Local talent drives Thessaloniki lineup

Greek fest focuses on rising Balkan filmmakers

For most industry pros, Thessaloniki represents a deep breath at the end of the festival year: a chance to enjoy some fine food, sample perhaps more than a little of the local wine and catch up on some titles that may have been overlooked amid the surplus at Toronto or Cannes. World preems are mostly local, dealmaking is at a minimum, the mood is relaxed — even festive.

In both tone and content, it’s an unabashedly Balkan event — one which, for all its cherry-picking at earlier, higher-profile fests, remains chiefly devoted to nurturing homegrown talent. In 1994, it inaugurated a regional showcase — Balkan Survey — that remains a bellwether for the health of this often overlooked production sector.

For Thessaloniki’s topper Despina Mouzaki, this year’s edition — its 49th, and her fourth as director — is about consolidating recent victories: “Last year was an especially significant one for new Greek cinema,” she points out, “with two films from our young directors — Thanos Anastopoulos’ ‘Correction’ and Alexis Alexiou’s ‘Tale 52’ — having great success in festivals all around the world. Since both films started their journey in Thessaloniki, we feel obliged to focus on this flourishing new generation, to showcase their work to date and their upcoming projects.”

To this end, seven young Greek directors — Aris Bafaloukas, Syllas Tzoumerkas, Panayiotis Fafoutis, Mrgarita Manda, Buyar Alimani, Christos Nikoleris and Vardis Marinakis — will screen first features, many of them still works-in-progress.

Looking still further ahead, the Crossroads Co-production Forum will showcase 15 projects from 11 countries, selected from across the Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean regions. One of these will then receive a E10,000 award from TIFF sponsor Nokia.

For Mouzaki, the challenges facing Greek filmmakers of any age are obvious. A graduate of Boston U. and the MIT Media Lab, she has traveled widely, and enjoyed a busy career as both producer and director before being tapped first as VP of the Greek Film Center in 1998, and then as prexy of the national Assn. of Audiovisual Producers in 2002. She took the reins of the Thessaloniki Fest, Greece’s premier cinema event, three years later.

Among this year’s international guests, Takeshi Kitano will make his first visit to Greece to present his latest feature, “Achilles and the Tortoise,” fresh from its debut at Venice. Mouzaki will present the multihyphenate with an honorary Golden Alexander, Thessaloniki’s highest honor, in recognition of his career achievement. Kitano also will conduct a masterclass, scheduled for Nov. 19.

But it’s the visit of Oliver Stone unspooling “W.” that seems likely to raise the most attention from the local press, coming less than a fortnight after the U.S. presidential election. Never one to shy from controversy, the fiercely opinionated helmer also will host a masterclass that promises to be a standing-room-only affair.

Other special guests include Brazil’s Walter Salles, returning for the first time since the fest’s Brazilian Focus in 2006 with his women-in-prison drama “Linha de passe”; leading Argentine producer Lita Stantic; and her countryman, composer Gustavo Santaolalla, a two-time Oscar-winner (for “Brokeback Mountain” and “Babel”), who’ll chair a masterclass on the art of scoring features.

In addition, all three have collaborated on a new documentary “Cafe de Los Maestros” — a “Buena Vista Social Club”-like look at a group of legendary Argentine tango musicians reuniting for a one-off concert in Buenos Aires — directed by Miguel Kohan, which will be making its local premiere at the fest.

Mouzaki also notes the debut of the Experimental Forum, a focus on boundary-pushingcinema that will include an homage to Croatian filmmaker Ivan Ladislav Galeta — who will attend — as well as a program of 20 films from Hungary’s Bela Balazs Studio, the most comprehensive compilation of the studio’s work since a 1985 exhibition at New York’s MoMA.

This year’s spotlight falls on the cinema of the Middle East, with a lineup of 10 films produced in and about the region over the past four years, including Ari Folman’s well-regarded “Waltz With Bashir” and Hisham Issawi’s “American East,” a study of the challenges facing Arab-Americans in the aftermath of 9/11. There’s also be a special screening of Youssef Chahine’s 1978 classic “Alexandra … Why?,” as a tribute to the Egyptian director, who died in July.

Retrospectives are dedicated to the Dardennes brothers  — including their rarely seen first features, “Falsch” (1987) and “Je pense a vous” (1992) — and Greek veteran Manos Zakharias: the latter sidebar will showcase 10 films made between 1948 and 1977, and include a 2005 documentary portrait of the now-octogenarian filmmaker, who is scheduled to attend.

Brit auteur Terence Davies will attend, to present “Of Time and the City,” his documentary on his Liverpool hometown. He’ll be honored with a full retrospective — as will Ousmane Sembene, “the father of African cinema,” who passed away in June at age 84.


What: Thessaloniki Intl. Film Festival

When: Nov. 14-23

Where: Thessaloniki, Greece

Web: filmfestival.gr

Opening night: “The Wrestler,” Darren Aronofsky

Closing night: “Dust of Time,” Theo Angelopoulos

Honoree: Japan’s Takeshi Kitano will receive the Golden Alexander for career achievement.

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