Thessaloniki – Everytime I visit a film festival is a unique experience for me. I have been several times in Berlin, I have worked for Sundance and BFI, I digged out Leiden Festival while on holidays around the Netherlands. But Thessaloniki Festivals -whether the International every November or the Documentary that is on now- have a special place on my heart. Perhaps because I have special connections to the city, spending my first uni-student months here. Or maybe because I have some many friends in town, and I always try to find reasons to visit them. Bu above all because here was the first festival I ever attended. The one that taught me to love the films and discover the circuit.
No wonder then, that as I was walking down Aristotelous square yesterday afternoon heading to my first screenings, a feeling of familiarity and nostalgia was well over my mind and heart!
This year’s Documentary Festival, started of a couple of days earlier than its actual opening, as the appointment of Yannis Smaragdis in the head of the Thessaloniki Film Festival Organisation was received with equivocal comments. Although he has been the Vice President for several years, the greek cinematic community construed these news as one more political favour, taking into consideration that the well-known director is a close friend with the current Prime Minister. His absence from the opening ceremony on friday evening did not help, further enhancing the negative climate around his name.
However, despite the mayhem created in the festival’s backstage, once you entered the screening rooms feelings of enthusiasm and anticipation for upcoming films were rapidly rushing back on!
About a month ago, in Berlin, the 20,000 days on earth of Nick Cave had left me untouched, failing to drag me into the universe of the famous musician, being completely unfamiliar with his work. 10,000 Nights on the other hand was a completely different story! Following the trails of Spiros Podaras and Christos Tolos, two professional musician, from Athens to Volos in the early 1980’s, the film presents the history of the legendary live music bar Cafe Santan, over a period of 28 years, from its opening till the farewell night a few days before its demolition. And what a magnificent trip it has been: from the ardue struggles to stay open the first couple of years, when the regressive and conservative diminutive community of Volos was opposed to the new and unknown rock stage, to the unforgettable nights in the stage of this small bar which celebrated the grandest artists of the indigenous and international rock, blues and jazz music. Having seen through three generations of music lovers, its influence grew in a such a scale that when the property owner’s decided to bring down the building that housed Cafe Santan, the locals protested once again: only this time was in favour of the cafe!
The wandering around Greece continued in the next screening as well, although in a completely alternative scenery. Anafi is a small island in the Cyclades. Kir-Manolis, a native inhabitant, is skillful in the tilth, a virtuoso of tsambouna (a traditional greek bagpipe musical organ) and masters the art of stone building . But above all he is a connoisseur of life. Through his eyes you can discover the art of simple living and the wisdom that can flourish in the jovialness. He spends his life between his land and teaching his grandson the art of tsambouna. Looking back, he has no regrets, although life has not treated him so well. because just when you thought that truly authentic people have been extinct, Kir-Manolis comes to remind you that in this corner of the Aegean the sole essential to be kept alive is breathing.
And for a moment that thought enraptured me! Not for long though as the bustling noise of Thessaloniki quickly brought me back to reality!