Thessaloniki Doc Festival Triumphs Despite “Violence, Intolerance”


The Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival is coming off a successful — and at times turbulent — 26th edition, wrapping “amidst an explosive ambiance with episodes of violence and intolerance.”

In a post-festival report, TiDF says 66,000 spectators and visitors participated in the event this year, an increase of 16 percent over 2023. The festival ran from March 7-17 in Greece’s second largest city, nestled in a gulf of the Aegean Sea.

“This year’s TiDF hosted a great number of premieres, exciting talks and special events, and welcomed the internationally acclaimed artist Dimitris Papaioannou,” the festival noted in its report. “Moreover, it bestowed honorary Golden Alexanders to the Academy Award-winning Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba and the Greek film director, screenwriter, author and translator Panayotis Evangelidis.”

TiDF hosted more than 300 in-person screenings at several venues, as well as showcasing 133 documentaries through the festival’s online platform. The concurrent AGORA film market played host to the Thessaloniki Pitching Forum and the Docs in Progress sidebar.

Head of Programming Yorgos Krassakopoulos

TiDF

“The festival has been going from strength to strength in recent years, so we couldn’t be happier,” TiDF Head of Programming Yorgos Krassakopoulos tells Deadline (he is also head of programming for the separate Thessaloniki Film Festival, a narrative-oriented event that takes place in November). “We were hesitant when we started if we would have to sacrifice the quality in order to get premieres and stuff like that. But the short answer was no.”

Krassakopoulos adds, “Through the years we have made wonderful discoveries through films that were blindly submitted to us from people that we might know from shorts or that have passed through other channels of the festival like and the AGORA programs… I feel that our competition sections are pretty great.”

'Stray Bodies'

‘Stray Bodies‘

Jungle Film

As Deadline previously reported, Iranian filmmaker Farahnaz Sharifi’s My Stolen Planet won the Golden Alexander – the festival’s top prize — automatically qualifying the film for Oscar consideration. Forest, directed by Lidia Duda, claimed the Silver Alexander.

Stray Bodies won two Special Mentions after causing an uproar at the festival. Greek filmmaker Elina Psykou directed the film, “a road movie about unvoluntary trips of women crossing EU borders to evade the restrictive laws of their home countries, where religion and politics have more say over their body than themselves.” Abortion, IVF treatments and assisted suicide are among the services being sought by protagonists of the film.

'Stray Bodies' poster

‘Stray Bodies’

TiDF

Right-wing protesters and the Greek Orthodox Church expressed outrage over the documentary. Local authorities called in riot police to head off the potential for violent demonstrations around the film’s premiere. The Stray Bodies poster, depicting a pregnant Virgin Mary-like figure nailed to a cross, also offended some conservatives. The director told Variety, “With the film, we want to open a dialogue. And we thought, with the poster, we could open a dialogue. But now, there’s no dialogue. There are only monologues.”

The Olympion Theatre in Aristotelous Square

The Olympion Cinema in Aristotelous Square

Matthew Carey

Thessaloniki and the festival were rocked by a separate incident on March 9 when a crowd of about 150-200 youths harassed a nonbinary couple in the city’s Aristotelous Square, chasing the couple into a restaurant after hurling bottles at them. TiDF expressed “anger and repugnance” over the incident that took place in the plaza that borders the Olympion Cinema, the festival’s largest venue. The following night, Aristotelous Square filled with perhaps a thousand people who condemned the Saturday night attack and expressed support for the LGBTQ community.

Religious and political conservatives in Greece have been roiled by growing acceptance of LGBTQ rights. In February, just three weeks before the festival began, Greece approved same sex marriage, a first for a majority Orthodox Christian country. Krassakopoulos, the head of programming, told us TiDF’s program reflected these major developments in Greece.

A sign for the Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival

A sign for the Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival

Matthew Carey

“One of our main tributes was in queer documentaries,” he observes. “And this kind of came to us from what was happening in Greece with the law that just passed about same-sex marriage… something that was being discussed in society a lot in recent months — for a year or so. It was like a hot topic around us, and we wanted to do something about it, and we thought that we should comment on that. And this is how the idea of programming and planning a tribute to queer documentary came about.”

He continues, “In a way, you never program or you never work in an echo chamber. So, you always are influenced by things that are happening around you.”

Moments of unrest notwithstanding at this year’s TiDF, Krassakopoulos says both festivals in Thessaloniki are known for their convivial atmosphere.

The Thessaloniki waterfront

The Thessaloniki waterfront

Matthew Carey

“The feeling that you get when you are there is a great feeling. We really love what we do and this comes across and our biggest, let’s say ‘publicists’ or ‘advertisers’ are the people that have come to Thessaloniki,” he comments. “I know it will sound like a huge cliche, but Greek hospitality, it’s something that we do not [force], but it comes naturally.”

He says the festival takes particular care to ensure a positive experience for filmmakers. Even Psykou, the director of Stray Bodies, whose premiere took place in the shadow of protest, called TiDF “the best festival in the world.”

“Knowing that it’s their first time that their films will meet with an audience, it’s something that we take really seriously, and we try to set a platform that they will have the best exposure, but also a place where they will have a great screening and they will meet an audience that will be appreciative,” Krassakopoulos explains. “We pride ourselves on our Q&As… People are really interested in what you are showing them. They want to know more, not like how many days did that take to shoot, but deeper. And Thessaloniki is also a very hospitable city, and the food is amazing and that does not hurt.”


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