It was for me a special privilege to be entrusted again the mission and the responsibility of performing the Grand Temoin task for the Drama International Short Film Competition. And the fact that this morning so many of those who attend this very special Festival are here, honors me.
We all went through a harassing but so much rewarding week. The very moment screenings were over it was clear for everyone that this 39th edition was a great one. The international selection was of a high level and before the Festival started we were told by its artistic director that the national offer hit a record, both in terms of quantity and esthetic achievements. I wish I could have seen all Greek shorts, not just the two dozens which strongly impressed me for their vibrant link to disturbing nowadays realities, for the poetical approach to life and the inner light of most of the characters – no matter if in documentaries or features.
I would like to open this present Grand Temoin report by a simple statement: we were all involved in a miracle. The magic powers of Aghia Varvara springs, the determination of the Macedonian authorities, the enthusiasm of a Mayor in love with culture and cinema and above all the stubborn belief of Antonis Papadopoulos and of his devoted team in overcoming all obstacles, made the dream come true once more. Miracle workers, they bravely kept afloat the vessel of this Festival despite the successive crises which hit the country. Spectacular in itself, their endeavor commands our respect since the context was by far not an encouraging one. Let’s not forget what goes on in this area, in the rest of Europe and around the world: under the economic pressure which dramatically changed the social priorities, festivals, theaters, symphonic orchestras, opera companies, public and private long ago established artistic institutions are closing down. Everywhere, cultural budgets shrink or just vanish.
Yet, here in Drama, despite all, there was a will to go on, a determination to keep alive the long tradition of the Festival for the sake of cinema art, for the sake of Greek cinema, for the sake of Drama film lovers who take by assault the small screening hall of legendary Olympia Cinema. Much too tiny to let in all the local film-addicts. And since all of us, foreign guests as well as Greek people from the film industry, admired the stunning results of turning an old Tabaco factory into the luxurious Hydrama Grand Hotel, let us dare to hope the city will get as well a bigger cinema house.
And now, allow me to concentrate on the International Competition. As I already pointed out, the selection was a remarkable one. Congratulations to the Selection Committee members for their choice. It was not an easy task. Not only they provided us an unusually broad panorama of the world short movie production, bringing together works from 50 countries and five continents – a record indeed – but their intensity was impressive in terms of esthetic, technical and production ambition.
For those of you attending for the first time this Festival, as well for the veterans, I will point out that for the last three or four editions, we could easily identify some major themes, heroes, or recurrent shots. As if all authors had listen to a mysterious unique command. Thus, we had the year of the coffins, we had the year of the goat.
In 2016 the dominant themes were fear and love. The hero was the child. And the quasi omnipresent frame, even in some of the cartoons, was a Hitchcock-ian staircase shot from above.
I will start with the theme of Fear. Since we last met here, in Drama, Europe and the entire world faced the ever growing tragedy of refugees and of insane terrorist attacks. All of a sudden nothing may be as it was before. Fear became our daily companion.
Coming from Slovenia, A new home, poignantly follows the catastrophic way in which fear engenders tragedy. A perfect stylistic approach, a clever editing, and a well control of the thrilling crescendo are impressive. Yet it is not a thriller but a subtle psychological study of the irrational fear triggered into the soul of ordinary people by the new reality of refugees. A similar theme is dealt with in the German student movie Boat people, but with less convincing results. Also out of fear, this time fear instilled by mass media, in the brilliantly acted South Korean Invited, an old and gentle grandfather is led to perpetrate an accidental murder, destroying destinies and his family tranquility
Some shorts dealt with another type of fear - the unbearable terror of solitude after the loss of the twin soul. My Claire, student production from U.S.C. by Nepalese Rajendra Thakurathi, the Danish Goodnight Birdy, and the Romanian 4 1/2 senses, develop in various keys, including touching dialogues with the deceased, this fatal blow of destiny.
For this 22nd International edition, in almost half of the total selection there was a child. Suffering because of the family dissolution (as in You and me from Iceland), witnessing a shameful historical event (as in the Hungarian Before Lunch), being exposed to the violence behavior of a parent (as in the Australian The Raven), or experiencing an apocalyptical situation (as in the Spanish super production Zero). There was even a little boy in a suitcase, on the way to be victim of the illegitimate organ transplant perpetrated in the bloody English Red, black parody of an ever increasing criminal international business which takes the lives of thousands of kids around the world.
I will not bore you with the entire list of movies starring kids. Let me just recall to your memory the final shot of the Icelandic You and me. The image of the little girl shivering on her balcony, in her too short dress, announces a future victim of women’s solitude.
The international program opened once more so many windows towards unknown places of the world. Despite a rather conventional plot, Indian Mouth of hell is saved by the touching acting of a little boy with sad eyes conveying the lack of hope and horizon of millions of kids deprived of childhood.
Last but not least, around the terminal illness of a child unfolds the extraordinary Austrian elegy Nelly. Perfect in terms of stylistic refinement, script originality, brilliant visual camera achievements and amazing acting of the little girl, it is a gem. I just hope the Jury had the same opinion.
Unexpectedly, the CRISIS was less present on the screen. It discretely interferes with the life of a young Greek meeting lovely Alice in the cafe. A contemporary love story unfolding in a fresh way, an authentic slice of reality, a subject firmly handled by director Dimitris Nakos.
As I mentioned before, Love was one of the major themes of this year selection. Gently dealt with in the Hong Kong movie Flip Flops. Cleverly centered around a tribute to a famous Asian director in the Turkish A short film about Wong Kar Wai. Love was at the core of almost all comedies, it was also the source of unhappiness for those who lost their life partner. Love was present in all its form – sentimental, filial, maternal. In the Chilean The simple things, a daughter brings home a fake father to keep company to her Alzheimer affected mother. In the Bulgarian Shooting star, probably one of the best shorts in competition, a mother is ready to go to jail for a deadly car incident caused by her son.
In Every time we say goodbye, the sick old Chinese mother lives through the memories of her family. As a side comment, I found remarkable the way in which in just a few lines, the dialogue compresses 70 years of China’s turmoiled history. The great d.o.p. work, the stunning performance of the leading character and the poetical structure were unfortunately jeopardized by the excessive length.
If last year, in the dance-movie Edifice, a young Turkish women director- Irmak Karasu - delicately expressed female rebellion against the inhuman rules of fanatic religious traditions, this time, another young Turkish women director, Leyla Toprak, boldly shot her poignant documentary - Distant - in the destroyed martyrized city of Kobane, in northern Syria. Here, brave girls took the guns to fight against Isis for the recognition of their fundamental human rights.
It is also in Kobane that Dutch director Reber Dosky found the protagonist of his powerful documentary The Snipper of Kobani. I must confess, that after two days of watching comedies, love stories and nice movies dealing with commonplace topics, following the very first minute of The Snipper I felt as if a deep silence had fallen upon the audience. Distant. Indeed we are so distant in our hearts and minds from a war so geographically close to us, yet turned by the TV news into an ordinary far away reality. . .
As usual here in Drama, the selection of cartoons displayed a seducing variety of styles, sometimes stylistically at the antipodes, from the gentle classic drawings of Violet to the horror genre patterns of Ascension. Faithfull to the Mexican violent and often bloody esthetics, Ascension develops in a provocative visual approach and in a religious key, the eternal fight between Good and Evil. Yet, the jewel of the crown was by far the fabulous Greek production Aenigma, sophisticated tribute to painter Theodoros Pantaleon and to the golden times of one of the most important and fascinating moments of twentieth century European Art – Surrealism. Amazing both in terms of production and stylistic refinement, this 3D animation is not only strongly visually appealing but also intellectually rewarding.
Last year, a FYROM production, Unripe cherries by Nebojsha Jovanovikj, got a frank applause. This year, Fighting for death, a delicious black humored comedy, dealt in a sweet-sour tone with a tragic zonal reality: the extinction of the rural world in most mountain areas. Despite the presences of the grave over which two old men quarrel, the movie has an infectious optimism, proper to the South Eastern European soul. On the contrary, the Norwegian black comedy You’ve made your bed, now lie in it, fully encapsulates the gloomy spirit of the Hyperboreans.
Coming from far away New Zealand, Madam Black has such an enchanting grace and such a tenderness that grown-ups and kids can equally enjoy and fell under its spell. Rare quality nowadays. If Madam Black is a love story developed in the register of great slapstick comedy, Estonian The One is a lyrical comedy with subtle stylistic values. The very first three shots are close to masterpiece, announcing a great short movie. I take the opportunity to mention that this year many started brilliantly but lost their ambitions on the road. Or maybe it is just that directors did not have the patience to polish their scripts. For his lack of patience, Orpheus lost Eurydice…
I also take advantage for launching a warning about some unpleasant habit that seems to spread as fast as an epidemic among directors: the use of songs as diegetic vehicles and the abuse of strong, increasing roaring sounds, to announce the climax moments.
In conclusion: Compared to the previous editions, this year hope, optimism and good sentiments prevailed. It seems that the pendulum reached a maximum limit and goes now the other way. After so many years of horror and despair, it’s time for solidarity, comprehension and love. As Paul the Apostle - who in nearby Philippi christened the first human being, a woman, Lydia- wrote in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, And if I do not have Love, nothing I have…
By the way, this year the references to God, explicitly or suggested, were more frequent than ever. After Europe did harvest the sour fruits of the suicidal rejection of its Judeo-Christian cultural roots, refusing to mention them in the EU Constitution, the recent international events brought a change of paradigm. Even if BBC, just assumed another form of Brexit when, following the example of the communist regimes, which forbid the historians to use the traditional formulas B.(efore) Christ and A.(fter) Christ, in an enthusiastic burst of politically correctness decided to adopt the atheist terms Before our Era and After our Era…
I cannot finish my Grand Temoin Report without expressing my warm gratitude to the entire Festival team, so neatly performing their task, always smiling, never tired, never losing the temper. A deep bow to you Sophia, Ritsa, Vassilis, Myrto, Manolis, and to all your colleagues whose name we do not know, even we fully enjoyed the fruit of their work.
Thank you for your attention,
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