Four Greek fiction features and two documentaries have been selected for this year’s edition of Thessaloniki Goes to Cannes, the Cannes Film Market’s pix-in-post industry showcase. The projects will be presented to potential sales agents, distributors and festival programmers during a presentation at the Palais des Festivals on July 12.
The event is a collaboration between the Thessaloniki Film Festival, the Greek Film Center, and the Cannes Film Market. Greece is the only country in Southeastern Europe and the Balkans to take part.
This year, the event’s organizers received even more applications than in years past, according to Yianna Sarri, head of the Thessaloniki Film Festival’s industry arm, Agora. “It seems that even during the pandemic, film directors found a way to be more creative,” she said.
Sarri noted that the annual event has become a prime launching pad for rising Greek talents. Two years ago, Christos Nikou’s “Apples” was presented for the first time at Thessaloniki Goes to Cannes, before going on to open the Horizons sidebar at the Venice Film Festival and land on the shortlist for the best international feature film Oscar.
“The majority of [this year’s] films are from newcomers, and Thessaloniki has always been a space of talent discovery,” said Sarri. “We are also very proud this year that half of the selection comes from women directors.”
“Behind the Haystacks,” by director Asimina Proedrou, is the story of a middle-aged fisherman and farmer living with his wife and daughter in a lakeside Greek village on the border with North Macedonia. Afraid of going to jail for a fraud he committed in the past, he starts to traffic migrants across the border to repay the money he stole. But soon he finds himself trapped in a deadly game between the local mafia and his conscience, while his family starts falling apart.
The film is produced by Ioanna Bolomyti (Argonauts Productions), Markus Halberschmidt (Fiction Park), Vladimir Anastasov and Angela Nestorovska (Sektor Film).
Written and directed by Maria Douza and based on a true story, “Winter with Valmira” is the story of a deaf teenage girl who leaves her specialized school in Athens for her father’s island, where she’s abruptly forced to live among the hearing. There her interactions unwittingly trigger a series of long-simmering conflicts and misunderstandings. Pic is produced by Michael Sarantinos (Steficon, Greece) and Ivan Tonev (Ars Digital, Bulgaria).
“The film is a reflection on loneliness and isolation provoked by our inability, fear and resistance to reach out to other people,” Douza told Variety. “Valmira’s deafness serves as a metaphor both of our need to hear and our choice not to hear; our desire to be heard but also our refusal to listen; our egotistic preoccupation with the self. But it is also a reflection on the power of goodness in a world where cynicism passes for wisdom and evil as the only essence of human nature.”
She continued, “Our intention is to make a film that will show the humanity we all carry in ourselves, our potential to choose goodness over hatred, understanding over intolerance, empathy over selfishness. We want to make a film that ‘will allow goodness its own speech,’ as Toni Morrison would say,’ not to deny the existence of evil, but to counter it.”
“Bastards” is directed by Nikos Pastras and produced by Pastras and Nicholas Alavanos. It follows 10 youths who flee the rules of a suffocating society to create their own community in a large, isolated house. But the balance will soon be upset and relationships will be tested, forcing them to find a way to remain free.
“My desire to make ‘Bastards’ did not sprout from the story itself, but from the condition in which the story was created,” said Pastras. “The characters relied on the actors and evolved with them in both the preparation of the film and the actual shooting. The idea was to make a film that goes against all forms of authority relying only on the joy of playing, life and freedom. A subjective look at youth and revolution. Individual, collective, sexual, heroic and childish.”
He added, “The fact that the birth of this film and its realization took place in a pandemic and in a hard lockdown is not only not accidental, but on the contrary, it gave us a force, a momentum and a sort of freedom that came from the desire to resist.”
“Dogwatch” is a documentary from director Gregoris Rentis. It centers on privately hired mercenaries who are responsible for protecting vessels crossing the High Risk Area off the Somali coastline against pirate attacks. Rigorously preparing to face the enemy, each watch brings them closer to the day of contact. Often, though, that day never comes to pass.
The Greece-France co-production is produced by Rentis (BYRD), Vicky Miha (asterisk*), Clément Duboin and Florence Cohen (Good Fortune Films).
In a director’s statement, Rentis described the existential challenge facing these mercenaries, whose craving for adventure is offset by the mundane nature of their job. “Life at sea is mentally challenging enough, and standing guard against what often seems like a non-enemy makes the days passing almost absurd,” he said.
“The same fear of inaction echoes across our goal-setting yet disoriented Western societies,” he continued. “‘Dogwatch’ enlists the backdrop of maritime piracy to draw a portrait of society on a treadmill, circling from crisis to war and back, hopelessly waiting for something to break the pattern.”
“Into the Land of Ice and Fire” (pictured) is directed by Dimitra Zirou and produced by Nikos Moustakas (Bad Crowd). The documentary is inspired by the contemporary life of the indigenous people inhabiting the European Arctic region, the Sámi. After twenty years of researching and photographing the European Arctic and its indigenous inhabitants, Zirou tells two parallel stories.
One follows the everyday life of 85-year-old Sara, one of the few remaining traditional healers and keepers of Sámi oral tradition. The other centers on Mihka, a 6-year-old Sámi boy who lives with his family in a small, distant town in the middle of the Norwegian Arctic tundra. Their stories gradually unfold against the changing of the Arctic seasons and the passage from the long winter’s darkness to the never-setting light of the summer.
Finally, “EX” is set against the backdrop of Berlin’s nightlife scene. Directed by George Markakis and produced by Markakis and Chris Cornelsen, this fiction film follows Diana and a flurry of gorgeous party people for one night of sublime chaos that invites the audience to see more than reckless hedonism. As its characters share stories about lives lived at the fringes of society, a deeper connection unravels, sparking soul-baring moments of clarity, acceptance, and unapologetic truth.