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The 11th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival - Images of the 21st Century cycle of press conferences began on Sunday, March 15, at the “Ianos” book store. The first guests were the directors Magnus Gertten, Elin Jonsson (Long Distance Love), Nahid Persson Sarvestani (The Queen and I) and Sibel Bilgin (The Hanging Gardens of Santa Emilia).

Long Distance Love, in the Stories to Tell section, observes the family of a young Kyrgyzstani immigrant: Alisher leaves his country in order to find a job in Russia, 3.500 kilometers away from his home. “Even though the film’s characters live in a country that is completely different from western culture, they are more like us than we think. They also dream of finding love and having a more comfortable life”, stressed Magnus Gertten, and continued: “We chose Alisher after doing casting in Kyrgyzstan because he was particularly expressive and because he looked like a young Al Pacino. His whole family was very “open” to the process, right from the start. Of course, later on we discovered a dark family secret. We were something like psychotherapists for his mother since this was the first time she could speak about this secret”.

Elin Jonsson added: “Through the shooting process the family members trusted us even in their most private moments”. Speaking about the multiple readings of their story, Elin Jonsson stressed: «Aside from being a love story, or a story about immigration, the film is also a reflection on the living conditions of women in that part of the planet. The are forced to be responsible for finding money, selling household objects or even food”.

In Nahid Persson Sarvestani’s film The Queen and I, screening in the Portraits: Human Journeys section, the meetings between two Iranian women are recorded: former queen Farah and the director herself, who participated in the revolution that overthrew the Shah in 1979 and was then exiled by the Islamists. “Two old enemies meet, now having the current power structure in Iran as a common enemy. I didn’t know Farah as a person, only as queen. She was very simple in her behavior, and I was so charmed that I had difficulty asking her the harsh questions that I had prepared. I learned a great deal from her and I hope that she also learned some things from me”, Nahid Persson Sarvestani underlined. She admitted that the relationship between the two women changed during shooting: “The queen didn’t know at the beginning that I had taken part in the revolution that overthrew the monarchy in Iran. As soon as she realized this, she became very nervous and told me that she couldn’t continue. But when I showed her the film’s rough-cut, she liked it. She didn’t have many objections, in fact she only asked me to remove some extracts so that I don’t refer to the Shah as a dictator so many times in the film”.

The Hanging Gardens of Santa Emilia is the creation of Sibel Bilgin and her husband Floor Kooij. The film is having its World Premiere in the Habitat section of the 11th Documentary Festival. It describes the creation of a pioneering, sustainable settlement in a Nicaraguan coffee plantation. “It would be great if, through its premiere at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival this film became a model so that more such efforts are made. Of course, I don’t claim that it is perfect and that it does not have mistakes”, the director noted and added: “Through this process, the 1,500 workers learned things that made their everyday lives easier. This film shows that there are significant benefits resulting from collective action. The initiative for setting up this settlement belonged to the company which exploits the coffee plantations. But, contrary to what we might expect, the non governmental organizations active in the area approved of the action and helped. Also, local architects disagreed with the foreign ones, who suggested more ecological solutions even though they came from areas covered in concrete and skyscrapers. In the end though, there is room for communication, as long as you deal with each other with respect and an open mind”.


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About Thessaloniki

Mcmahon Vanessa

Vanessa McMahon Covered the 13th and 14th, and 16th edition.
Catherine Esway has covered the 12th edition of Thessaloniki Documentary Festival
Cécile Rittweger covered the  11th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival

Christine Marik's reported from 49th Thessaloniki International Film Festival
Past coverage from the 10th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival by Bruno Chatelin.

Through its tributes, it focuses both on discovering filmmakers with a unique cinematic point of view, and on the internationally recognized for their contribution to documentary.

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