The 16th edition of Greece’s Thessaloniki Documentary Festival began this past Friday, so I’m a bit late in posting this “preview.” I’ll once again be attending the tail end of the event, which will run through this coming Sunday, March 23, unspooling more than 140 new documentary features, with shorts and retrospective programming adding to that tally, including a tribute to the recently departed Peter Wintonick. What follows is a breakdown, section-by-section, of new and recent films in the lineup that have caught my attention, omitting titles that I’ve covered previously elsewhere.
Contemporary global concerns are the focus of “Views of the World,” including: Kostas Pliakos’ YUSEF’S SONG (pictured), a portrait of post-revolution Libya through its best-known rapper; Nina Maria Paschalidou’s KISMET, an exploration of the impact of Turkish soap operas; Avra Georgiou’s DOLLARS FOR A SAINT, about an annual celebration uniting Greek villagers and gypsy musicians; and Kavita Bahl and Nandan Saxena’s CANDLES IN THE WIND, which focuses on the struggles of Indian farmer widows.
From the global to the individual, “Stories to Tell” features such titles as: Karin Ekberg’s end of marriage chronicle, A SEPARATION; Alexandra Anthony’s story of a kidnapped cousin, LOST IN THE BEWILDERNESS; Fereydoun Najafi’s look at a tribal family feud, THE LAST MIGRATION; Yaël André’s rumination on alternate paths, WHEN I WILL BE A DICTATOR; Ilan Moskovitch and Dan Bronfeld’s portrait of father and son cave diggers, APOLLONIAN STORY (pictured); Ananda Henry-Biabaud and Myriam Bou-Saha’s search for answers through magic, BUT, I REMEMBER SEEING SORCERERS FLY AWAY; and Barbara Eder’s look at the daily lives of criminologists, PROFILERS – GAZE INTO THE ABYSS.
Thessaloniki’s “Recordings of Memory” aims to use stories of the past to inform contemporary understanding, and includes: Vassilis Douvlis’ AFFECTION TO THE PEOPLE, on the censorship of Greek cinema during the dictatorship; and Elias Yannakakis’ KALAVRYTA – PEOPLE AND SHADOWS (pictured), a reckoning with a WWII slaughter of a Greek village. “Society,” meanwhile, illuminates societal issues through personal stories, such as: Deborah Perkin’s BASTARDS, a woman-centric look at the plight of unwed mothers in Islamic nations; Mira Jargil’s DREAMING OF A FAMILY, which follows the efforts of a recovering addict to secure a stable family for his daughter; Claus Drexel’s ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD (pictured), a portrait of the nocturnal world of Paris’ homeless; and Stelios Kouloglou’s THE GODMOTHER, a meditation on the international impact of Germany’s Angela Merkel.
“Habitat” focuses on the environment and place, including: Jean Loic Portron and Gabriella Kessler’s portrait of a struggling post-industrial American town, BRADDOCK AMERICA; Edgar Hagen’s exploration of the final resting place for nuclear waste, JOURNEY TO THE SAFEST PLACE ON EARTH; and Grimur Hakonarson’s story of Icelandic environmental activism, THE LAXA FARMERS. The self-explanatory “Human Rights” features Anna Brass’ LEAVING GREECE, about Afghan teens stuck in Greece; Santiago Esteinou’s THE YEARS OF FIERRO, about an avowedly innocent Mexican on death row; and Anneta Papathanasiou’s PLAYING WITH FIRE (pictured), on the dangers faced by Afghan actresses.
The performing arts are at the core of “Music & Dance,” including Kenneth Elvebakk’s BALLET BOYS (pictured), following three teenagers as they pursue their love of dance; and Filipe Araújo’s THE NINTH LIFE OF GUALDINO, on the physical rehabilitation efforts of a paralyzed drummer; while in “Arts,” Dimitris Koutsiabasakos’ BECOMING AN ACTOR chronicles three years in a drama school.
Finally, the fest’s “Greek Panorama” shines a spotlight on additional national docs that have already had exposure within Greece, including Yannis Tritsibidas’ VIET COSTAS. CITIZENSHIP: UNDEFINED (pictured), about the strange story of a former Greek WWII POW who later defected from the French Foreign Legion; and Apostolis Asimakopoulos’ A BREATH IN THE AEGEAN, which follows a young boy, his grandfather, and his teacher on a small Greek island.