50th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

Greece, November 13 - November 22 2009

The jury

Ronald Bergan (UK), Bo Green Jensen (Denmark), Léo Soesanto (France), Demosthenes Xifilinos (Greece)

Awarded films

A shadow was cast over this year’s 50th anniversary celebrations of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival. The festival, one of the most stimulating (a wide range of new and newish movies, retrospectives, photographic exhibitions) and enjoyable (good food, good parties, lively town), traditionally provides a shop window for Greek cinema.

However, this year, the Filmmakers of Greece (FoG), a group which consists of more than 200 prominent directors, producers and screenwriters, decided not to send any of their films to the festival and to boycott the annual State Film Awards, usually held at the end of the festival. Their aim was to amend what they see as an outdated Greek film law. ‘We want a constructive film law that would set standards, regulations, and incentives more in line with the rest of the European & international film community,’ they declared.

As a result, 18 features, 6 documentaries, and 28 shorts, essentially the bulk of this year’s film production (a total of 52 out of 65 films) were withdrawn. With this action FoG members forfeited over 300,000 Euros in prize money and, in some cases, the opportunity to have their films travel and represent Greece at other international film festivals. All this comes in a year when Greek cinema has received public international acclaim in Cannes (Dogtooth by Yorgos Lanthimos, Un Certain Regard winner), Berlin (Strella by Panos Koutras) and Locarno (Plato’s Academy by Filipos Tsitos). Alas, festivalgoers were left with a selection of 8 rather mediocre Greek films.

Therefore, given the particular circumstances, the Fipresci jury had some discussions among ourselves and with various Greek colleagues as to whether we should refrain from giving a prize to a Greek film this year. After all, we would have had much support and a good excuse for doing so. But we finally decided, being an international federation, not to mix in Greek politics and not to insult our hosts. So we gave the prize to the least bad Greek film, The Building Engineer (O Diahiristis), a rather bitter comedy, written, directed and starring Periklis Hoursoglou.

Otherwise, it was business as usual with a particularly strong international competition of first and second features. This included Ajami, the violent and tender Israeli film directed by Scadar Copti and Yaron Shani, which won the Golden Alexander; the haunting Father’s Acre (Apaföld) by the very promising 29-year-old Hungarian Viktor Oszkar Nagy, which missed our prize by a whisker; the subtle, funny and moving Northless (Norteado), which won the best director prize for Rigoberto Perezcano of Mexico, and the powerful German-French co-production The Day Will Come (Es Kommt der Tag). Our winner, Medal of Honour  (Medalia de Onoare) by Calin Peter Netzer, continued the unstoppable triumph of Romanian cinema.

In addition, Goran Paskaljevich and Werner Herzog, who both had retrospectives of almost their complete oeuvres, lent their erudite and cheerful presences to the birthday celebrations, all of which answered the question, which was the subtitle of the festival, ‘Why Cinema Now?’.  (Ronald Bergan)

Thessaloniki International Film Festival: www.filmfestival.gr