The Multiple Aspects of a Constantly Renewed Festival

in 64th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Dimitri Kalantidis

The programme of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, which took place from November 2 to 12, 2023 for the 64th year, was exceptionally rich and high-quality again this year. In total, 270 feature and short films were screened in the Festival’s seven theaters, attended by 86,000 viewers, the number of which returned to pre-pandemic levels, and on the online platform 77 films, watched by 7,700 viewers.

The Festival included five competitive sections: a. International Competition, b. Meet the Neighbors+ (films from 36 countries of Southeastern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East), the Golden Alexander Award of which is renamed to Golden Alexander “Michel Dimopoulos” (1949-2023), honoring the memory of the Festival’s former Director (1991-2005), who led the institution to gain an international scope, c. Film Forward (films that renegotiate reality beyond the conventions of cinematic genres), d. Immersive: All Around Cinema (films that make use of the latest new technologies) and e. Podcast (exploring the affinities of this new genre with cinema). A special section of the Festival is the Greek Film Festival.

Also, the 64th Festival included Open Horizons, Round Midnight, Smart 7 and Next Gen sections, the Mermaid Award, awarded to the best LGBTQI+ themed film in the official Festival program, Special Screenings, Tributes to “Fantasmas” (Ghosts, 33 films) and to the important Greek directors Takis Kanellopoulos and Nikos Perakis, Side Bar Events, publications, discussions, masterclasses and development actions of the Agora Section. Guests of the Festival were film personas, such as Alexander Payne, Volker Schlöndorff, Jeremy Podeswa and Monica Bellucci.

In the two central sections of the Festival — International Competition and Greek Films premiering at the Festival — from which FIPRESCI awards their Best Film Awards, several films stood out. First of all, the two films awarded by FIPRESCI: Murderess / Fonissa by Eva Nathena (Greece) and In Camera by Naqqash Khalid (UK) and the film awarded by the Greek Association of Film Critics: The Last Taxi Driver / O telefteos taxitzis by Stergios Paschos (Greece).

Eva Nathena, distinguished stage and costume designer, in this first feature film of hers, adapts for the big screen one of the most emblematic works of Greek literature, the 1903 novel “The Murderess” by Alexandros Papadiamantis (1851-1911). The theme of the film— the taking of the lives of little girls by the tragic central heroine, to save them from the cruel fate reserved for them by the patriarchal society—is shocking, but the direction is dynamic, atmospheric, and avoids an ethnographic lens. The harsh landscape plays a leading role, harmonizing with the expressive performances of the actresses and the creative use of sounds and music. Among the six awards won by Murderess was the Audience Award (Meet the Neighbors+).

The main character of the film In Camera is a young actor of Asian origin in Britain, who constantly goes to auditions, but is rejected. Through an unconventional narrative, director Naqqash Khalid captures the blurred boundaries between reality and fantasy and the fierce struggle young people face for artistic recognition in a fragmented society.

The Last Taxi Driver by Stergios Paschos is a psychological thriller with a solid cinematic narrative, through which the deconstruction and collapse of the family is demonstrated.

Other stand-outs: The low-key film Medium by Christina Ioakeimidi (Greece/Bulgaria), a coming-of-age story and a teenage girl’s search for sexual identity. The film Animal by Sofia Exarchou (Greece/Austria/Romania/ /Cyprus/Bulgaria), where the invisible side of tourism is captured through the story of a group of animators in an all-inclusive hotel in Crete (Best Film Award – Golden Alexander “Theo Angelopoulos” / International Competition). The film Grace / Blazh by Ilya Povolotsky (Russia) is dominated by deep melancholy, the depressing social situation, the abandoned villages, towns and buildings, the desolate landscapes. A father and his sixteen-year-old teenage daughter travel from one end of Russia to the other in a minibus, which is also a traveling cinema. Traveling is a way of life for them. Through the poetic and documentary perspective of the Russian director, the story of the girl’s coming of age is captured. In Sweet Dreams by Ena Sendijarević, the twilight of Dutch colonialism and the new era that is dawning are captured with intelligence and style. Embossed characters shaken by the shocking developments, cynicism and irony. Finally, the film Fingernails by Christos Nikos (USA), at the center of which is love and its liberating power. Solid direction, inventive, deeply romantic, poetic, with imagination and humor.

Dimitris Kalantidis
Edited by Savina Petkova