As the Thessaloniki Intl. Film Festival celebrates its 60th edition, what began as a small-scale celebration called Greek Cinema Week has evolved into a vital platform for filmmakers from Greece and around the region, finding a natural home in this historical crossroads that has at various points been under Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman rule.
“We are in the middle of southeastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, so I think Thessaloniki is the key town to introduce the huge neighborhood from the south bank of the Danube to the Adriatic, from the Black Sea until the Nile,” says festival artistic director Orestis Andreadakis.
For this year’s edition, which takes place from Oct. 31-Nov. 10, the fest unspools an ambitious slate of festival darlings, provocative premieres and Greek cinema classics.
Competition section Meet the Neighbors will launch with a focus on first and second features by emerging filmmakers from the region. And there will be tributes to Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra and British director Joanna Hogg, as well as an homage to cult U.S. director John Waters, who will receive the Golden Alexander award for his contribution to cinema.
Grouping the films for the international competition each year around a specific theme, Andreadakis chose the Overview Effect, the term that researcher and author Frank White used to describe the emotions felt by astronauts when they viewed the Earth from outer space for the first time. The perspective filled them with wonder, as well as a profound awareness of the conflicts and strife lurking on the planet’s surface far below — a phenomenon that seems especially apt in these turbulent times.
“It’s about equality,” says Andreadakis. “It’s about our planet, which is in danger because of racism, because of intolerance, because of wars, because of all those big problems.” The Overview Effect “is also a call for action.”
The history of the Thessaloniki festival is steeped in periods of civil unrest and political uncertainty, moments of strife marked by protest and defiance. With Greeks living under the cloud of a military dictatorship in the 1970s, frustrated audiences at the 16th edition launched wide-scale protests against censorship in what would be dubbed the “festival of rage.”
In 2009, a movement calling itself Filmmakers in the Mist — a riff on the endangered apes of “Gorillas in the Mist” — boycotted the festival’s 50th edition to protest the government’s lackluster support for the industry, presaging the decade of political turmoil and economic crisis that would follow.
Yet those tumultuous eras also produced some of Greece’s most vibrant cinema. The debut of director Theo Angelopoulos, whose “Reconstruction” premiered in Thessaloniki in 1970, announced the arrival of New Greek Cinema, a movement that would include legendary figures including Angelopoulos, Pantelis Voulgaris, Nikos Panayotopoulos and Nikos Nikolaidis.
In the past decade, a generation of Greek filmmakers, led by Academy Award nominee Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Favourite”), has put its own creative spin on the dark years of austerity and crisis that have dominated headlines in the past decade.
Andreadakis acknowledged the festival’s historic significance as a tastemaker for Greek cineastes, while adding that this year, “the new wave of [Greek] cinema is in Thessaloniki.”
Twenty-seven feature films and 16 shorts by Greek filmmakers will screen, during the fest, including Syllas Tzoumerkas’ Berlinale player “The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea,” and Vardis Marinakis’ “Zizotek,” which premiered in the Karlovy Vary festival — one of three Greek films in Thessaloniki’s international competition, along with Zacharias Mavroeidis’ “Defunct” and “Cosmic Candy” by Rinio Dragasaki.
Eleven Greek projects will take part in the Crossroads Co-Production Forum and the Works in Progress section of Agora, the festival’s industry program. This year Agora will also launch another initiative, Meet the Future, aimed at giving a boost to emerging film professionals from across Europe.
For its first edition, 15 young Greek directors who are developing their first features will have a chance “to introduce themselves to the international market,” says Andreadakis.
Upcoming editions will shift the focus to other up-and-coming industry professionals from another country or region.
“We want to celebrate our 60th anniversary not by looking backwards, but by looking to the future,” he says. “We want Thessaloniki to be a key place to meet the future of cinema.”