The writings of Bill Mousoulis
The 50th Thessaloniki International Film Festival
year, the Thessaloniki International Film Festival (TIFF) celebrated its 50th edition in triumphant fashion. From
November 13 – 22, it not only commemorated its history (with special screenings
and publications), it also gave us many glorious new films to savour, as any
good film festival should.
I knew I
was no longer in my hometown of Melbourne when, in the week leading up to the
festival, there was a special 5-hour overview of the festival on television,
one hour each night, each hour covering a decade of the festival’s
history. When the Melbourne
International Film Festival turned 50 several years back, there was barely
anything to mark the anniversary.
again, TIFF is one of the major festivals in Europe, not an “A-list” one such
Berlin, but certainly a good, solid,
respected one, alongside
Locarno. Actually, it is a great
blessing that TIFF isn’t a full-on glitzy, red carpet affair, attracting
its entire history, TIFF has actually been a significant event for local Greek
directors. In fact, when it began, in
1960, it was simply a showcase for Greek films (both long and short). As the years rolled on, the festival would
incorporate some non-Greek films (mainly as a separate week of screenings), but
it was only in 1992 when the festival truly transformed into an “international”
one (in both character and name). However, despite this change into an international event, TIFF remains
to this day crucial for Greek cinema: in fact, every year, most Greek films
screen at it, and it indeed hosts the National Film Awards.
But let’s back-track to 1960, the festival’s inaugural year. In that year, four feature-length Greek films
screened, including The River by
Nikos Koundouros. This year, on the evening of Tuesday, November 17, the
festival had a ceremony commemorating that first festival, by re-screening The River, and giving special awards to
director Koundouros (now 83) and his assistants on that film (who included
Costas Ferris, a noted director in his own right, of Rembetika and other films).
was a wonderful evening, as it re-united Koundouros with a number of his former
crew members. “One foot in the grave”
jokes aside, Koundouros delighted the audience with anecdotes from the time of
the making of the film. Koundouros is
actually a significant figure in the history of Greek cinema, because his first
two features Magic City (1954) and The Ogre (1956) were noted Greek films
at the time and indeed hold up today as excellent works (with The Ogre of interest because it features
comic legend Dinos Iliopoulos in a chilling dramatic role). The only other
Koundouros film this writer has seen is his last production, The Photographers (1998), and it is
dreadful. Who knows what his other dozen
or so features are like, but The River is actually a fine film.
on the banks of a river which functions as a border between two camps of a war
(an unspecified, fictional war), the film is a portrait of four different sets
of people, people away from their normal living quarters, people affected by
war. The best scenes revolve around a
romantic-tragic couple, and a young boy and young girl. In fact, the episode between the two children
has to be one of the best depictions of child friendship/interaction the cinema
has produced, with both young actors giving free and confident performances.
And Greek cinema of 2009? Is it as good
as Koundouros? Can it match
Angelopoulos? Unfortunately, as had been
mooted in the months leading up to this year’s festival, most Greek producers
and directors decided to boycott this year’s festival, refusing to screen their
films so as to bring attention to their industrial plight (lack of government
funds, lack of support from associations). So about 24 feature films, including
saw the following Greek films: Small
Revolts (dir: Kyriakos Katzourakis), a fine film about domestic abuse; A Matter of Luck (dir: Vassilis Nemeas), a conventional but enjoyable comedy about a mental
patient; and The Will of Father Jean
Meslier (dir: Dimitris Kollatos), a dry meditation on religious calling.
TIFF on an amazing 50 years!
© Bill Mousoulis 2009
This article first appeared in Neos Kosmos, 1 Dec, 2009. reference