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firts titles at Thessaloniki International Film Festival

The 49th Thessaloniki International Film Festival announces the first seven titles selected to participate in the 14-film strong International Competition section, catering to first or second features by emerging filmmakers and programmed by Festival Director Despina Mouzaki. Three features from Asia will hold their European premieres in this year’s Festival, following last year’s success of The Red Awn by Shangjun Cai (China, 2007), the winner of the Golden Alexander Award.

Cell (Selda, Philippines, 2008) by Ellen Ramos and Paolo Villaluna is the sophomore feature of the two independent fiction, documentary and animation filmmakers, following their Ilusyon in 2005. Accentuated by the striking cinematography of Odyssey Flores, Selda is the powerful, daring and emotional story of friendship and romantic love between two men that meet while incarcerated in the same prison cell.

A Broom Becomes A Goldfish (Bitjaru, Geumbungeo Doeda, Korea, 2008) is a remarkable debut feature by Dong-joo Kim and the find of this year’s Jeonju International Film Festival. The film recounts the life of a middle-aged man living in a dormitory complex of a poor neighbourhood in the Seoul outskirts, barely making a living with odd jobs. Filmed in a stark manner, often using the angle of a CCTV camera in the dormitory’s cramped quarters, the film nevertheless creates a genuine and affecting portrait of a man's descent into insanity, driven by loneliness and a society that fulfils only the most rudimentary of human needs.

Winds of September (Jiu Jiang Feng, Taiwan/Hong Kong, 2008) by Tom Shu-Yu Lin, winner of the top prize in the Shanghai Festival New Asian Talent competition, is the first chapter of a trilogy initiated by prolific Hong Kong actor/producer Eric Tsang. A group of high-school boys are confronted with a terrible accident that speedily moves them towards adulthood; director Tom Shu-Yu Lin interweaves their friendship and coming-of-age story with a notorious Taiwan baseball game-fixing scandal that happened in 1996. Liao Min-hsiung, a famed baseball player involved in the scandal and banned for life from the sport, appears in the film.

The other four entries in the 49th TIFF Competition section are:

One Week Alone (Una Semana Solos, Argentina, 2007) by Celina Murga is the director’s second feature, following Ana y Los Otros (Ana and the others), which won the Best Director Award in the 44th Thessaloniki International Film Festival. An insightful, poignant and subtly poetic study of teenage life and behaviour, Una Semana Solos follows a group of affluent suburban kids who, in the absence of their parents, break into neighbouring homes and “explore” other people’s lives by invading their living spaces.

The Hourglass (Pescanik, Serbia/Hungary/Montenegro, 2008) by Szabolcs Tolnai will hold its European premiere in the 49th TIFF. The director has adapted Danilo Kis' homonymous autobiographical trilogy about a train inspector travelling in the war-torn Central Europe of the 1970s: a true feat because of the complicated, frequently called “Kafkaesque”, nature of the writing. Cinematographer Gergely Poharnok, who succeeded in visually translating the novels’ kaleidoscopic imagery onscreen, won the Hungarian Film Week Cinematography Award for both his work in The Hourglass and the film Delta.

Three Blind Mice by Matthew Newton (Australia, 2008). In Newton’s sophomore film, three Sydney sailors are about to embark on a military vessel headed to Iraq, fraught by the events of their last stint there. Akin to Cassavetes’ films in its free-flowing and spontaneous stylistic approach, the film takes place over a period of one night. The three protagonists, one of whom is the director himself, impress with an acting tour-de-force, while the emotional consequences of taking part in a war resonate throughout the film.

Ordinary Boys (Chicos Ordinarios, Spain, 2008) by Daniel Hernandez. The Spanish director Daniel Hernandez, who has done documentary work in Morocco, decided to also shoot his first fiction feature in the north-African country. In an impoverished Muslim neighbourhood, the camera observes a lively mosaic of life and three characters –two men, one woman- who are presented with meagre opportunities and few choices. Hernandez’ characters, however, do not give up, but remain steadfast in their effort to achieve a better life and a sense of freedom.


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