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The First ‘Cyprus International Film Festival’ Review!

March 24th saw the kick-off of the 1st Cyprus International Film Festival. The CIFF opened with the Cyprus premiere of the recent Oscar nominated film ‘Transamerica’, starring Felicity Huffman.

Over 130 films were screened during the chaotic four-day event. Being a competitive festival there were almost too many films for the VIP jurors to review. Those having the mammoth task of awarding the statuettes included, among others, such prestigious names as Hollywood film producer Gregory Cascante and Stuart Alson of Cannes fame.

The majority of events took place in the town of Limassol, with film screenings, and a photographic exhibition spread between the capital Nicosia, and Larnaca. Sadly, these received a muted response locally, although a myriad of visitors from countries as diverse as China, the Netherlands and Bosnia Herzegovina, descended on the town for the weekend.

The festival hub at Le Bistroquet Restaurant, on the seafront of Limassol, doubled as an Internet café. Although at times resembling a bus terminal with live piano music, many VIPs could be spotted enjoying a bit of lunch.

The man responsible for starting the New Orleans Film Festival in 1989, Dr. Andrew Horton, mingled with volunteers and directors, “My feeling is that a film festival should be a carnival of opportunity for people to meet, communicate and see films that they would not necessarily see in the regular cinema,” he explained, “a cinematic carnival has begun on Cyprus!”

Enjoying the festive atmosphere was popular Greek actor/director Renos Charalambides. “In Greece we have many talented Cypriots in the industry. But the point is to become creative with the art of film-making here in Cyprus,” said Renos.

“Cyprus lags behind when it comes to film production. This is why a film festival is required, to create more interest and get young people involved, giving them a chance to fulfil their film-making dreams!” he explained.

For enthusiasts the festival offered viewings of the acclaimed Indian film 'Raam’, (director Ameer being present to answer questions from an audience of about 35 people). This film bagged two awards for Best Musical Score and Best Actor in a Feature Film, making it the first time in history that a Tamil Language film has won international awards.

Unfortunately many festivalgoers, and directors, missed screenings of their films altogether. This was apparently due to a timing delay at one of the venues, causing a ‘domino effect’ on the whole screening programme. The scheduled ‘Spanish Films’ section at the Pattichion Theatre, Limassol, also ended abruptly after a technical hitch.

The Cult-Midnight section allowed viewers to see what fringe filmmakers are up to, including the intriguing and controversial piece ‘The Greenan Tapes’. These are allegedly the banned psychotherapy tapes of Dr. Richard Licea, but actually masquerade as a scientific study into exploitation.

The category Nostimon Emar was very popular with Larnaca audiences, and films such as Dr. Jenna Constantine’s documentary ‘The Spirit of the Chicago Greeks’, (tracing the roots of America’s Greek population from 450BC to the present), beat off stiff competition to win Best in the category. She gave a rousing and emotional winner’s speech, garnering much applause from the crowd.

Australian actress and nominee, Maria Mercedes gave a stirring performance as Ellen, in Anna Kannava’s ‘Dreams for Life’, a firm favourite with audiences, and one of the feature films in competition for the Golden Aphrodite Award.

Rudolf Mestdagh’s 'Ellektra’ (winning the Best Cinematography award), and Philip Koch's 'Paphos and Galatea’ (winning in the category of Best Video Art, proving that film and video are one in the same) were just a taste of the breakthrough films on offer.

Director Reza Heydarnejad won in the Best Children’s Film category for the Iranian film ‘Album’. Speaking through an interpreter, he used his winner’s speech to ask for peace and stability in the Middle East, and stated, “I hope that my film would unite all cultures in peace and harmony throughout the world”.

The Golden Aphrodite Award for Best Feature Film was given to the German entry ‘Unveiled’, directed by Angelina Maccarone, and starring Best Actress winner Jasmin Tabatabai, for her portrayal of persecuted asylum seeker Fariba.

Saturday night’s promised musical extravaganza party on the beach, including participation of bands from the occupied areas, didn’t last long. A real shame, as bands started off by entertaining a crowd of about 80 people, then a drop of rain, followed by a dispute between the organiser and the owner of the festival hub, stopped play twenty minutes in.

On Monday night, the jury eventually handed out several previously unannounced awards, during what the American director Shep Salusky described as, “The funniest awards ceremony I’ve ever attended!”
These included: Best Screenplay, Best Soundtrack, Best Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Editing, Best Production Design and Best Comedy.

As expected, Francis Ford Coppolla was not available. Other stars that didn’t make it to the festival included actors Antonis Kafetsopoulos and Ornella Muti. According to the event’s CEO Ms. Terzi, Greek actress Eleni Filini, wanted to take a more active role in the festival, but was unable to attend because “she was seconded to the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation’s Superbingo programme”!

Unfortunately, no one knows if the festival will be held next year, but there are few things we do know for sure; the organisers learned a great deal about how to organise a festival, and the volunteers deserved a medal for getting though the infamous event in one piece! Perhaps one of those missing statuettes has their name on it?

Maria Kritikos


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