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Thessaloniki awards gold to Bitter Dream from Iran

The 45th Thessaloniki International Film Festival wrapped up on Sunday 28 November, with its awards ceremony dishing out its main prize of the Golden Alexander to Mohsen Amiryousefi’s Bitter Dream from Iran. The competition is restricted to the first three features of directors, and the festival has shunned the so-called Class A festival status, which imposes restrictions on competitive events to give it more flexibility in its selection, part of a philosophy that makes the event popular with visiting film-makers and local audiences in this port city with a heavy student population.

Other winners from the ten-day festival were Marina Razbezhkina’s Harvest Time (Russia) and Alejo Taube's One or the Other (Argentina), who shared the Silver Alexander, with the international jury – headed by veteran Hungarian helmer Miklós Jancsó – also honoring Mexican Fernando Eimbcke as Best Director for his debut Duck Season. Urguay’s Whisky, by Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll, walked off with two awards, Best Screenplay (by Gonzalo Delgado Galiana and the directors) and Best Actress (Mirella Pascual). Harvest Time also brought its tally up to two by getting the Artistic Achievement prize. The FIPRESCI jury gave their gong for an international film to Liu Fendou’s the Green Hat from China, while its prize for a domestic feature went to Nikos Panayotopoulos’s Delivery (which earlier in the year played in competition at Venice). A screening of Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers closed the festival.

Out of competition, the latest successes in world cinema were on display in the New Horizons section, this year posthumously dedicated to Dutch director Theo van Gogh, assassinated in September for his film criticisms of Muslim attitudes to women. As well as van Gogh’s last film, Cool, the section unspooled new work from Pawel Pawlikowski, Todd Solondz, Shane Meadows and Kim Ki Duk. The latest features from Wong Kar Wai, Ingmar Bergman, Ousmane Sembene, Chantal Ackerman, Amos Gitai, Goran Paskaljevic and Hou Hsiao Hsien were shown in a related Contemporary Masters sidebar, and there special regional focuses on New French Film (including L’Intrus, the latest offering from Claire Denis), New Argentinean Film and New Russian Film. Theo Angelopoulos’s new work, Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow, was on display in the Greek Films 2004 section.

Abbas Kiarostami and Victor Erice were both present at the festival with retrospectives, and both gave masterclasses, as did Peter Greenaway (only present with his Tulse Luper Suitcases trilogy). Kiarostami has had long associations with Thessaloniki, which played a large role in helping to introduce the Iranian director to the international film world in the early 1990s. A parallel art exhibition at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art showcased Kiarostami’s still photography. Also present at the festival were indie directors Alexander Payne, Todd Solondz and Todd Verow, there not just to show their films but also to take part in a discussion on the state of independent American cinema.

The festival (which only went international in 1992 after being a showcase for national product) celebrated the tenth year of its Balkan Survey section, started while war was raging in Yugoslavia to raise the profile of a region that was otherwise only patchily covered on the festival circuit, at best. At a round-table discussion to mark the anniversary, the mood was chiefly optimistic, with Balkan producers and festival organizers determined to break down international barriers in a region that through the 1990s was synonymous with ethnic division and mutual distrust.

Meanwhile, the most highly regarded Balkan films at Thessaloniki were both Bosnian: Pjer Zalica’s Days and Hours (playing in the international competition) and Srdjan Velutic’s Summer in the Golden Valley (in the Balkan Survey), although the Bulgarian Mila from Mars, the digitally shot debut by Sophia Zornitsa in the Balkan Survey, is proving something of a regional hit since it won at the Sarajevo Film Festival earlier in the year.

Andrew James Horton

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