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 came out in force this year to screen the 101 documentaries selected by the festival. The screenings attracted 15,500 enthusiasts, up from last year’s figure of 12,400.
One of the primary purposes the fest serves is to draw attention to docs originating in southeastern Europe. However, director and festival founder Dimitri Eipides has made a point of inviting 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 TV).
Veteran doc-maker Albert Maysles was presented with a lifetime achievement award honoring him and his brother David. Several of their docs screened at the festival, including Gimme Shelter (1970), Salesman (1968) and Grey Gardens (1976). Not to overlook homegrown talent, the festival also presented Greek filmmaker Lefteris Xanthopoulos with an honorary award. Xanthopoulos, who is known for both his fiction and non-fiction work, has produced such documentaries as Who the Crazy Hare Is (1993) and The Dark Conspirator (1998).
An international doc mart and a pitching forum were additional attractions of the festival. The pitch forum, 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.