52nd Thessaloniki International Film Festival (4-13 Nov. 2011)
Dance in the Dust
by Abbas Yari

  In the midst of the street wars, tear gas and police armed with shields and batons, which had engulfed almost all of Greece, Thassaloniki was determined to open its Film Festival filled with guests from all over the world. According to the news bulletins some of the guests had claimed to be busy and excused themselves from attending (when in fact they were afraid and worried about the unrest).  On the other hand some of the reporters and guests wanted to be both in the midst of the peoples uprising in Europe, and attend this memorable Festival. A Festival which a lot of great contemporary filmmakers owe their success to it and have great memories from it.
  Yanis Boutaris, the mayor of Tessaloniki, is a happy, slender and mature man, with grey hair and is a supporter of the event. When you shake his hand, you can tell he must have been an athlete in the past. An alligator tattooed on his right wrist can be seen…he must have had a heyday in his youth, although he has a good time now doing what he does in the present situation. The majority of people know him, and he is quite popular. If you ask him: “Mr Mayor, why do you think you had to go ahead with the Festival in the present economic situation?” he will reply: “It was not an easy task. To keep the Festival going in the present atmosphere I fought with its opponents and won. The best way to overcome such upheavals is by cultural programs. Although the unrest has engulfed most of Greece, Thassaloniki is the second important city in Greece which is completely peaceful. By showing 151 films and inviting guests from all over the world, we are providing one of the best Film Festivals of the time.”
  He continues with excitement: “With this Festival we have tried to open a window of hope for the future, for people. We definitely owe this view, with its sparkling colours and lights to cinema. You open the windows to light, colour and truth in the dark cinema halls; the window which has been open to people and its guests in this historical city!”
  Dimitri Eipides, the director of the Festival is also familiar with most young film directors of the world. He has travelled to Iran frequently and is known as “Uncle Dimitri”. He loves Iranian cinema. He also comments about the showing the Film Festival in the present situation: “A lot of people thought at a time when Greece is facing dire economic problems, why should there be a film festival? I think when our country has a chance of awakening and renewed credit; she also needs a mature enough countryman who could show growth; countrymen who are proud, innovative, courageous, and have plans for future. We needed to entertain our guests who were coming from all over the world for this Festival. We must learn to look after our guests in the height of unrest and learn what goes on around us by showing these films.”
  But the most active member and the motor of this crowd is Epiros Pengas, The Deputy Mayor for culture, education & Tourism; he is very young, pleasant and energetic. Apart from the office work, he also has hand in the carpet business. He says: “I love Iran. I love her deep films and precious carpets. I travel to Iran several times a year. I have connections there, through which I sell carpets to Greece.”

A journey to Love, Light and Mayhem…
Although travelling to Greece at a time of crisis has its own anxieties, but the journey is endless. It is the travellers who reach the end. As long as there is cinema, there is a journey to go through. Leaving your country to enter other colourful and rich cultures, entering the upheaval of the families or facing the privacy of the lonely and the isolated…you can make your journey on the screens of these 151 films; the journeys which are at times sweet and memorable, and nightmarish at others. And this journey is pleasant enough for the population of the second large city of Greece to rather than taking up stones and Molotov cocktails, to come to the cinemas with their small catalogues. So much so that the tickets are sold out for most films and from 9am to 2 after midnight the discussions and talking continues. This situation is very pleasing for the journalists. There are different films made by independent directors and are pleasing journeys into the heart of different countries with their own crisis and complicated cultures.

... To Be Continued

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