The coronavirus pandemic might have shut down film and television production across the globe, with many industries still struggling to relaunch with the latest health and safety protocols, but Yianna Sarri, who heads the Thessaloniki Film Festival’s industry arm, Agora, knew there would be an upside for the annual Crossroads Co-Production Forum.

“During the lockdown everywhere, people had the opportunity to stay at home and write scripts,” she said. “It was in our mind that we were going to have many submissions.”

Now in its 16th year, Agora has emerged as a leading forum for filmmakers from Southeast Europe, the Middle East, and the wider Mediterranean region, reflecting the ancient heritage of Thessaloniki as a cultural crossroads—a meeting point of East and West.

To that end, the Crossroads Co-Production Forum has gradually evolved into a de facto launching pad for films from Greece and neighboring countries. “Every year, we receive not even more projects, but better projects, in a better stage and very well-developed,” said Sarri. “At this point, it’s not only a matter of the number of submissions, but the quality.”

Seventeen films will be presented during Crossroads’ online pitching forum from Nov. 10-13. All but two of the projects have women attached as either directors or producers, the most ever for the forum. In addition, six of the films come from the host country, with Sarri noting that “the role of the Thessaloniki Film Festival has always been to guide the films and to take the Greek films…to the international sphere.”

Recent Crossroads success stories include a trio of players from this year’s Venice Film Festival: Christos Nikou’s debut “Apples,” which opened the festival’s Horizons strand; Azra Deniz Okyay’s “Ghosts” (pictured), which won the Grand Prize at Critics’ Week; and Ameen Nayfeh and May Odeh’s “200 Meters,” the People’s Choice Award winner at Venice Days. Other notable titles in recent years include Mounia Meddour’s Algerian civil-war drama “Papicha,” which premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section in 2019, and Turkish director Tarik Aktaş’s Locarno prize winner “Dead Horse Nebula.”

Aktaş returns to Thessaloniki this year with his latest feature, “Kriegsausgabe,” produced by Turkey’s Hay Film. Another buzz title comes from Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev, who earned critical acclaim for his 2017 feature “Directions,” which was selected for Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar. During Crossroads, Komandarev will present “Hello,” rounding out the trilogy he began with “Directions” on the plight of modern-day Bulgaria. The film is presented in collaboration with Sofia Meetings.

“Hello” tells the story of a retired teacher who loses her savings to a phone scam and, in order to get the money back, falls into an uneasy work arrangement with the group who conned her. Written by Komandarev and Simeon Ventsislavov and directed by Komandarev, the film is produced by Bulgaria’s Argo Film and co-produced by Germany’s 42film and EZ Films, of France.

“The story of our main character Blaga holds a mirror up to a number of painful aspects of Bulgarian society,” Komandarev said in a director’s statement, emphasizing what he described as “the complete moral crisis our society is caught in.”

“What is happening in Bulgaria? Where are we headed? Why are we sinking deeper and deeper into a crisis—not only an economical one but a spiritual one, a crisis of values?” he asked. “Where can we look for hope? How and where are our children going to live?”

Yelizaveta Smith’s “Vacuum” is the first title selected as part of the new COCO&CROSS project, a partnership between the Film Festival Cottbus’s Connecting Cottbus and the Crossroads Co-Production Forum. The initiative is meant to give greater exposure to a selected project from the two events’ common territories in Southeast Europe and the Black Sea region. The film is also being presented as part of a collaboration between Agora and MIDPOINT Institute.

“Vacuum” is the story of a young archaeologist who returns to her hometown after the death of her estranged father, and whose plans to quickly sell his apartment are unexpectedly dashed when the past and present collide. Written and directed by Smith, the film is produced by Aleksandra Kostina of Ukraine’s Bosonfilm.

“The story of ‘Vacuum’ on one hand has my personal roots, and on the other hand I think will resonate with a lot of viewers, because it raises questions of the void that is left by loved ones,” Smith told Variety. “It is a story about recognition, reunification with the past and present.”

Lara Zeidan’s feature directorial debut, “Birthday,” will be presented in collaboration with the Mediterranean Film Institute’s Script2Film Workshop. The Beirut-set drama tells the story of a girl whose plans to celebrate her 14th birthday are disrupted when gun battles erupt throughout the city. She nevertheless tries to go about her normal teenage life. The film is produced by Séverine Tibi and Anaïs Calmels of Cannes-based Sevana Films.

Zeidan’s script was inspired by events she experienced on her own birthday in the spring of 2008. “While I remember the worry, fear and boredom from the news, I also remember some excitement and laughter, as we dealt with the absurdity of the events that were unfolding around us,” she told Variety.

“I would love to share this narrative as a reflection on the stories we lived and how they’ve shaped us,” she added, “as the challenges we face today and our attitudes towards them are changing, especially with the same politicians still clinging to power today, leading the country further into unlivable circumstances.”

Among the local highlights in this year’s co-production market are Giorgos Georgopoulos’s “Patty Is Such a Girly Name,” from producers Christos V. Konstantakopoulos and Fani Skartouli of Faliro House Productions (“The Lobster,” “Before Midnight”), and Fenia Cossovitsa of Blonde Audiovisual Productions.

Cypriot director Tonia Mishiali, whose feature debut “Pause” had a strong festival run after its Karlovy Vary premiere, will also present her follow-up, “Nala and Stella.” Mishiali is producing through her shingle Bark Like A Cat Films with Stelana Kliris. Anna Różalska, of Poland’s Match&Spark, is attached as a co-producer.

Here’s the full list of projects in the 2020 Crossroads Co-Production Forum:

20,000 Species of Bees
Director: Estibaliz Urresola
Producer: Lara Izagirre (Gariza Films, Spain)

Director: Marco Amenta
Producer: Simonetta Amenta (Eurofilm, Italy)
Co-producer: Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre (Mact Productions, France)

As God Wills
Director: Mari Gulbiani
Producer: Kate Kalandarishvili (Midifilm, Georgia)

Director: Lara Zeidan
Producers: Séverine Tibi, Anaïs Calmels (Sevana Films, Lebanon/France)
Presented in collaboration with the Mediterranean Film Institute

Director: Stephan Komandarev
Producers: Stephan Komandarev, Katya Trichkova (Argo Film, Bulgaria)
Co-producers: Eike Goreczka (42film, Germany), Elie Meirovitz (EZ Films, France)
Presented in collaboration with Sofia Meetings

I’m Here, I’m Fine
Director: Emine Emel Balci
Producer: Dilek Aydin (Heimatlos Films, Turkey)

Director: Tarık Aktaş
Producer: Güneş Şekeroğlu (Hay Film, Turkey)

Kyuka – Journeying to the Moon Through the Endless Sea
Director: Kostis Charamountanis
Producer: Danae Spathara (Heretic, Greece)

Director: Christina Ioakeimidi
Producer: Louizos Aslanidis (EKSO Productions, Greece)

Nala and Stella
Director: Tonia Mishiali
Producers: Tonia Mishiali (Bark Like A Cat Films, Cyprus), Stelana Kliris
Co-producer: Anna Różalska (Match&Spark, Poland)

Once Upon a Time in Tripoli
Director: Abdullah Al-Ghaly
Producers: Miftah Saeid (Cyrene Productions, Libya), Hassala Films (Egypt)

Patty Is Such a Girly Name
Director: Giorgos Georgopoulos
Producers: Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Fani Skartouli (Faliro House Productions, Greece), Fenia Cossovitsa (Blonde Audiovisual Productions, Greece)

Director: Elina Fessa
Producer: Vasilis Chrysanthopoulos (PLAYS2PLACE, Greece)

The Summer With Carmen
Director: Zacharias Mavroeidis
Producers: Panos Papahadzis, Dimitris Tsakaleas (Associate Producer) (Argonauts Productions, Greece)

Director: Miki Polonski
Producer: Shira Hochman (MINA Films, Israel)
Co-producer: Janja Kralj (Kinoelektron, France)

They Come Out of Margo
Director: Alexandros Voulgaris
Producer: Eleni Bertes (LOGLINE, Greece)

Director: Yelizaveta Smith
Producer: Aleksandra Kostina (Bosonfilm, Ukraine)
Presented in collaboration with MIDPOINT Institute

The Thessaloniki Film Festival runs online Nov. 5-15.