With a diverse array of offerings for Greek audiences and industry pros, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (held this year from March 4 to 10) is confidently forging a reputation as the premiere southern European event for international documentaries.
It’s difficult to imagine a better crash course in the sensibilities of European doc broadcasters than attending the festival’s European Documentary Network pitching session. This year, 20 projects from 13 European countries were pitched to 12 broadcasters and distributors, after a preparatory three-day workshop given by EDN tutors. Those pitching ranged from first time directors to veterans with more than 30 years experience.
Unlike the brusqueness of some pitching venues, the Thessaloniki panel was directed to provide substantive advice and potential contacts, in the spirit of EDN’s mission to encourage European copros. Afternoon sessions allowed participants to meet with individual financiers, which this year included Peter Gottschalk of ARTE, Christiane Philippe of RTBF (Belgium) and Mark Atkin of SBS Australia.
Some financiers also dropped into the festival market, which is proving popular as a resource for picking up international docs. This year more than 24 buyers from 17 countries attended; in addition to the 91 festival films, the video library showcased 166 international docs completed in the past two years.
The fourth annual festival program was an impressive if eclectic mix of films hand-picked by festival director and founder Dimitri Eipides, who admits he set out to cover as many areas as possible. The program included a strong human rights strand, focusing on children living in harsh conditions, as well as numerous personal story films from around the world, late night entertainment docs, and two strands featuring Greek filmmakers.
Filmmakers Bruce Weber, Klaus Kinski and Monika Treut were featured at the festival, with Treut on hand to accept the audience award for Warrior of Light, a profile of Brazilian human rights activist Yvonne Bezerra de Mello. Iran’s Mohsen Makhmalbaf received an honorary award for raising awareness of the plight of Afghani immigrants. Lourdes Portillo’s Missing Young Woman won the festival’s critics award.
Festival screenings continue to attract an astonishing number of locals. Director Eipides thrives on such interest from the public, and is cultivating the festival as a platform for a broader array of activities that highlight social issues. This year the festival hosted a symposium on the human rights of children, a teleconference on terrorism (with Noam Chomsky weighing in from Boston), and a telethon to raise money for Afghani children.