20 Years Of Balkan Screen in Thessaloniki

in 54th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Bojidar Manov

The Thessaloniki Film Festival long ago earned a deserved reputation among many similar forums in Europe. Holding it at the end of the calendar year adds to its profile a peculiar status of revisiting the achievements of the season and outlining the overall picture on the world screen. Because Thessaloniki for many years has managed to be a bridge between European and world cinema, showing the first or second films of new young directors in the main competition (14 titles), it also presents a wide panoramic view of all interesting phenomena in the information program ?pen Horizons (this year consisting of 63 titles from all latitudes). Along with these are the special selections of prominent film masters, national competition of new Greek films, and the remarkable category Balkan Survey. This program precisely managed over time to gain a leading position in the region attracting, necessitating, and promoting for over 20 years the most important phenomena, authors, and films from Southeast Europe. The festivals in Sarajevo and Sofia still successfully maintain a special focus on the Balkan cinema. However, Thessaloniki–due to its already established profile as a notable international film forum–places regional cinema exactly in the context of the world’s largest film industry and thus illuminates it in a very convincing, authoritative manner, projecting it far beyond the horizon of the cozy bay of Thessaloniki.

The summary statistics are clear and convincing. During its 20 years of existence, Balkan Survey has shown 360 films from the region, with the most successful presence being Turkey (63 titles) and Romania (45). Former Yugoslavia in the years before falling apart participated with 28 films, and then a strong presence is maintained by Bulgaria with 24 films, Serbia with 17, Croatia 15, Slovenia 13, Bosnia 12,  Macedonia 9 and even 1 film from Kosovo. The numbers are undoubtedly indicative; to a large extent they outline the realistic state-of-the-art of the respective national cinematographies, the processes, the development of cinematographic generations, and especially the emergence of new authors and even complete ‘waves’, as was correctly said about the Romanian cinema over the past years, or the undeniable upsurge of Turkish production in terms of quantity and artistic level.

It is especially curious to see which films were the favorites in the past years – because even from the brief flashback reliable observations could be made. That is why the creator of the program, Dimitris Kerkinos, had prepared a representative selection of 19 landmark films – one for each of the years in the period from 1994 to 2012.  Thus viewers were able to see the strong titles by established masters such as The Oak (Balanta, Romania, France, 1992, dir. Lucian Pintilie), How the War Started on My Island (Kako je poceo rat na mom otoku, Croatia, 1996, dir. Vinko Bresan), Innocence (Masumiyet, ?urkey, 1997, dir. Zeki Demirkubuz), The Small town (Kasaba, ?urkey, 2001, dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan), Midwinter Night’s Dream (San zimske noci, Serbia, Montenegro, 2004, dir. Goran Paskaljevic), The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Moartea Domnului Lazarescu, Romania, 2005, dir. Cristi Puiu), 12:08 East of Bucharest (A fost sau n-a fost?, Romania, 2006, dir. Corneliu Porumboiu), Grbavica (Grbavica, Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, 2006, dir. Jasmila Zbanic), California Dreamin’ (California Dreamin’, Romania, 2006, dir. Cristian Nemescu), Milk (Sut, ?urkey, 2008, dir. Semih Kaplanoglu), etc.

Against this background the present ‘Balkan Harvest’ is impressive. The 2013 selection included 8 full length films and 7 shorts, again qualitatively and quantitatively dominated by Romania and Turkey. Along with these, Vinko Bresan demonstrates good form with the social comedy The Priest’s Children (Sveceniko va djeca, Croaria, Serbia, 2013). One of the most stable Turkish directors, Reha Erdem, is once again accurate and exciting in Jin (Jin, Turkey, 2013) – a story about a young Kurdish girl, a victim of political and military conflict in the region. The Moldovan, Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu, aestheticizes an Orthodox religious tradition in Panihida (Panihida, Germany, Moldova, 2012). The Romanian first-time director, Tudor Cristian Jurgiu, creates a masterful narrative in the film The Japanese Dog (Cainele japonez, Romania, 2013). Yet it should be noted that with the Romanians, the process over the past years–rightly named Romanian New Wave because of the significant films and many prestigious awards from Cannes, Berlin and other festivals–is now making its way to its complexity; the ‘wave’ moved to self-saturation and became somewhat exhausted. Emblematic directors like the aforementioned Corneliu Porumboiu and Cristi Puiu in their new films (respectively When Evening Falls in Bucharest or Metabolism / Cand se lasa seara peste Bucuresti sau Metabolism, Romania, 2013 and Three Exercises of Interpretation / Troi exercices d’interpretation, France, 2013) enter into a peculiar artistic spiral, and it chains them to the pursuit of their own aesthetic exercises, which unfortunately are not very productive. 

Once, during the period 1912-1913, the English writer and journalist, Hector Hugh Munro-Saki, touring southeast Europe as a war correspondent, gave birth to the famous phrase: “The Balkans produce more history than they can bear.” Today we can paraphrase: “The Balkans produce more artistic ideas than regional festivals can bear.” Therefore, on to the world’s biggest screens!

Edited by Dennis West