Talk with Elise Jalladeau, the Director General

in 63rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Helen Barlow

Elise Jalladeau is the director general of the Thessaloniki Film Festival. It’s an organisation which not only encompasses the festival which just took place, but a documentary film festival in March and she oversees events and the programming of four cinemas throughout the year.

I was curious as to how a Frenchwoman came to hold the top job at Greece’s most important film festival, so we sat down for a chat in her office.

Jalladeau, the daughter of Philippe Jalladeau, famous for his 30-year tenure as the director of the Nantes Film Festival, had been working as a film producer for 15 years when she reached an impasse.

“The first few films I produced were very arthouse and went to Cannes,” she recalls. “The first film 1998’s Tueur à gages (Killer) by Darezhan Omirbaev did 90,000 tickets in France, and even if last one, 2009’s Huacho by Alejandro Fernandez Almendras, was just as good, it had only 30,000 tickets, which was still very good at the time. I was depressed and I was wondering what I should do, because I really wanted to talk to the audience. We have this system in France that if you come from audio visual, you can become a kind of a diplomat, the Audiovisual attaché via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So, I applied and I was sent to Greece without even choosing Greece and I went to live in Athens. I had never been to Greece before, except when I was eight with my parents in Corfu and I learnt the language and loved it.”

Jalladeau became part of the Board of Directors of the Greek Film Centre. “I knew the problems and the challenges from the inside.” After five years her contract ended and she returned to France. “When I came back my Greek industry friends called me and said that the position at the Thessaloniki Film Festival was available. So, I applied with a plan for development of the festival and they took me. Actually, the call was in Greek.”

She was hired for three years and in turn enlisted the services of Orestis Andreadakis as the festival’s artistic director. “I wanted to work with somebody I could rely on and who could bring a new vision. Orestis is not only a programmer, he is a curator he can put the films in dialogue with contemporary works of art or novels or essays. He was very close to John Berger and has kept from this friendship this multidisciplinary approach to the arts in general and to cinema in particular. He is also a journalist, a very good journalist, and we reshaped the team. The priority at that time was to try to stabilize the finances because the festival suffered a lot during the financial crisis and the political crisis.”

They worked together on developing the Agora, the festival’s market and in June this year launched a boutique festival, The Evia Film Project, which focuses on green cinema and ecology.

“It’s all going very well,” she admits. “The only thing is that markets are under a super big pressure now because of the pandemic. We also have to be inclusive and accessible and there is a need to serve the series industry which is just starting. So as a cinema festival, how do we balance that? We are not the only ones dealing with the challenges. So, we have reached out to other markets like Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Karlovy Vary, Rotterdam, San Sebastian, Trieste and many markets and we have launched a think tank. Three think tanks in fact and the first one will be in Berlin during the Berlin Festival. The second one will be here in March during the documentary festival and the third one will be online. We hired a strategist to organize it all. The fact that we are supported by our colleagues proves that we’re facing the same issues and now together we can think about our common future because we are complementary.”

During the pandemic she says festival markets have become more integrated because they speak to each other more, via Zoom. “It’s not that we travel less but on top of that we are networking on Zoom. It’s an added value. The geo-blocking, all the topics are questioned, not only in Europe, but with the likes of New Zealand and Hot Docs in Canada.”

Jalladeau is now in her third three-year contract with Thessaloniki and it will probably be her last. “I have two more years in my term. After that, if my work is completed, I would gladly give the floor to a new generation. The festival does not belong to me after all. The previous generation of the festival directors were the pioneers. They created the film festivals and they felt like they were their own. There comes a moment when you have to let someone else on the wheel. My father was asked to step down as director of his festival in Nantes and I believe it had a profound impact on me. He created Nantes in 1979 and he was asked to leave after 30 years.”

Jalladeau was born in Nantes in 1969. She says her father and her mother, who worked with her father, asserted a huge influence. “When I was a kid, I was going to cinema almost every day. At that time, they were working for the Cinémathèque Française in Nantes and then they started the festival. I was watching films, just as a spectator and I decided not to work in cinema at all when I was 18 years old. I studied political science. When I had to look for an internship, I asked my parents if they had any friends who could take me. So, I went to the Centre National du Cinema (CNC) for Internship, and the year after I was working for Unifrance in Tokyo, which was a marvellous internship. So, I really tried to escape the idea of working in cinema but I didn’t manage it. It was easy for me; it was my culture. Even though I was interested in political science and sociology, my culture was cinema. I had a network, so I was really spoiled. I really admire people who can make it in cinema without having a family backing them.

Cinema is full of sons and daughters and I realized that I am one of them, even if my parents are not well known.”

How did that affect her in the long run?

“Initially I was not very ambitious because I had the feeling that I was not very legitimate because of my parents or even because I am a woman and women of my generation used to question their legitimacy. It affected my ambition. But I know how to work, I know how to run a team, a big team. I know how to produce a film. I think that if I was coming from the outside world and I had nobody to support me, I would have been hungrier.”

Jalladeau has nevertheless done very well and projects a relaxed personality that is welcome in the festival realm.

Helen Barlow