Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What's a girl from Muar doing in a Greek film festival?

Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller
"This year, the Balkans’ largest film festival is opening its doors to moviemakers and the public from across the region on the 16th November.

Once again, the city’s old docks and central cinemas will play host to some of World cinema’s most important independent filmmakers and stars.

As the winter evenings draw in, the city of Thessaloniki will be hosting premieres, master classes, exhibitions and production events that, for nearly two weeks, transform parts of the city into a haven for film buffs and filmmakers alike.

Part of the attraction of the Thessaloniki festival is the chance to see the latest films from the Balkans together on the big screen.

Focussed on bringing filmmakers from the region into contact with an international audience, this year’s Balkan Survey includes "California Dreaming" (Nesfarsit) by the late Romanian director Cristian Nemescu. The film won the 2007 Cannes’ Un Certain Regard Award despite the fact that the 27-year-old director was killed in a car crash before the film was completed in 2006.

The festival also includes amongst others, a tribute to fellow Romanian filmmaker Nae Caranfil, who belongs to the previous generation of Romanian directors but whose work nonetheless acts as a bridge to today’s “new wave” minimalist Romanian productions.

Unable to ignore events that have affected the region and the way in which history and politics have impacted the lives of its citizens, films such as the German-Croatian "Armin" and "Serbian Trap" attempt to tell personal narratives in a chaotic social environment.

Looking further back, Turkish directors Sirri Sureyya Onder and Muharrem Gulmez, use the events of the 1980 coup for their satirical film "International". Opening the Balkan Survey is a German-Turkish co-production "The Edge of Heaven" by director Fatih Akin, who will be attending the festival and DJ’ing at some of the events.

The Festival has always acted as a showcase for Greek cinema and this year, amongst others, it includes a new and innovative film shot in one 81 minute take in Colombia: PVC-1 by Spiros Stathopoulos, a 29-year-old native of Thessaloniki, examines the explosive PVC neck-bands used as tools for extorting ransom in the country’s narco wars forcing the viewer up close to the events.

The Festival will also be showing a retrospective of cult director Nikos Nikolaidis work. Nikolaidis, who died in September this year, was a director who focussed on the outcasts and rebels of Greek society and as such the opportunity to see all his works dating back to the 1960’s offers an important alternative vision to Greek mainstream narratives.

In parallel, the festival will be screening “In a Dark Passage: Film Noir in Greek Cinema” a series of 12 features and 2 shorts that trace the interpretation of this genre of anti-heroes and femme-fatales in urban Greek cinema from 1958 to 2004 through the lenses of some of the county’s most important directors.

The 48th Thessaloniki Film Festival will also include three ‘tributes’ to important filmmakers or genres it is showcasing this year.

The American independent filmmaker John Sayles will conduct a Master Class and receive an honorary award. His presence together with a complete retrospective of his works, starting in the late 1970’s offers viewers a great chance to get to know one of the America’s most important independent voices whose commitment to independent film during the age of the Hollywood blockbuster is unquestioned.

Across the Atlantic, the tribute to New Spanish Cinema includes 18 films made since 2003, showing “the new wave of Spanish filmmaking. This new generation of filmmakers represents the direct continuation of a long and weighty cinematic tradition that has translated into a booming and creative film industry in the 21st century,” according to Festival director Despina Mouzaki.

The Festival will also showcase the 10 works by the Japanese auteur Mikio Naruse whose 87 films between 1930 and1967 have greatly influenced Japanese filmmakers since. Little known outside Japan, his works are marked by ‘a diversity of cinematic styles, complex characterisation and an unfaltering pessimism towards the human condition.’

Other featured artists include Yasmin Ahmad who was born in 1958 in Malaysia and shot her debut feature, "Rabun", in 2002. She has been the director and scriptwriter in her films and belongs to a new generation of Malaysian filmmakers who attempt, through their work, to restore the image of their country and remove its prevailing image of multi-cultural exoticism, and to openly challenge ethnic stereotypes and taboo subjects. For the films "Sepet" (2004), "Gubra" (2005) and "Mukshin" (2006), Ahmad uses the character of young Orked, a girl who goes against her country’s archetypes, as the vehicle for her narratives and social commentary. The character of Orked embodies Ahmad’s worldview, as she is, in the words of the director, “optimistic, emotional…thankful for everyday things, such as breathing, loving, laughing, eating”.

Born in Korea in 1954, Lee Chang-dong is originally a novelist who first got involved with cinema in 1993, as scriptwriter and assistant director in "To the Starry Island", directed by Park Kuang-su. The first film Lee directed was "Green Fish" in 1996, an idiosyncratic film noir that took Korean audiences by surprise with its realistic depiction of the underworld and its people.

In his next film, "Peppermint Candy", Lee succeeded in creating a portrait of his country and the changes it underwent over twenty years.

In 2002, he made "Oasis", a study of true love and friendship that won the FIPRESCI Prize Competition and the Director's Award at the Venice Film Festival. All his films, including his latest, "Secret Sunshine", a balancing act between the comic and tragic sides of life, will be shown at the Festival.

Other featured artists of the Festival include the ‘Mumblecore’ young American independent filmmakers such as Joe Swanberg, Craig Zobel, Alex Holdridge and Laura Dunn who’s DIY low-budget style, digital cinematography and naturalistic narration have a produced a number of interesting films in recent years.

Tracing a parallel story, the Festival will screen a mini tribute to punk film that began with the No-Wave 1975 Blank Generation by filmmaker Amos Poe (who will be in Thessaloniki for the Festival) and includes films such as artist Julian Schnabel’s "Lou Reed: Berlin" amongst others.

A small section of films following New Voices from Argentina showing three films from that country that move beyond the country’s recent economic collapse adds to the polyphonic output of this year’s Thessaloniki International Film Festival."

- Leonidas Liambey (30/10/2007)