Impressions of a Modern Art Form in a Classical City By Steven Yates

in 19th Athens Panorama of European Cinema

by Steven Yates

In its 18th year, the Pan-European Film Festival offered a varied program, with an abundance of quality over quantity. The reason for this was partly to do with a lack of funding from some major sources. The program’s cover art featured a computer-manipulated image from the ‘Greatest Film of All Time’, Citizen Kane. While not exactly a new film, and not European, it gives an appropriate backdrop to a festival that introduced or re-introduced audiences to classic films from the archives like Call Northside 777 and Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor. Other highlights included two films from Cypriot director Michael Cacoyiannis with A Matter of Dignity (To Telefteo psemma) from 1958, and the documentary about the massacre of Cypriots, Attila ’74 from 1975. Indeed, some festivals are more interesting for their out of competition sections.

The FIPRESCI Competition, however, taking place here for the second year, comprised of nine films that unwittingly took the elevated position of main competition as the aforementioned funding shortage meant there were no other prize sections. This year’s competition reflected opposites and variety in today’s European cinema – from the historical to the contemporary; national issues to global concerns; fiction to docu-fiction; classical and traditional narrative approaches to Dogme; long static shots on 35mm to fast hand-held grainy digital – and hopefully this conflict of extremes will continue.

The British entry Gypo was the first Dogme film to have come out of that country. First-time director Jan Dunn’s story dealt with the situation of a Gypsy refugee and her mother in a British seaside town. Their presence will inexorably change the life of a local family. Told from three points of view, it depicts how emotional opinions and allegiances are dependent on whose viewpoints we see.

Labina Mitevska was at the festival to promote the Macedonian film in competition How I Killed a Saint, a film in which she both stars and produces. The film is set in 2001, during a NATO occupied Macedonia and the division this causes in communities and families. Labina’s sister is the director, while her brother was in charge of art direction. This is the first feature of their family production company, called Sisters and Brother Mitevski. She is currently working with her siblings for another film, a departure from the war-torn concerns of this one.

The winning FIPRESCI film was My Nikifor (Moj Ninkifor) by Kryzsztof Krauze and co-written by Joanna Kos. The true story of a homeless ‘naïve’ painter known simply as Nikifor, the film documents two of the last eight years from his life as he was battling his deteriorating health and coping with overdue international recognition. My Nikifor won because of its heartfelt depiction of the painter and his carer/protégé. What was more astounding was that the character was played by a woman, the actress Krystyna Feldman. Also, that it looked brilliant for a digital film seemed to give it the edge on the competition.

There was a good attendance for the less commercial Greek film Chiou (surprisingly out of competition), directed by Makis Papadimitriou, and concerning the drug sub-culture in the Athens of 2005, but echoing any modern metropolis. The closing night film was The Constant Gardener, by Fernando Meirelles (who also directed City of God), adapted from the novel by John Le Carre. This was an excellent suspense drama with Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes as the two central characters seeking to expose the global medicine trade and its implications for sufferers of epidemics in Africa.

After the festival, the overall impression is that Greek audiences aren’t fully embracing international cinema now. It’s difficult to see much of a film culture other than the tendency amongst people to embrace the commercial cinema, mainly from abroad. This is symptomatic of the current state in Europe where the smaller movie theatres are disappearing as the multiplex empire expands. The implications are that the new generation of audiences have less access to an alternative film culture underlined in the small attendances for such great films in a festival, classics they are unaware of or choose to ignore.