Nearly two years into a pandemic that has forced much of the movie industry to conduct its business online, the Thessaloniki Film Festival and its industry arm, Agora, will roll out a full slate of in-person events during the festival’s 62nd edition, which runs Nov. 4-14.
For Agora head Yianna Sarri, the return to face-to-face meetings is a welcome reminder of pre-pandemic times. “I really believe it’s what we need. We need to meet each other, to discuss again in person, and to try to get back to the world as we knew it in the past,” Sarri tells Variety.
It’s keeping in the spirit of Thessaloniki, a vibrant port city and cultural melting pot that has historically been at the crossroads of East and West. Many of the initiatives at this year’s Agora showcase the Thessaloniki festival’s vital role as a lynchpin for filmmakers from across the Balkans, the wider Mediterranean region, and Europe as a whole.
One example is the Thessaloniki-Locarno Industry Academy, a tailor-made training program created to help young industry professionals – such as junior sales agents, distributors and festival programmers – extend their experience and networks in the fields of international sales, marketing, distribution and programming. Now in its sixth year, the academy is welcoming eight up-and-coming European film professionals for a five-day workshop with industry experts from across the continent.
Another example is the Agora’s collaboration with the European Women’s Audiovisual Network (EWA), one of the leading industry bodies on the continent, which returns to Thessaloniki this year with a mentoring session for seven rising European female producers.
Such initiatives have become especially timely as the film industry, both in Europe and around the world, attempts to respond to an era of unprecedented change. “We are trying to enrich the Agora program every year, and we are trying to adapt to the needs of the industry,” says Sarri.
A new addition this year is the Agora Short Film Lab, an initiative organized with the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and the Drama International Short Film Festival. The two-day lab will include seminars and in-depth sessions with industry experts to help award-winning short creators working on their first feature films, offering assistance at a crucial point in their careers.
Agora will also host a casting directors workshop, presented by the Greek Film Center in collaboration with the International Casting Directors Network and Ready2cast, which aims to offer useful tools to young actors from Greece as they learn the ropes of the industry.
The event highlights a key component of the Thessaloniki Film Festival’s industry program. “We always keep in mind that we want to promote talent from our region, and that’s what we always do,” says Sarri. “But we of course always have a focus on Greek cinema. That’s the most important part of the Agora – to promote Greek cinema abroad.”
That extends to Greek talent on both sides of the camera, which will again get a boost this year with Meet the Future, an initiative launched in 2019 for emerging film professionals from across Europe. After showcasing 15 promising young Greek directors for its first edition and spotlighting up-and-coming Greek cinematographers last year, the program this year will feature seven editors from the host nation ready to leave their mark on the national and international scene.
A highlight of the Agora program every year is the Crossroads Co-Production Forum, which features 14 projects currently in development that will be presented from Nov. 5-9. Eight features have also been selected for Agora Works in Progress, which is open to films in the editing or post-production stage and will take place on Nov. 9.
The Agora Film Market will also present more than 150 films to industry guests through a collaboration with Cinando. The platform will include the majority of films in the Thessaloniki Film Festival’s official selection, including Greek competition titles such as “Moon, 66 Questions” (pictured), by Jacqueline Lentzou, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival after taking part in Agora Works in Progress two years ago; previous films from directors participating in the Crossroads Co-Production Forum; a range of other international titles; and all current Greek productions.