Thessaloniki International Film Festival

Article excerpt

Around the world, film festivals seem to arrive more often than buses in most cities. In the pursuit of fresh ways to make cinema something more than images and sound scaleable to any media format, some events have made film in their cities truly something special. A lesser-known celebration is the two festivals held each year in Thessaloniki, Greece's second city of about a million (with a student population almost a fifth of that number). The city is out of the way, but during each of the 10-day fests, the events seem like white-hot centers of cinema.

In March the Thessaloniki Documentary festival had its 10th anniversary, midway between True/False and Hot Docs, and like those festivals, thrives on its mingling of personalities of filmmakers more or less presenting or selling themselves and their projects than mingling gracefully. And then in fall, a couple weeks before the events that kept Greece in flames for most of the month of December, the 49th Thessaloniki International Film Festival (Nov. 14-23) may have perfected its combination of film and festival. The mood of the film world at large was nowhere to be found. In this fifth-century B.C. port rife with wine, food and song, there was no disillusionment or despondency about the sea changes occurring in production and distribution. What Thessaloniki has mastered is figuring out what gets audiences out of the house and into remembering: spectacles that reinforce the pageants onscreen. The drama of the 150 or so movies from around the world - the Thessaloniki International Film Festival is like a superserious Toronto without the Hollywood premieres - is enhanced and deepened by the other events, which surprisingly do not detract from the studious programming. There are large cash awards to the juried prizes, which encourage filmmakers, but even compiling a short list of events can leave you breathless. A complete retrospective of the late Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène was accompanied not only by a large, bilingual book but also a performance by the mammoth Orchestra Baobob ensemble (a feat of transportation that would defeat the best travel agents). Oliver Stone presented W., but more importantly, a full-to-bursting morning master class, free to the largely young crowd, and a press conference in which he lucidly outlined his to-the-minute bulletins about American destiny. Charmingly shy Takeshi Kitano was honored and held a smart, funny master class, but revealed himself more after a screening of Achilles and the Tortoise, when he agreed with a contentious audience member than his "trilogy of failure" was likely a failure all around. …