Mid-festival, I want to shave. A Greek friend says no: "It's your crisis beard. It suits the times. Don't look smooth." Then three days after the end of the 51st edition of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, with the seventh national general strike of 2010, fiery clashes broke out in the streets of Athens as the latest demands from European Union bankers hit the populace at large.
But still, the December 3-12 event went smoothly. In an opening week press conference, festival director Dimitri Eipides said it was time "to reclaim the festival's identity as a meeting place for brave filmmaking." Since its 1992 transition to international festival status, author-driven and independent films as well as emerging national cinemas have comprised the bulk of the attractions, even under a prior administration, where an "American pattern" of big names and ambitious programs ran a deficit reportedly as high as six million euros. The economic crisis delayed the festival from its November berth, and programming was cut by approximately 40 percent, reducing the number of master classes as well as a useful past attraction: sidebars from directors with only three to four features thus far.
Still, an extensive experimental section - its 70 short- and medium-length films overlapped with a truncated but still vital market event - demonstrated a commitment to cinematic ideals, as did the return of Greek filmmakers to the event (with 21 features). Ticket prices were reduced to six euros in a city where 12-13 euros is the standard admission. The image of waving hands, fingers pinching skinny roll-up cigarettes, was everywhere in the smoky northern port city, redolent of a common need to economize. The city's multibillion-euro subway construction unavoidably doubles as an archeological dig. A couple meters below a main thoroughfare that had been a Roman highway, stone houses unseen for centuries emerge only a meter or two below the pavement. Greece: Just below the surfaces, there's something solid.
The festival refused to skip a year, not wanting to break a half century of continuity. The documentary festival's 13th edition is set for March, and Eipides, with his nimble staff, plan toward the 52nd TIFF in fall 2011. History and continuity are good, I say to him on the closing day. "Continuity," he echoes, then adds, "And art and cinema. We show independent films. Big events can obscure them. This year, they were the stars." A strong gesture toward festival history was the presence of Michel Demopoulos, who was artistic director from 1991-2004, as head of the international competition jury.
Cannes 2010 Palme d'Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul had the largest look-see, with a complete feature retrospective, 20 shorts and a genial, generous presentation about his art installations. …