Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thessaloniki International Film Festival

Thessaloniki has so much to offer and between meetings and screenings, plus my current work with the Berlinale's European Film Market, there is little time to explore the environs, like, Mount Olympus and the newly excavated perfectly preserved gravesite of Philip, the father Alexander the Great and Alexander's son Alexander IV, killed before reaching the age to become king. Truly and literally classic!

Thessaloniki is situated between east (as in The Byzantine) and west Europe, at the edge of the Balkans. Aside from the market itself called Agora and organized by Margarita Eliopoulou, three sections are designed to take advantage of its geographically unique location: the Balkans, South Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.

• Salonica Studio/ Four Corners, the TIFF Student Workshop - My partner Peter Belsito is busy coaching the Thessaloniki film school students in pitching and entering the world('s) markets. Thessaloniki has the largest student population in Greece.

• Balkan Fund, the TIFF Script Development Fund

• Crossroads, the TIFF Co-Production Forum

It's obvious still that Romania holds sway as the great emerging film talent in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Yaron Shani and Scandar Copti’s dynamic debut feature Ajami and Calin Netzer’s Romanian drama Medal Of Honour took the top prizes at the 50th Thessaloniki International Film Festival in Greece on November 22.

The debut film First of All, Felicia (Romania) also screened at AFI this year (and premiered at Sarajevo). This film's two debuting directors Melissa de Raaf and Razvan Radulescu are seasoned writers. Especially Razvan who wrote my favorite film from Thessaloniki last year, which surprisingly has made very little waves stateside, not even showing in Jewish Film Festivals, a film worthy of the great French Romanian playwright Ionesco, Gruber's Journey. He was the writer on Best Foreign Language Oscar winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days , The Paper Will Be Blue and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. It's obvious Razvan should try his hand at directing. I only wish it had not been from a script that would be better made into a stage play. Well written, and very well acted, but shot in two locations with three actors, it felt too enclosed.

The side bar Crossroads, organized by Despina Mouzaki, the director of the festival itself, and Marie-Pierre Macia, had 17 projects chosen from Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Israel, Jordan, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Syria and Turkey, all wth experienced producers and directors attached, gathered from the Producers' Network in Cannes, the Mediterranean Film Institute, a MEDIA proramme, and Sofia Meetings of the Sofia Film Festival. Two films coming from there showed at TIFF this year: Israel's Academy Award submission Ajami and Romania's Kino Caravan.

Romania producer Tudor Giurgiu of Libra Film whose Katalin Varga is at the festival is also pitching Adalbert's Dream at Crossroads. Producer Giurgiu himself seems to be the one man organizing the entire Romanian film industy. While he would not claim this himself, in many ways he reminds me of Pusan's Mr. KIM Dong-Ho. Aside from his production company Libra Film, he is the founder of film distribution company Transilvania Film and film/ music magazine Re:public. He is also the founder and honorary President of the Transilvania Int'l Film Festival, the first and most important international festival for feature films from Romania, and founder of Romanian Film Promotion, initiator of the GOPO Awards (the annual awards for best achievemens in local filmmaking, the local equivalent to the Oscar or Cesar Awards), and is a member of the board of ACRO, Romanian Filmmakers' Association. Who knows but that in 10 years he may also be honored by Thessaloniki as the new Mr. KIM for Eastern Europe's ascendancy in world film.

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