pascual (“Whisky”).

Best Actor:
Simon Abkarian (“To Take a Wife,” Israel-France).

Artistic Achievement Award:
“Harvest Time”; special mention: “Boats Out of Watermelon Rinds” (Turkey).

Fipresci (Intl. Critics Assn.) Awards:
“Green Hat” (China), “Delivery” (Greece).

Audience Awards:
“Bitter Dream,” “Don’t Go” (Greece).

Greek Film Critics’ Assn. Award (shared):
“CC TV” (Greece), “Real Life” (Greece).

Greek Technicians’ Union Award:
“Brides” (Greece-U.S.).

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