What... Greeks May Come By Ioanna Papageorgiou

in 47th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Ioanna Papageorgiou

“I had a great time being a part of this 47 year old infant… adult. I am wondering where I have been the previous 46 years” said Wim Wenders at the closing ceremony of the 47th Thessaloniki Film Festival, just before presenting the Golden Alexander award for best picture in the International Competition to Korean director Kim Tae-yong, for his film Family Ties. By the way the great German director smiled and moved his big hands with the excitement of a young boy it was obvious to everyone present that he was sincere. And why wouldn’t he be? Greeks not only adore his cinema (a complete retrospective of which was presented by the festival) as well as exchanging opinions and ideas (at his extremely successful Masterclass) with legendary filmmakers like him, but they are also world famous for their hospitality. Yes Mr. Wenders had a great time and it was really nice of him to acknowledge it so honestly. But he shouldn’t worry where he’s been the previous 46 years. Because for the first 33 years of its life (with a small intermission in the mid 70s not really worth mentioning) this “infant…adult” was only a National Film Festival, celebrating only the Greek films and their creators. It has come a long way since then, unlike most of the Greek films and their creators.

It is extremely frustrating, being there, full of hopes, every single year, only to realise that with the exception (at best) of a handful of pictures, the present, the here and now, of the national cinematic production pales in comparison with those of others countries. It’s not actually the money we lack for it is quite an achievement for such a small place of just 11 million people to give birth to 18 feature films and four documentaries in 12 months. Unfortunately, the roots of the problem are far deeper, complicated and serious. We must pursue them elsewhere – for the first 33 years of the Festival and the lingering bad habit to compare Greek cinema only with itself; to the fact that ever since Theo Angelopoulos became world famous as an exceptional auteur due to Reconstruction (1970) and The Travelling Players (1975) every director in Greece wanted to emulate Angelopoulos and every film critic dare not express even the tiniest, good intentioned, disapproving comment on his work – from the bureaucratic way the National Greek Centre operates, making the distinction between the director and the screenwriter almost impossible (nine out of ten times either the director writes his own screenplay or the writer directs his own screenplay!) to the unhealthy relationship between the festival and the State’s Awards of Quality (in order for a film to be eligible for the money that accompany not only the awards, but also the participation in the competition, it must necessarily be screened in the Greek section of the Festival); and last, but not least, to the absence of any substantial film education. It may sound surreal, but there is no National Film School in Greece . There is only the Film Academy , no more than 5 years old, existing as a department of Thessaloniki University.

Hence, it is no coincidence that the 2006 Greek film production, as presented at the 47th Festival, reflects this reality once again. The auteur syndrome was plainly obvious at Yannis Economides’ Soul Kicking and Alexander Voulgaris’ Pink. Both films were participating in the International Competition, and both were characterised by fresh, modern, boldly experimental directorial gaze and mentality. Alas though, neither the disturbingly and unexplainably loud, cruel and foul-mouthed Soul Kicking, nor the self indulgenced, pretentiously innocent and haunted by an inextricable fear of growing up Pink , manage to make any kind of sense regarding their intentions or the state and emotions of the human condition they allegedly wanted to explore. On the other hand, films like The Crossing by Dimitris Stavrakas, Akamas by Panikos Chrysanthou and The Guardian’s Son by Dimitris Koutsiabassakos tackled urgent, timely and familiar themes (the tragedy of the Asian refuges; the history behind the division of Cyprus in a Greek and a Turkish side; the abandonment of the provincial life in favour of the opportunities promised by the big cities), with well structured, earthly narratives and succeeded in making tangible the turmoil and the ever growing open wounds of modern societies. But, unfortunately their good qualities were, more or less, overshadowed by a babbling, over-explanatory naiveté, an academic, old fashioned, reminiscent of calligraphic TV mini series directorial style, a gifted but yet unripe young director who is still struggling to clearly shape his creative point of view and character, respectively.

By no accident, the most complete, consistent, fulfilled and fulfilling Greek cinematic experiences this year were made by veteran filmmakers, who have studied abroad: the substance-free, but breathtakingly beautiful, magnificently well directed, alternative musical Dying in Athens by Nicos Panayotopoulos; the extremely entertaining satire on the love-hate relation between Greece and Turkey Loafing and Camouflage: Sirens in the Aegean by Nikos Perakis and the melancholic, unassuming, silently expressive drama Eduart by Angleliki Antoniou, which follows a young Albanian immigrant to his journey back and forth in Greece, in a brave effort to find and claim salvation.

Furthermore the documentaries proved to be a (minor) cinematic oasis, either because of their nostalgic, black and white photographed theme (the revolutionary indigenous rock music and its creators during the Greek 70s, in Antonis Boskoitis’ Live at Kyttaro – Rock and Roll), the rare, charismatic personality of their subject (the artist Ioannis Moralis in Stelios Haralambopoulos’ I. Moralis), or because of the unusual reality they choose to unveil (the tragic-comic, bitter-sweet, promised and arranged by the Mayor, trip to the Russian town of Klin, in order for the men of Sugartown village to find wives, in Kimon Tsakiris Sugartown – The Bridegrooms) in an intriguing, raw, sharp and to the point, cinematic way. But the real apocalypse of the Festival was its new section Digital Wave, where 11 cheap, financially and… spiritually independent, daring, shot only with digital cameras, films (outstanding and honoured with the Public’s Award was Yorgos Axeherlidis Summer Country Dreams) gave us a glimpse of an auspicious future, with endless possibilities and real artistic freedom. Those films alone made me not wander where I have been the previous 46 years, but to look forward in being there for the next 47.