Film Festival: Notes from Thessaloniki
Leonidas Liambey - 29/11/2007
Talking about Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights , actor David Strathairn praised the film’s screening at the opening of the 48th Thessaloniki Film Festival, as “it is screened in a country which has been dealing with the very difficult topic of humanity and the search for love for millenniums,” adding that this “is also the main subject of My Blueberry Nights .” After the ceremony, that was attended by the Minister of Macedonia and Thrace and accompanied by the voice of the late Igmar Bergman, festival president George Corraface released hundreds of white and red helium balloons from Aristotelis Square to mark the symbolic start of the festival.
Earlier in the day, the documentary by photographer, graphic designer, painter and filmmaker William Klein, Eldridge Cleaver: the Black Panther , showed Cleaver in exile in Algeria in 1968. Eloquent, angry and in contact with the anti-colonial movements of the world at the time, Cleaver was filmed walking the souks of Algiers, buying a knife and talking about the revolutionary struggle back in the US. Born in New York in 1928, Klein, who also had a major photographic retrospective in the nearby Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, has mainly lived in Europe since 1946 saying that in the US, he’d “have a heart attack every half hour with everything on television and what politicians say.” The actor John Malkovich was presented with a Golden Alexander for his lifetime achievement in cinema and in an interview later, refused to withdraw the remarks he made at the Cambridge Union in 2002 when he said he would rather “just shoot” the award winning Middle-East correspondent Robert Fisk “I don’t even like talking about him. It gives him oxygen.” Renowned director Costas Gavras was in Thessaloniki to present his upcoming film Eden is West that begins shooting in April. It is a “road movie about a young illegal immigrant who crosses the Mediterranean from Greece, hoping to reach Paris which is his dream destination” said the avowedly political creator of Z and Missing , adding that “there is no way to make a realistic film about these peoples’ dramas. It’s a metaphor, something different.”
Alfonso Cuaron, the Mexican director of Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien amongst others, was at the festival supporting his son Jonas Cuaron whose film Ano Una , was in the International Competition. The “digital revolution is even more important than the transition from silent films to sound or from black and white to colour,” he said, there is a “new generation of filmmakers who aren’t easily impressed, who recognize when it’s a special effect or not… they have demystified cinema, and because of new technologies, they can easily make films out of nothing.” Ano Una , a film composed entirely still photographs and voiceover, about a young American woman staying with a Mexican family won the Artistic Achievement award.
Throughout the week there was a major retrospective of American independent director John Sayles including the films: Return of the Secaucus 7, Passion Fish and Lonestar . His latest, Honeydripper , with actor Danny Glover follows the story of a blues club facing the transition to rock and roll. Speaking at a press conference, he stated, “What I try and do in most of my movies is arrange things so that you pay a little more attention to the world you live in when you leave the movie theatre.” Glover, who studied economics before moving into a career in acting, went on to play important roles in films such as The Colour Purple . He has also worked with filmmakers from outside the US to support works such as the Malian film Bamako and the Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir. Committed to films with social and political content, he’s happy with the role that brought him to worldwide fame as Mel Gibson’s partner in the cop film Lethal Weapon : on its release, it was political enough to be banned in apartheid South Africa.
Director Nae Caranfil, a member of the international jury, contrasted his work with the ‘minimalist neo-realism’ of the younger generation Romanian filmmakers, claiming that movies are “not statements, but magic” and that he does not share their “very deep disappointment about their country.” A retrospective of all his films was shown at the festival, together with works by Radu Jude and the late Cristian Nemescu who died in a car crash aged twenty-six in 2006. In his film California Dreamin’ [Endless] , a group of American soldiers on their way to Kosovo is held up in a small Romanian village by the local stationmaster and extortionist. Laced with bitter humour and set in a crumbling village, the film ends in a village square massacre after the soldiers eventually leave, too late to do any ‘good’ in Kosovo.
Chairman of Fox Films and Greek-American Jim Gianopoulos was awarded a Golden Alexander for his tribute to cinema. “In fact, there is no prejudice against foreign language productions” in Hollywood, he claimed. “It’s just that the American public isn’t used to watching dubbed or subtitled films. Generally, foreign language films don’t get distribution on TV” he added, encouragingly. In PVC-1 , by Thessaloniki born Spiros Stathopoulos, an innocent Colombian woman has a remote-controlled explosive collar fitted around her neck. Her family has little time to pay up before the device is detonated. Shot in one continuous take to add to the sense of urgency, the film won Best Actor, the Silver Alexander and FIPRESCI prizes.
The Red Awn by Chinese director by Shangjun Cai won the €37,000 Golden Alexander in the International Competition. The sparsely shot story charts man’s return to his village after a five-year absence to find that his son has crossed him off the city registry. Bureaucratically dead, the film follows his attempt to revive his relationship with his son. Audiences voted Yagonan: The Dark Days of Doom, ‘The First Epic Blockbuster of Greek Cinema’ according to its trailer, best of the DigitalWave films. Accepting the award, jubilant director, Yagos Raftopoulos claimed it showed that a film without “sex and blood,” with a nonexistent budget, no technical support and amateur crew could triumph. Yagonan “was filmed in seven countries, at university conferences and from the money we made taking part in TV game shows… Our only weapon was our passion and love for cinema.”