Three years in and the attendance numbers are climbing for the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (March 5 to 11). Since its inception in 1999, the event has prided itself on openness to the local public, who this year came out in force to screen the 101 documentaries selected by the festival. The screenings attracted 15,500 non-fiction enthusiasts, up from last year’s figure of 12,400.
One of the primary purposes served by the Thessaloniki fest is to draw attention to documentaries originating in southeastern Europe. However, director and festival founder Dimitri Eipides has made certain to invite a range of international films. Docs in this year’s lineup included The Natural History of the Chicken (directed and produced by Mark Lewis of L.A.-based Radio Pictures), The Charcoal People (directed by Nigel Noble and produced by Brazil’s Zazen Productions) and Labyrinth of Truth (directed by Nitza Kakoseos and produced by Electra Media and Swedish National Television).
Veteran American doc-maker Albert Maysles was presented with a lifetime achievement award and Greek filmmaker Lefteris Xanthopoulos received an honorary award.
An international doc mart and a pitching forum were additional attractions to the festival. The pitch forum, which was organized by the European Documentary Network in collaboration with the festival, featured 25 projects, eight of which originated with Greek producers. Some of the commissioning editors in attendance were Claire Colart of RTBF in Belgium, Helen Vlachos from Greek pubcaster NET, Rada Sesic of the Netherlands-based Jan Vrijman Fund and Franz Grabner of ORF in Austria.
Reflecting on this year’s Australian International Documentary Conference, held in Perth from March 6 to 9, attendee and Aussie filmmaker Lilliana Gibbs says, ‘It was an excellent turnout for the most isolated city in the world.’ AIDC director Richard Sowada agrees. The delegates numbered more than 500 and brought an attitude that was ‘very positive, very vibey,’ he says.
According to Sowada, some of the excitement among the filmmakers came from a surprising source – Michael Renov, a professor from the University of Southern California who gave an academic keynote address on the history of the documentary form.
Sowada was also impressed with the enthusiasm of the commissioning editors in attendance. ‘We had a video library where delegates could submit films. It was always busy. It showed that the people with money in their pockets were really willing to do their research.’
But not everyone looked favourably on the large turnout. ‘There were hundreds of people there. With a population of 18 million and the number of outlets we have, we just can’t afford to support that population,’ says Dione Gilmour, executive producer of the Natural History Unit at Australian pubcaster ABC. ‘We’ve got to get government regulation so all outlets are required to make room for home-grown product.’
(For more on the AIDC and Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, see RealScreen‘s April issue.)