A Communal Online Experience

in 61st Thessaloniki Film Festival

by Elli Mastorou

With two online viewing platforms and longer accessibility to see the competition films, along with many events, Elli Mastorou applauds how the festival succeeded in still creating as resonant an experience as possible to account for the inevitable lack of physical presence this year. 

To say that 2020 was a difficult year for film festivals is an understatement. As the second wave of Coronavirus hit Greece at the end of October, forcing the government to close shops, restaurants and bars all over the country, the 61st edition of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, scheduled for the beginning of November, had unfortunately no other choice but to be held online. The festival had of course prepared for such a possibility, as it had announced on its website different festival possibilities (partially online, totally online) depending on the measures at the time.

For our FIPRESCI jury, my colleagues Lisa Van Der Waal (Holland) and Kostas Konstantinidis (Greece) and I were to deliver two awards; one in the Greek Film Festival Competition, and one in the International Competition, from a total of 24 films. In these difficult times we were aware it is crucial that these films are starting their festival journey, even if only screened online, and an award surely still helps to get recognition and visibility.

So for us online guests, the festival started a bit earlier than the official date in order to make sure that we would be able to view them all and deliberate on time. Aggeliki Stellaki, the festival’s press officer, started sending us the film links from the end of October.

On the 5th November, the 61st TIFF officially began, with a symbolic video depicting an empty cinema. As the festival progressed, we had access to not one but two online platforms to watch the films the festival selected for its different sections and film market. The first was the festival’s own platform (online.filmfestival.gr). The second was in collaboration with Cinando. Some of our competition’s films were on the first one, some on the second, and so we would alternate between the two. It was also an opportunity to discover some other movies from all over the world.  

Sure, the viewing experience from home was not the same as flying over to Thessaloniki and watching them inside the theater. But nonetheless, each of us did our best to immerse in a festival experience. Personally, I took the opportunity to use the projector I have at home to watch the films, to recreate the experience of the big screen, albeit alone. Also, in between screenings, I made sure to tune in to Greek radio station Kosmos through its website. Not only is it one of my favorites because of their music selection, but the radio was also a partner to the festival. So, in between songs, sometimes I could hear advertisements for the festival and it almost felt like I was there…

From their end, the TIFF also held various online workshops and activities. On the 7th November, the ‘Meet the Future’ event featured Greek cinematographers presenting their work in an online video. Also, from 9th November, the festival’s virtual ‘Director’s Corner’ regularly held live talks with guest directors from the festival.

The days passed, and on the 12th November all the films had been watched and, after having discussed some films via email, our jury was finally ready to meet ‘face to face’ virtually for the first time, for the deliberation that was held on Zoom. During approximately one hour, we discussed the films we saw, based on a top five for each competition that jury member Kostas Konstantinidis had sent the previous day. Assisted by the festival team, who helped with translation, we joked about the festival having to call the same jury members next year so we can meet for real next time!

Our Greek Film Festival Award went to Tailor (2020) by Sonia Liza Kenterman, a Greek-Belgian-German co-production with a feel good vibe that cheered us all up. Our International Competition Award went to Shorta (2020) by Anders Ølholm and Frederik Louis Hviid, a Danish film with an impressive tension and focusing on social issues between police and immigrant youth.

On the 13th November, with the festival almost coming to an end, the Agora awards were posted on YouTube and finally, on the 16th November, the festival announced the whole list of winners, including ours, on social media.

All in all, although it was a particularly unusual edition, TIFF made us feel part of it even from afar with their online presence. Hopefully, a real human experience will be the new ‘new normal’ soon enough.

Elli Mastorou
Edited by Steven Yates