A dwarf on the shoulder of giants.
Being a member of the jury for the international competition of the 48th Thessaloniki International Film Festival turned out to be a far more enriching experience than I ever imagined.
Heading the panel was Jiri Menzel, a close friend and old film schoolmate of Milos Forman.
Himself an outstandingly accomplished filmmaker, Jiri (pronounced Yirzhi) won a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1966, at the age of 28, for his very first film "Closely Watched Trains".
He subsequently won several Golden Bears at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Also on the panel was the American screen legend Fred Roos. A wholly down-to-earth man, Fred has won more awards than I've had hot breakfasts. He was Executive Producer and Co-Producer on films such as "The Conversation", "The Godfather Part II", "Apocalypse Now", and "Lost In Translation", just to name a few.
Next in line, in terms of seniority, was Nae Caranfil from Romania. Like Jiri, Nae has had a string of awards from all over Europe.
Micheal Fitzgerald, an unnervingly incisive judge of films and human nature, was an independent producer, with award-winning films such as "Wise Blood", "Under The Volcano", and "The Pledge" to his name.
41-year old Lucrecia Martel won awards in Berlin and Sundance for her very first film "La Cienaga". Her second film "La Nina Santa" was nominated for a Cannes Palme d'Or in 2004. (She's had two of her films produced by Pedro Almodovar!)
Then, there was the accomplished poet Olga Broumas. A Poet-in-Residence and Director of Creative Writing at Brandeis University, Olga has had seven books of her poems published in the United States.
Putting a poet on the jury panel was a stroke of genius, I reckon, because I have always felt that cinema at its best is a poetic glimpse into humanity.
And finally, little old ignorant me.
Of course, if you've been following this blog in the last three years or so, you would know that some of the biggest criticism my films and I have received from some local "illuminati" (read: tired old film lecturers, frustrated filmmakers, and pseudo film critics) have been that I don't understand cinematic structures because I never went to film school.
Well, I have some bloody good news for budding filmmakers here.
As we sat around together for 12 days, watching films, having breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and finally choosing the winners, NONE of these distinguished people ever mentioned structures or subtexts or semiotics.
Lucrecia herself has had virtually no film training, apart from a brief stint at an experimental film school which closed down soon after she joined! In her own words, "I watched movies, I read books, I wrote. I was a free mind, because I had to be."
The comments made by the judges about the films in competition were consistently to do with the power of the story, the honesty of the emotions, the human insights that were found in them, and the executional quirks that were considered beautiful, simply because they came from the auteur's totally personal view of human nature and the world around him.