Aspects of Reality

in 14th Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival

by Minou Moshiri

The 14th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival — Images of the 21st Century — as was to be expected showed us not only 75 films — features and shorts — about the multiple facets of the Greek crisis, be it financial, political, social or environmental, but indeed many others of Europe in upheaval.

On the Greek crisis, the film Krisis by Niko Katsaounis and Nina Maria Pashalidou, shed some interesting and intelligent light. My Name is Stelios (Me lene Stelio) by Yiannis Kasparis was about ordinary people overcoming extraordinary difficulties, while the reality and the many problems of immigration in the country could be seen in Evros, the Other Side (Evros, i alli ohthi) by Chronis Pehlivanidis.

Included in the International Program as well as in the Greek Panorama and Spotlight sections, were films which recorded social realities that are constantly changing and evolving. In addition, local filmmakers expanded their vision outside Greece and travelled the world to shoot documentaries from Italy to Palestine and from Ghana to Argentina searching for fascinating subjects.

Filmmaker Angelos Abazoglou, a Greek who lives in France and has Turkish ancestry, presented the body of work of a Diaspora filmmaker and focused on cultural relations between Mediterranean countries, and how these relations often transcend geographical boundaries. Abazoglou’s latest film, Mustafa’s Sweet Dreams (Ta glyka oneira tou Mustafa) which screened during the festival is about a young apprentice in a sweet shop in Gaziantep who dreams of moving to Istanbul and becoming a master in his sugary craft.

Works by filmmakers such as Werner Herzog like Into the Abyss — A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life, produced in 2012, was screened to an enthusiastic audience that found it a remarkable addition to his oeuvre. In that film, Herzog investigates, much like a detective, the story of a triple murder that happened 10 years ago in Texas. Herzog interviews policemen, the victims’ and killers’ families, and the killers themselves. He achieves in this film an extraordinary amount of narrative, psychological and emotional detail with the simplest of documentarian means.

The Last Mountain by Bill Haney (USA, 2011) exposes a shocking truth of environmental devastation as a result of corporate and political greed. The film records the decimation of the Appalachian Mountains for the purposes of coal extraction. The film builds a strong case of how mountaintop removal can be eliminated, in a manner that is not only passionate but graceful and cinematic.

In Nostalgia for the Light (Nostalgia de la Luz) from 2010, Patricio Guzman, storyteller of Chile’s political and social turmoil for the past 40 years, presents his most lyrical documentary to date. He provides the poetic narration himself and uses the Atacama Desert (the driest place on earth and ideal for the study of the stars) as a focal point to draw a philosophical connection between astrology, “the archaelogy of the skies”, and the gruesome human history of the location. Near the Atacama observatory with its colossal telescopes, one finds the ruins of Chacabuco, site of the largest concentration camp created by Pinochet’s regime and also a burial ground where ancient remains of native Indian workers lay scattered.

The focus of the festival this year was on two different geographical regions: Denmark, and the general Balkans region. Twelve films from Denmark screened, amongst which were four documentaries for children, and six films from four Balkan countries. Denmark has a long tradition in the documentary genre, with directors as varied as pioneer Theodor Christensen, Henning Carlsen and innovative filmmaker Jorgen Leth. The documentaries shown came to grips with a vast range of stories that dealt with human rights, political and social upheavals and environmental devastation, as well as the extremes of human nature; keen on experimentation, they often propose cinematically novel viewpoints on such stories.

A very interesting and powerful film in the Danish section was The Samurai Case directed by Eva Mulvad (Denmark 2011), about the case of a man who accidentally killed his friend with a samurai sword during a night of revelries. The film explores the grey areas between guilt and innocence, as well as the plight of a man who will always be burdened with horrific regrets.

And the Balkan region, much celebrated in the last decade for its fiction production, has also undergone a surge of filmmaking in the documentary genre.

O Gringo (Stranac) by Darko Bajic (Serbia/Brazil 2011), about Serbian football player Dejan Petkovic, an ebullient character and idol to his compatriots and to the Brazilians whose teams he’s played for over the years, is a very entertaining and openhearted film and a testament to what people all over the world find so exhilarating about football.

The King (Kralj) by Dejan Acimovic (Croatia 2011) was another very moving and inspiring Balkan documentary about one of the greatest sportsmen ever.  Darko Kralj (The King) lost his leg in 1991 during the war in Croatia. Nonetheless he is the only sportsman in the history of sports to have beaten a world record in his category five times in a row at a single world championship.

It can be said that the 185 films presented at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival this year presented 185 truths and 185 versions of reality. It is no longer Greece, Spain, Portugal and indeed the whole of Europe that is in turmoil, but our entire world is in physical and moral discontent. This is why it is so important, so necessary and so urgent for documentary filmmakers to record the facts and also express each different truth, each one of which is a complex reality. Their quests for freedom, identity, hope, and knowledge share their search for humanity in its many forms.