go to index page
websites of interest the writings of Bill Mousoulis the films of Bill Mousoulis go to home page
The writings of Bill Mousoulis

The 50th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

Nikos Koundouros, flanked by Festival President
Georges Corraface and Festival Director Despina Mouzaki.

This 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.


Then again, TIFF is one of the major festivals in Europe, not an “A-list” one such as Cannes, Venice or Berlin, but certainly a good, solid, respected one, alongside San Sebastian, Karlovy Vary, Locarno. Actually, it is a great blessing that TIFF isn’t a full-on glitzy, red carpet affair, attracting Hollywood stars for example.  TIFF’s guests are more arthouse oriented – this year Werner Herzog, Jane Birkin, Goran Paskaljevic.


Throughout 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).


It 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.


Set 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 Cannes award-winner Dogtooth, were not screened.  Some directors however disagreed with the “strike action” and went ahead with screening their films, and other films were programmed anyway as per normal (the “Digital Wave” section, and a couple of co-productions with other European countries).


I 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.


Congratulations TIFF on an amazing 50 years!

© Bill Mousoulis 2009

This article first appeared in Neos Kosmos, 1 Dec, 2009. reference