The Thessaloniki International Film Festival (TIFF) is a vibrant festival that attracts new and emerging directors from all over the world. With close to 250 screenings and a wide range of categories, cinephiles are well served. However, apart from seeing Ildikó Enyedi’s superb On Body and Soul (Opening Night) and Annemarie Jacir’s captivating Wajib (Open Horizons), this writer’s focus was on the revived Greek Film Festival section.

Established in 1960, the Thessaloniki Greek Film Festival belongs to the first wave of postwar film festivals. Until 1993, it provided an exclusive competitive arena for Greek cinema production, after which it became a national ‘panorama’ within the new International Thessaloniki Film Festival (TIFF). The tension between the festival’s international orientation and national panorama has remained a constant over the last two and a half decades. In tandem with the perennial problem of funding by state bodies such as the Greek Film Centre (GFC) and the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT), TIFF has regularly been a scene of hot debate. In 2009, the deteriorating relations between filmmakers and state institutions came to a head with an historic boycott of the Festival by Greek filmmakers, frustrated over the way State Film Awards operated and the lack of governmental reforms in the industry. Following this stand-off, the Greek film fraternity established its own peer-assessed awards through a new body, the Hellenic Film Academy.1 Given these historic changes and two years of Syriza government, one might have expected some improvement in the relationship between film fraternity and state institutions. However, whether due to ongoing austerity measures and/or problematic governance, a deteriorating relationship between the two over funding issues and institutional support was evident at TIFF.

The events of 2009-2010 led to changes in legislation (Law 3905/2010) regarding state support for film production. The enforcement of the 1.5% levy on television stations for film investment was important and long-awaited-for, although according to the Association of Greek Directors-Producers, the levy continues to be openly flouted by the private channels.2 The legislation also stipulated that the Thessaloniki Film Festival re-establish a Greek Film Festival as a core part of its brief. This was incorporated into TIFF’s program in 2016 and continued this year. An early press release stated that “Greek cinema is in the spotlight during the 58th Thessaloniki International Film Festival.”3 The promotion of Greek films is also facilitated through TIFF’s Agora Film Market and Cross-roads Co-production Forum, and for the second year, a selection of films were screened via Festival Scope. As for the previous year, Greek films were screened in a number of categories (20 premieres in “First Run”, five in “Second Viewing”, three “Special Screenings”, three films in a diaspora section called “Beyond Borders”, as well as two older classic films in formats accessible to the deaf and blind communities). Also included were 17 award-winning short films from the 40th Short Film Festival in Drama. The total of 33 feature films sounds impressive but a closer scrutiny leaves the impression that TIFF is engaging in some padding. The section “Beyond Borders”, while unquestionably a worthwhile category to develop in terms of Greek diaspora themes, was a thin collection of disparate works of uneven quality and origins. The strongest of the three by far, was Jason Raftopoulos’ tight drama West of Sunshine, a working-class story with a Greek-Australian creative element.

Law 3905/2010 also specifies that the Greek Film Festival is non-competitive (presumably a recognition of the political reality that the old State Awards are a thing of the past), while TIFF stresses that there are “six4 independent” awards: the Fischer Audience Award5, International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Award, Pan-Hellenic Film Critics Association’s (PEKK) Award, Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation Award and the Youth Jury Awards. As to whether the awards should be increased or the festival remain uncompetitive, views vary considerably.6 In Greek. FLIX, 19 October 2016, http://flix.gr/articles/thessaloniki-2016-greek-film-festival-opinion.html]

Two events somewhat obscured the “spotlight” on Greek cinema, as well as the Opening night. Nine days before TIFF began, the ERT committee charged with funding decisions for Greek films was summarily dismissed by the Managing Director only days before the year’s successful applications were to be announced. This created serious unease and anger in the film community. The second event occurred when the Minister of Culture, Lydia Koniordou, sacked the GFC General Manager, only hours before the former officially opened the 58th TIFF. These high-handed sackings were, too say the least, bad timing and were widely discussed in the Greek press. The funding issue came to the fore again at a TIFF Press Conference held by ERT Board Members, who, far from reassuring directors and producers, angered them even more with their evasive responses. One Greek producer complained that he was reminded of past decades when bureaucrats had no idea of the needs and realities of cinema production.

There were 25 films in the Greek Film Festival categories First Run and Second Viewing (one less than in 2016), a fair share of which were marred by undeveloped scripts and poor cinematic realisation. Since the 1970s, the ‘director as auteur’ has had a strong hold in Greece but in less capable hands the lack of a developed and viable script is evident on the screen. Some of the problems of earlier decades seem to persist. The subject of social and economic crisis (a stereotypical expectation of Greek cinema in recent years) appeared directly or indirectly in most films.

4 Days

4 Meres (4 Days, Michalis Giagkounidis, 2017)

Michalis Giagkounidis first-time feature 4 Meres (4 Days) observes the daily lives of a young woman and a young man, both lonely and alienated. They meet and like each other, but whether they’ll truly connect is left open. Although a fresh story about contemporary youth, the overuse of voice-over to portray the inner worlds of the characters has a distancing and dampening effect. Dimitris Tsilifonis’ Do It Yourself is a clever spoof action/gangster movie that engages in a self-referential play on the conventions of the genre. A roller-coaster of action, double-crossings and shootings, the film is loaded with comic one-liners and Greek dialogue with English words and IT jargon thrown in. Thodoris Atheridis’ Telii Xeni (Perfect Strangers), a remake of an Italian film of the same name, is a comedy of manners about three couples and a friend who decide, after a meal, to play a game. They leave their mobiles on speaker so that incoming calls (and personal secrets) are heard by all. More theatrical or television entertainment, sharp dialogue and twists come thick and fast. Perfect Strangers aims at a similar broad appeal as Christoforos Papakaliatis’ What If… (2012) and Worlds Apart (2015). The veteran filmmaker Nikos Perakis’ Success Story, meant as an exposé of high society corruption and political power, fails to be much more than a story of high-class sexual conquests, betrayals and intrigues. Even though it ends with a segue into a video clip and wide shots of film sets suggesting the pervasiveness of media manipulation, it lacks the fresh impact and edginess of his early career films such as BIOS + Politia (Living Dangerously,1987) which used a similar ending to great effect.


Agkathi (Thorn, Gabriel Tsafka, 2017)

Gabriel Tsafka’s first feature Agkathi (Thorn) is a Danish-Greek co-production. The storyline is mysterious and difficult to follow as it simultaneously tells the parallel story of two couples who live by a forest, one just married and the other much older. The story is about love, jealousy and trust, and how these can go wrong. It may also be seen as the story of the one couple, at opposite ends in time. The story is narrated as much through silence as dialogue, and matched by stark photography that uses the forest landscape as an eerie presence. Thorn won ERT’s first New Cinema Award.


Polyxeni (Dora Masklavanou, 2017)

Dora Masklavanou’s Polyxeni narrates the story of a young Greek civil war orphan, Polyxeni, adopted by a rich Greek couple in Istanbul in the 1950s. The story begins with her adopted father’s death in 1970 and her grooming to become a member of the Greek elite and the heir to his considerable property. Polyxeni (Katia Goulioni) is a rebellious young woman who feels closer to the Turkish servants and a local boy called Kerem (Ozgur Emre Yildirim). She becomes the victim of powerful figures in the community who slowly take over her wealth and commit her to a psychiatric hospital. Polyxeni falls pregnant to Kerem and her child is sent to New Zealand for adoption. Shortly after, Polyxeni dies. The film portrays the conservative side of established Greek Istanbulites and the nascent feminism and psychiatric institutional power of the time. Its narrative beat is sometimes uneven, but the cultural and social elements in the story are highly interesting.

Who Passed My way

Gynaikes pou perasate apo do (Women Who Passed My Way, Stavros Tsiolis, 2017)

Stavros Tsiolis is a film director whose career started in the commercial cinema of the 1950s. In recent decades, his films have been characterised by unique humour and stories which are often about aging men in absurd situations. Gynaikes pou perasate apo do (Women Who Passed My Way) continues in the same vein, but with a contemporary feel. Two old men (Konstantinos Tzoumas, Errikos Litsis) sell bagels and coffee by the roadside next to a house to which the owners are illegally adding a room. They are earning some extra money to warn the owners of any approaching building inspectors. In the course of a day and night, a procession of passersby stop to talk with them, all with wacky stories and predicaments. The film’s laid-back satirical humour connected immediately with a young audience. With a simple premise and great actors, Tsiolis delivers a humorous take on contemporary life in Athens.

The Greek films however that stood out with the strongest cinematic impact were films that resolutely honed in on individual stories, sculpting them in detail and avoiding overt generalised commentary.

To 'R'

To ‘R’ (2017)

To ‘R’ (an ‘anti-title’ – to the letter ‘R’, to rock, rap, revolution etc.) tells the story of two young people (anonymous actors from Filmmakers Group To ‘R’) who fall in love over a summer holiday break, at the end of which they go their separate ways. He’s a talented working-class rapper who belongs to an activist group. She’s from a better-off family who falls for the intense and poetic rapper when she hears him performing. They later meet by chance on an island where the rapper is working and sleeping on the beach. Their summer idyll however doesn’t survive the return to their different social worlds in Athens. She leaves to study in London, while he, depressed, resumes his city life. Whether the relationship will survive is left up in the air. With no director as such, To ‘R’ is a collectivist film that emerges from the political and cultural space of Greece’s anti-authoritarian anarchist movement. The film was shot over a three-year period on a budget of 150 euros and the script, direction and other creative roles were the product of collective decision-making. In short, an anarchist mode of production – a rejection of the individual ‘auteur’ concept. Surprisingly, the resulting film’s narrative, conventional in form, tells a modest down-to-earth story. The performances of the two protagonists natural and unforced, the film achieves a relaxed contemporary realism. Not ‘revolutionary’ art, but a refreshing reminder that filmmaking is not the exclusive domain of the hierarchic model of production.


Love Me Not (Alexandros Avranas, 2017)

Alexandros Avranas’ Love Me Not is a highly-crafted film that, like his 2013 multi-awarded Miss Violence, artfully draws us into the darker side of human relations. A seemingly well-off couple (Heleni Roussinou, Christos Loulis) play host to a young immigrant woman (Célestine Aposporis) hired to be the surrogate mother of their child. The audience initially feels sympathy for the genteel couple who generously offer the surrogate the comforts of their plush life. However, the surface appearance of normality is unsettled – the woman’s frozen smile, the couple’s knowing looks, the sexual tensions between the couple and the young surrogate, and the coldly-calculated surrogacy ‘agreement’. The story takes a dramatic turn when what appears as a tragic accident in which the woman is burnt beyond recognition turns out to have been a sinister plan by which the younger woman has been lured only to be burned alive as the surrogate body. The couple stand to gain a generous life insurance pay out. From here on, the story enters even more sinister territory, when the insurance investigator realises the truth and holds the woman hostage in a villa she is hiding out in. From perpetrator and murderer, the woman becomes a victim of an equally-sick character who, after raping her, sadistically ties her up on a leash and treats her like a dog. The woman’s passive acceptance of her humiliation suggests a moral stirring – guilt, punishment and perhaps the possibility of redemption. A further twist comes in the final scene when the husband, ostensibly agreeing to bring the investigator the insurance pay-out from his car, drives away, leaving his wife at the mercy of her torturer. A bleak story that may be read by some as reproducing male abuse of women, although the moral issues embedded in the film are more subtle and challenging.

Avranas was introduced before the screening as a “brilliant director of New Greek Cinema”, a reference that associates him with directors such as Giorgos Lanthimos and Athina Tsangari, who since 2011 have often been seen as exponents of the so-called ‘Greek weird wave’, a term losing its meaning as the films of these ‘new wave’ directors clearly reflect increasingly different styles and concerns. Love Me Not may have some similarities with the self-consciously stilted performances and off-centre narratives of Lanthimos but its focus on characters who devalue human life has more in common with Yannis Economides’ moral allegories Knifer (2010) and Stratos (2014). A film that dives deep below the social veneer, focusing on the ethical limits and implications that arise when human life is devalued for acquisitive and exploitative ends.

Back Held Hands

I techni katastrefi (Back Held Hands, Nikos Kornilios, 2017)

Nikos Kornilios’ I techni katastrefi (Back Held Hands) translates literally as “Art Destroys”. It is a three-hander set in Athens where two daughters (both actresses – Katia Leclerc O’Wallis, Aurora Marion) – who have grown up in France from different marriages) visit their father (an acclaimed actor, played by Kostas Arzoglou) who has just recovered from a heart attack. He offers them roles in a version of Macbeth for three, and the rehearsals begin. Kornilios is an actor’s director whose films continually explore new ideas and styles (Tuesday 2010, 11 Meetings with My Father 2012, Matriarchy 2014), and this film is no exception. Through tightly-shot dramatic performances, the film interweaves personal and professional lives in a cross-cultural story about two daughters trying to get close to a father who has been absent in their lives. Nadia (Katia Leclerc O’Wallis), a fragile and damaged actor willing to sacrifice herself for art, plays the role of Lady Macbeth, while her younger half-sister, Alexandra (Aurora Marion), whose mother is North African (her father’s ‘black goddess’) plays the role of the Witches. The father, aged and lonely, but still theatrically ambitious, plays Macbeth. He believes that the performance is paramount, art feeds on life. Through the complexity of the characters’ past and present relationships, the film explores questions of aging, ambition, power, obsession and the moral issues that lie at the heart of the connection between life and art. The English title refers to Nadia’s decision to play the famous scene “Out, damned spot!” with her hands held behind her back, a symbolic subordination of the actor’s body to the demands of performance. Alexandra, the antithesis of Nadia, seeks recognition and affection from her father, but in vain. She challenges his idea that art is supreme, and tries to dissuade her sister from obsessively immersing herself in her role. Pushed by her father to draw on her mother’s suicide as inspiration, Nadia ends up fatally overdosing on tranquillizers. She has crossed a dangerous line between art and life. Back Held Hands is an ambitious and layered drama that broaches a topic not often discussed –  the culpability of artists who have no moral qualms when it comes to artistic ambition.

Son of Sofia

O yios tis Sofias (Son of Sofia, Elina Psykou, 2017)

Elina Psykou’s O yios tis Sofias (Son of Sofia) came to TIFF with a string of well-deserved awards (Best International Narrative Feature at Tribeca Film Festival, Best Film at Stockholm Film Festival). The film narrates a story about the difficult end to childhood innocence of an eleven-year old Russian boy, Misha (Victor Khomut), who after two years of separation from his mother, joins her in Greece in 2004, the year of the Olympic Games. Through the eyes of the silent Misha, the film portrays his painful adjustment to a new country and family situation (his mother has married an elderly Greek man, Mr Nikos, played by Thanasis Papageorgiou) while he desperately clings to the childhood world he lost when his mother left him behind. There are moments that resonate powerfully, like Misha’s complaint to his mother about the new clothes his step-father has bought him: “I don’t like these clothes.” This statement is not about clothes as such, but the child expressing his discomfort with the new language, his changed identity and his mother’s new marital status. The film explores a number of themes through the subject of fairytales – Misha’s childhood identification with the Russian mascot bear of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and Mr Nikos’ celebrity identity as Grandpa Earth who mimed and narrated fairytales in an early Greek television series for kids. The darker side of Misha’s entry into Greek society is played out when he runs away from home and joins an older Russian friend Victor who prostitutes himself to older men. The finale occurs when, after Mr Nikos has become paralysed following a stroke, Victor and a gang of friends visit Mr Nikos’ comfortable flat on his 75th birthday. Childhood innocence, adolescent callousness and old-age infirmity coalesce in a disturbing sequence during which Misha’s deeper desires and needs come to the fore. Aiming an old musket at Mr Nikos, he accidently shoots his mother in the stomach. The final scenes see the bleeding Sofia asking Misha for forgiveness and Misha the Russian bear floating off into the sky accompanied by a song of farewell. The film speaks powerfully about the painful compromises of migration through the inarticulate emotional world of a child.

Too Much Info Clouding Over My Head

Too Much Info Clouding Over My Head (Vassilis Christofilakis, 2017)

Despite its unpromising title, Vassilis Christofilakis’ black-and-white Too Much Info Clouding Over My Head signals the arrival of an original comedic director-actor. Heart-warming, tender, funny, full of pathos and unrelenting, this film appears to introduce a new comedic type into Greek cinema. An obsessively insecure film director (Vassilis Christofilakis) who has made an obscure B-grade movie that no-one ever saw, continues to believe he is has another film in his creative psyche. The protagonist is a contemporary Don Quixote who believes his dreams, despite constant failures and gaffes. His attempt to raise money for a film he despises is sabotaged by his own uncompromising nature. After he stumbles upon a group of B-grade movie aficionados who are in awe of his first film, he finally finds his true creative path and sets about making a sequel to his cult movie. With resemblances to comic types such as Peter Sellers and Woody Allen, the character of the director is embodied in a totally physical performance. With witty dialogue and comic tension that arises from character, this comedy is full of satirical moments, including a classic takeoff of a bureaucrat from a film-funding body. It is no surprise that the film won the FIPRESCI, PEKK and GFC Awards, but strangely, going by the enthusiastic audience response, not the Fischer Audience Award.


Rosmarie (Adonis Florides, 2017)

Adonis Florides’ Rosmarie (Best Film at 15th Cyprus Film Days International Festival) combines light comic touches with a darker existential drama about a scriptwriter (Yannis Kokkinos) who has run out of ideas and motivation for the TV soap opera ‘Rosmarie’. He begins to borrow snippets of dialogue and plot ideas by eavesdropping on his neighbours but inexorably becomes entwined in a real-life family drama. The plot has three strands: the writer’s discovery that as a child he caused his brother’s paralysis in an accident and his final cathartic decision to give up soap opera writing for a novel, the next door family tragedy of a father abusing his children and fathering his daughter’s baby, and the cast and production of ‘Rosmarie’, the latter treated in a satirical vein. The result is a highly watchable film whose protagonist carries the audience interest with a large cast of supporting characters, many of whom are warmly drawn as internal Cypriot migrants who have settled in the urban centre. Rosmarie won the PEKK Award.

At a time when the notion of a national cinema is increasingly being interrogated within contexts of transnational economies of production and circulation, there is something worrying about TIFF’s simple revival of the Greek Film Festival category as a showcase of national cinema.7 Of course, TIFF is implementing the relevant clauses of Law 3905/2010 which attempt to revive the older institution of a national film festival. However, is this enough for Greek filmmakers desperate for the freedom and means by which to explore their visions? Greek filmmakers are crying out for greater flexibility, predictability and practical support in their efforts to professionally sustain themselves. Surely more pieces in the support of a vibrant national cinema need to come into play to ensure its place within an international environment. Of the three Greek films that participated in the International Competition only Son of Sofia appeared to be a strong entry. None of the many outstanding films mentioned in this report were selected. An odd situation. As things stand, the Greek Film Festival within TIFF has still to find its most effective role in terms of its relationship to international competition, the nature of the awards, and the existence of the Hellenic Film Academy which has taken on the role of acknowledging excellence in Greek filmmaking.


  1. See my earlier TIFF Reports of 2010 and 2014.
  2. Bilingual text issued in November by Greek Film Directors-Producers (ESPEK) and Greek Documentary Association (EEN) with a time-line from 2009-2017 listing key decisions by recent Greek governments and institutions. The Greek text with the same title is republished in Manolis Kranakis “Who Is Fucking Greek Cinema? To chroniko enos ellinikou thriller {The chronicle of a Greek thriller}. In Greek. FLIX, 4 November 2017, http://flix.gr/news/who-is-fucking-greek-cinema.html
  3. TIFF Press Release 10 October 2017. Italics, my emphasis.
  4. Although TIFF mentions six official awards, the Greek Film Centre (GFC) Awards to two Greek debut films announced on the final night would bring the total to seven.
  5. The Fischer beer ad ‘Naked Truth’ by Soho Square Athens advertising agency is by now indelibly imprinted on festivalgoers’ brains. “It’s about taste.” Fischer is one of TIFF’s sponsors.
  6. “Φεστιβάλ Ελληνικού Κινηματογράφου: Οχι τόσο σέξι, αλλά ευτυχώς ούτε «τα νέα κρατικά βραβεία»!” [Greek Film Festival: Not that sexy, but fortunately neither are the ‘new State Awards’!
  7. See discussion in Mikela Fotiou, Tonia Kazakopoulou and Philip Phillis “Greek Film Studies with international scope: Contemporary Greek Film Cultures 2013 27/10/2013, http://filmiconjournal.com/blog/author/2/tonia_kazakopoulou

About The Author

Petro Alexiou is a researcher, writer and translator. He was the scriptwriter on the short film The Killing of Angelo Tsakos (1989).

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