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If the poster for the 12th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival says anything with its splatter of bullets, it's: "Caution! Powerful films ahead." No reel or celluloid cliché dulls the image of what to expect March 12–21, 2010, in Greece's second largest city.
Though less established than the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009, TFD has earned its programming cred.
For artistic director Dmitri Eipedes, the Festival has been "a bet." The risk-happy curator "really wanted to see the level of popularity of documentary, an art form that informs as well as entertains."
With annual crowds of more than 65,000, forefront recognition in Europe and commercial success for the art form, odds are looking good. Yet the big win for Eipedes – who fled dictatorship and only returned to a democratic Greece decades later – is showing "that documentary can make us better, thinking citizens.”
The Festival's subtitle is "Images of the 21st Century," with the tacit understanding that seeing current history propels doing. Audiences will have 170 films to spur them to action.
Take for example The Mermaid's Tears: Oceans of Plastic, by French filmmaker Sandrine Feydel. Audiences will learn about the Hazmat heap that has become Earth's oceans, and — the Aegean Sea-flanked festival hopes — will take up the cause. (The Aegean is the focus of a Greek tribute that carries late filmmaker Yiorgos Kolozis's Aegean Nin kai Ai trilogy, but I digress.)
Feydel's film will screen under "Planet in Peril," a new section that aims to pick up where the Copenhagen summit on climate change left off. Its confab, "The Earth After Copenhagen," tables as one of its talking points, "What role could organized social groups, non-governmental organizations, artistic creation and the documentary play towards (redressing global warming)?"
Mobilizing advocacy also appears a goal of such "Human Rights" section entries as The Five Cardinal Points, by Austrian director Fridolin Schönwiese. Globalization and sugarcane companies are the villains in this story of Tres Valles, Mexico, which went from prosperous farming community to destitute village whose families now seek legal or illegal work in the U.S. Another "Human Rights" selection, Dirk Simon's When the Dragon Swallowed the Sun, enlists the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and the music of Philip Glass, Damian Rice and Radiohead's Thom Yorke to chart Tibet's quest for freedom.
Women's power, as embodied in the lives of a Kenyan attorney, a South African school principal and a Zimbabwean housewife/entrepreneur, fuels Africa is a Woman's Name. The three women of ranging social strata narrate how they transformed their immediate worlds. Made by Ingrid Sinclair, Bridget Pickering and Wanjiru Kinyanjui, the "African Stories" pick echoes a broader Festival theme of human resourcefulness in surmounting private or shared hells.
It also joins two other portraits of trios, Winds of Sand, Women of Rock (also an "African Stories" entry) and Meet Me at the Mango Tree ("Views of the World"). The former, by Austria's Nathalie Borgers, follows three women of the Saharan Tubu tribe on a 930-mile date-picking mission across the Sahara desert, their yearly break from domestic drudgery and macho husbands. In the latter film, U.S. filmmaker Brian McKenzie gives a male variation of the three-tiered approach by trailing a coconut gatherer, an ironing man and a TV repairman in Tamil Nadu, India.
The "Portraits – Human Journeys" section will present the world premiere of Baktash Abtin's Park Mark, chronicling a night in the life of a former family man and wealthy U.S. resident who's now a homeless drug addict in Teheran. Like The Five Cardinal Points, When the Dragon Swallowed the Sun, Africa is a Woman's Name and five other films, it receives its world premiere at TDF.
European premieres include Coming Back for More, Willem Alkema's update of elusive Sly and the Family Stone frontman Sly Stone; About Face, an adult's attempt to grapple with severe childhood trauma, by Mary Rosanne Katzke.
This year's Festival pays homage to Dutch documentarian Joris Ivens through a retrospective reaching back to the 1920s. A highlight is The Spanish Earth, which is narrated by Ernest Hemingway and considered one of the premier documentaries on the Spanish Civil War.
Another tribute, to Krysztof Kieslowski, is part of a larger spotlight on Polish nonfiction film. Though largely known for his dramatic productions, Kieslowski documented political unrest in Poland of the 1960s and the 1970s with a rebel's nerve for social critique. The tribute's 18 films fold in the completed version of The Legend, about Polish writer Stefan Zeromski; From the City of Lódz, the director’s graduation project for film school; and interviews with workers that yield his most political film, Workers’71.
Accompanying the Festival is the International Doc Market, run by Greek National Television and the Media Program of the European Union. This year, 50 of its 450 titles will be available via an online library in 30 digital booths, dispensing of DVD and VHS formats entirely. Doc Market takes place in the Electra Palace Hotel, next to Festival headquarters — and flagship Olympion and Pavlos Zannas theaters — in Aristotelous Square.
The European Documentary Network, for its part, operates a pitching forum at TDF that draws financiers and commissioning editors from around the globe. A parallel event, "Just Talking," brings together filmmakers and industry professionals in chats that ideally lead to more than its title suggests — and on to collaboration.
Exhibitions, masterclasses, publications, concerts and parties punch up the Salonica agenda, capped by an awards ceremony. Amnesty International and FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) are two of the prize givers; the Hellenic Red Cross is another, and three of its six Audience Awards bear cash gifts of 10,000 euros each.
Yet even non-filmmakers can expect to come away with riches from Greek Macedonia's pulsing metropolitan city and its Festival a plate's toss from the wharf.
Additional details are available at www.filmfestival.gr
Thessaloniki Documentary Festival9 Alexandras Avenue11473, Athens, Greece+30 210 870 6000
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