54th Thessaloniki International Film Festival: the “Festival of Jim Jarmusch”
The 54th Thessaloniki International Film Festival (1-10 November 2013) will undoubtedly be remembered as “the festival of Jim Jarmusch”. Not only because the very name and the films of Jarmusch are benchmarks of independent cinema worldwide, but also because the rest of the Festival developed in a quite moderate way in terms of films, filmmakers and events. Despite the crowds that were gathered outside the festival’s ticket glass cubes, the viewers’ enthusiasm during the screenings (most of which were sold out) and the overall cinephilic mood of the public, especially among young people who packed the venues in large numbers (more than 90%), the Festival programme was rather predictable, with no particular surprise regarding films, emerging national cinemas or groundbreaking film trends.
Jim Jarmusch, the legendary “prince of independent cinema”, was the undisputed protagonist of Thessaloniki, where he was invited to attend the Festival as an honored guest, a fact that enhanced the overall cinephilic atmosphere. Jim Jarmusch’s new film Only Lovers Left Alive premiered in Thessaloniki, opening the Festival at the Olympion Theatre. After an eventful parade of public officials, who annoyed viewers with their impersonal speeches about the future of cinema, Jarmusch managed to calm the spirits and to bring the Festival back to its familiar, mystical rhythms of the viewing experience.
Only the Lovers Left Alive is a strange yet poetic allegory of a vampire couple, who is in search of eternal love. Jim Jarmusch’s latest film is a contemporary tribute to love and companionship, a film that proposes an eccentric yet innovative version of a vampire tale with an exceptional cast (Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as the loving couple) and a brilliant soundtrack, an imaginative music mixture of rock n roll and post-punk themes. Apart from his anti-star attitude, Jim Jarmusch was a friendly “cinema myth”, a familiar face around the festival’s venues, who was genuinely loved and appreciated by every single cinephile in Thessaloniki. His cool manners presented a rare example of modesty and gentleness, which characterizes only truly great artists.
In a similar way, Alexander Payne, the American filmmaker of Greek descent and an old acquaintance of the Festival, was the second-best honored guest in the event. Payne was appointed President of the International Jury, painstakingly watching all of the films of the International Competition Section from the Olympion’s balcony. Alexander Payne also entrusted the Festival with a special gift, the premiere of his latest film, Nebraska, a tribute to his homeland state, which was screened during the closing ceremony. Nebraska presents a unique anatomy of family affairs in the vast American heartland, a sensitive black-and-white road movie and a touching family story with delicacy, humor and an accomplished cast, with the leading figure of Bruce Dern in the role of the father, who gave an outstanding performance that was awarded in the Cannes Festival. Nebraska is the fourth out of six Payne’s feature films, which premiered in Thessaloniki, engaging a euphoric atmosphere of true entertainment that surpassed the unexciting character of an indifferent closing ceremony.
Festival awards were monopolized by the Mexican film The Golden Cage by Diego Quemada-Diez (Best feature film - Golden Alexander award, best director award, “Human Values” award of the Hellenic Parliament TV Channel) and the French film Suzanne by Katell Quillévéré (Special Jury Award - Silver Alexander, Artistic Achievement Award for Outstanding Achievement as a Supporting Actor for François Damiens, best actress award for Sara Forestier).
Is it Weird? Is it Greek? Is it a wave?
Regarding the Greek section of the Festival, there was an apparent inconsistency in the quality of the screened films as well as an absence of a representative image of recent Greek film production, since only eight Greek feature films participated in the Festival. Undoubtedly the Greek Film Section was weakened, despite the much anticipated films The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas by Elina Psykou (which had already been selected and awarded in international film festivals and would later be a winner in Thessaloniki [FIPRESCI award and best actor award for protagonist Christos Stergioglou]) and the emotional drama Wild Duck by Yannis Sakaridis, which were also the two Greek entries in the Festival’s International Competition.
The 54th Thessaloniki International Film Festival spared little effort to promote contemporary Greek film production, contrary to its statutory goals. The Festival could have avoided such a controversy by providing at least a panorama of Greek films in order to introduce the most representative works of domestic film production to both viewers and critics. Instead, the Festival proved rather unwilling to provide a sufficient overview of recent Greek films, thus resulting in a blurred image of contemporary Greek cinema, evident not only to the Greek but also to the foreign press.
The emergence of a new generation of Greek filmmakers, who generate international attention by making their own cinema in a completely different fashion than their predecessors, was another controversial issue at the 54th Thessaloniki International Film Festival. The special screening of Miss Violence by Alexandros Avranas, an award-winning film in Venice, divided the audience and triggered discussion about the existence of a “Weird Greek cinema” and its identity. What was inevitably challenged was the role of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in the enhancement of a national cinema in Greece and its gradual neglect over the years, particularly after the abolishment of the State Film Awards, the non-competitive character of the Festival’s Greek Films section and the limited participation of Greek films in Thessaloniki, since the Festival’s unconcerned standpoint towards domestic cinema and the precondition of a national premiere that the Festival requires for Greek films has driven Greek filmmakers to other screening options, like the Athens International Film Festival.
However, at a time of tension and domestic controversies, the outstanding performance of Greek actors was a prevalent quality in the Greek Films Section. Special mention needs to be made to Christos Stergioglou for his exceptional performance in The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas by Elina Psykou, as well as to Themis Bazaka and Alexandros Logothetis for their dynamic yet sensitive acting in Wild Duck by Yannis Sakaridis, which echoed the full mastering of their screen presence.
The Festival in numbers
The Festival’s main tribute celebrated the work of French director and writer Alain Guiraudie, while the work of Claire Simon, a prolific French director, writer, actress, director of photography and editor, was presented in a spotlight. Both Alain Guiraudie and Claire Simon visited Thessaloniki to attend the tribute to their works and to discuss with the public. Among the most appraised of their films, one would find Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake / L’ inconnu du lac (2013), which was recently awarded with best-director award in Cannes, and Simon’s latest film Gare du Nord (2013), a homage to the eponymous train-station in Paris.
The 54th Thessaloniki International Film Festival featured a total of 150 films from 54 countries, and moviegoers – particularly the younger viewers – warmly embraced the screenings, an encouraging sign of the public’s vivid interest for a different, independent cinema. TIFF’s film market, Agora, which included 300 works, reached a record number of films, with the participation of 100 Greek and 232 international professionals. The Crossroads Co-Production Forum and the Works in Progress section also contributed in the promotion of the independent scene, gathering successful professionals from the film industry from around the world.
The Balkan Survey section, programmed by Dimitris Kerkinos, celebrated its 20th consecutive year with a special tribute to key films presented during those two decades. The Balkan Survey section was also a popular one to the festival goers, as it included highlights of great Balkan filmmakers, such as Lucian Pintilie’s The Oak (1992, Romania), Nuri Bilğe Ceylan’s The Small Town (1998, Turkey) and Goran Paskaljević’s A Midwinter Night’s Dream (2004, Serbia & Montenegro), as well as recent Balkan films, like Corneliu Porumboiu’s When Evening Falls In Bucharest or Metabolism (Romania, 2013) and Vinko Brešan’s The Priest’s Children (Croatia, 2013).
The 54th TIFF’s New Horizons, the section with the most promising and innovative trends of world independent cinema, launched a new unit entitled Currents, dedicated to new experimental films that function as a field in which cinematic language is explored and redefined. New Horizons featured also the acclaimed Roman Polanski in his new film Venus in Fur, the great Japan director Hirokazu Koreeda in his sensitive family dramaLike Father, Like Son, the virtuoso Pawel Pawlikowski with Ida, a touching film portrait and the new film of Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s A Castle in Italy, the story of a disintegrating family.
The 54th Thessaloniki International Film Festival dedicated an entire segment to Contemporary Argentine Cinema, which brought together young directors and explosive new films from Argentina, a country that recently recovered from an unprecedented political, economic and social crisis. The films that were screened in the Festival’s tribute to contemporary Argentine cinema spanned a wide spectrum of topics and they mainly came out from the Buenos Aires Film Festival (BAFICI) and the graduates of the film department of the University of Buenos Aires. The most remarkable films of the aforementioned tribute were The Owners / Los Dueños by Agustín Toscano and La Paz by Santiago Loza.
Special screenings were also held during the Festival in the occasion of the Lux Film Days that host films from the European Parliament’s LUX Prize Official Competition across all 28 European countries. The three selected films of the competition – which were the outcome of the Selection Panel´s choice and were subtitled in the 24 official languages of the European Union – were the following: Honey (Italy-France) by Greek-born film actress and director Valeria Golino, who visited the Festival to support her film, The Selfish Giant by Clio Barnard (UK) and The Broken Circle Breakdown by Felix van Groeningen (Belgium).
Although the 54th edition of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival was aptly accomplished, there are still important pending issues to be solved. Primarily, a serious matter has occurred, associated with the forthcoming rental of the four port warehouses cinema halls – the Festival’s trademarks at the seafront of Thessaloniki, owned by the local Port Authorities – to the Village Films Greece, from December 1st, 2013. It is still doubted whether this complication will affect next year’s edition of the Festival and, particularly, the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival, which is not yet legally safeguarded as far as its venues are concerned.
Secondly, there are severe financial cuts in the Festival’s regional events, which will not have the opportunity to travel throughout Greece, as they used to, since this year they will be confined only to cities of Northern Greece. Finally, but most importantly, the 2014 edition of TIFF is not yet financially secured. The Festival’s funding that during the 2007-2013 period has been 80% supported by the European Union (European Regional Development Fund, in the framework of the Regional Programme for Central Macedonia) is still pending, as this Fund has now come to an end, while the new European funding programme, which will be TIFF’s major sponsor, has not yet commenced, thus leaving the Festival in a fragile, transitional phase.