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18th TDF: The Closing Ceremony (3/20/2016)

18th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival 

Images of the 21st Century

11-20 March 2016


The curtain fell on the 18th Thessaloniki Film Festival – Images of the 21st Century, with the presentation of this year’s awards, on Saturday March 19th, 2016, at the Olympion Theatre. 
The closing ceremony was hosted by journalist Maya Tsokli, who, among else, noted that the Documentary Festival is 'a true beacon of culture' for which the city of Thessaloniki has every reason to be proud of and added that the Festival is coming of age during dramatic and unfortunately foreseeable conditions, specifically in the eyes of several insightful filmmakers who, for years now, present their work in these theaters, each one of them adding a small tile to the progress of contemporary history”. As she said, the difference for the Greeks is that, today with the economic crisis amounting to years, the Aegean Sea and Idomeni "being next to us and inside us, we found ourselves on the other end of the camera and from recorders and cautious spectators of a situation, we became ourselves the protagonists of a dramatic as much as a photogenic truth. The troubles the country is going through during these last years forced, in a positive sense, the Greek documentary to blossom. Greek filmmakers become allies, form views, identify with, take a side and create an alternative way of information, putting aside the conventional channels of information, often manipulated from all sides. 

Following, Dimitris Eipides, director of the Thessaloniki Film Festival and founder-director of the Documentary Festival, proceeded to the stage of Olympion Theater and characteristically said: “People discussing on films all over the city is the most valuable reward for us. Our times demand boldness and mobilization, this year indeed much more, due to the refugee crisis. The Festival's tribute to the refugee issue offered a human approach to a very delicate issue. We shared ten days of astounding stories from all over the world, with special tributes to filmmakers like Jon Bang Carlsen and Mark Cousins. Greek cinema, once again, had a very strong presence. The Doc Market fostered the ideal circumstances in which the cinema of tomorrow is born.” Afterwards, Mr. Eipides thanked his colleagues, the audience and anyone who supports the Festival, noting that: “The Festival is a result of teamwork. I would like to thank one by one all of my colleagues, as well as the audience for supporting us for so many years.  I would like to thank the institutions and persons that stand by our side: the Ministry of Culture, the MEDIA program, the Municipality of Thessaloniki and the Festival's valuable sponsors. I wish you all a good night, with the promise that I will continue to support the Documentary Festival, which is my child indeed, with all my powers."

The awards for the 18th Thessaloniki Film Festival were subsequently presented. The first one to be bestowed was the Amnesty International Award for best film in the “Human Rights” segment of the Festival, which was presented to the film "This is Exile: Diaries of Child Refugees" by Mani Y. Benchelah (Lebanon, Switzerland, United Kingdom). This year’s Amnesty International Jury consisted of Irini Tsolaki (Vice President of the Greek Section of Amnesty International) Eftihia Voutira (Social Anthropologist, Professor at the University of Macedonia), Yannis Gkirbas (Journalist, Member of the BoD of Greek Journalists Federation), Marianna Leondaridou (Film Critic, Member of the Amnesty International – Thessaloniki Team) and Andreas Siadimas (Filmmaker, Producer). On behalf of Amnesty International, Mrs. Tsolaki noted that: "The ongoing civil war in Syria has forced more than four million people to search for a new home. Half of them are children. These children’s lives, through their own words, capture the touching truth on the way they face malaises and loss”. The award was accepted by Pamela Martinez, representative of the film's sales company, who read the message of the director: "It is my honor to win the award in the ‘Human Rights’ segment of such a widely acknowledged Documentary Festival. In a time when Europe discusses what its response should be towards the refugee - immigrant crisis, I hope that this film will help us remember the maladies suffered by the Syrian people and especially children, whose lives have been dissolved in a tragic way.” 

The WWF Award for a film in the Festival’s “Habitat” section that was bestowed afterwards, coincided with the Earth Hour celebration, an initiative established by WWF, which openly calls people around the globe to turn out the lights for one hour. As the representative of WWF’s Greek Section, Georgios Vlachos, said, the organization wishes to shed light on the planet's problems, but also to point to feasible solutions.  This year's jury for the WWF Award for a film in the “Habitat” section consisted of Amalia Alberini (WWF Greece, CYCLADES LIFE Project Press & Communication Officer), Vicky Barboka (“Better Life” Project Officer Associate WWF Greece), Ιason Kantas (Press Officer WWF Greece) and Alexandros Kandarakis (Head of Digital Communication WWF Greece). The WWF Award was bestowed to the film Racing Extinction by Louie Psihoyos (USA).

Right after, the Hellenic Parliament's “Human Values” award was presented. On the occasion of the 10th year anniversary of the establishment of the Hellenic Parliament Television's Award to the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, this year marked the first time the award is also granted in the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival for a film in the “Recordings of Memory” segment. The “Human Values” award went to the film Ludlow, Greek Americans in the Colorado Coal War by Leonidas Vardaros, Greece. The jury consisted of: Aris Fatouros (Hellenic Parliament TV Channel Program Advisor and Deputy Coordinator), Panos Kouanis (Finance and New Technologies Advisor and Program & Operations Manager at Hellenic Parliament Television & Radio Station) and Vasilis Douvlis (Film Director). Presenting the award, Tasos Kourakis, Vice President of the Hellenic Parliament, noted that: "Through the use of rare archival material, the film sheds light at an unknown aspect of the labor movement's history in the USA, highlighting the significant role of Greek migrants. The common fate of people in life and death, in uprooting and emigration and the fight for work, dignity and freedom are brought fourth by the film's contributors in the best way.” Accepting the award, the director stressed that: "Filmmakers have the obligation to present people's stories from the world of labor, stories that led to the need for a dynamic class fight and claim, which is disputed again today. It is important to revive those events that took place 100 years ago for the consolidation of the rights to work”.

The DOC ON AIR award, bestowed by ERT S.A. to the best project of the Pitching Forum for an international co-production of the European Documentary Network EDN, selected by the EDN committee, was subsequently presented. The award is accompanied by a prize of 3,000 EUR and transmission rights by ERT. Presenting the award, Dionysis Tsaknis, the president of ERT, promised that “ERT shall continue to support Greek filmmakers, even more so in the next year”, adding that “ERT will always be an open and welcoming platform for all filmmakers”. The award was presented to the project  Debut (Director Anastasiya Miroshnichenko, Producer Volia Chajkouskaya, PervajaKinoVideo Kompania, Belarus). The film’s representatives thanked the committee for the award and noted that “our participation in a pitching forum for the first time is a big challenge and an important encouragement for us, because things are rather complicated in our country”.

Next, the Docs in Progress Award of the TDF’s Doc Market was presented. The award is sponsored by the post-production company Two Thirty Five (2|35 Inc) and consists of post-production services of 15,000 EUR. This year’s jury consisted of Pamela Martinez (Boulder Creek Int., UK), Miriam Carbe (ZDF/ Arte, Germany) and Nikki Heyman (POV, USA). As Ms. Martinez noted, on behalf of the jury: “All the participating films were very strong and it was a really difficult decision. The jury’s selection criteria were the quality of the documentary and the subject of major current interest. We decided not to make this decision on the basis of the project needing the financing the most, but on the project which we thought has the greatest potential. On this rule, we eliminated 50% of the films and then another 50%. There was, however, this film that particularly moved us”. The award was presented to the film Amal, directed and produced Mohamed Siam and co-produced by Sarah Bokemeyer (Egypt/Germany). The reasoning for the award noted that “Amal takes place in a period of five years, and we were moved by this long-term approach of the Egyptian Revolution. We liked the idea of watching Amal growing up with the Egyptian Revolution in the background and thinking about the political situation in her country. Amal is a strong character, to which we were connected, thanks to her persistence and powerful spirit. This connection from the inside in the course of five years, allows the viewer to connect to all aspects of her life as it goes on. She lives in a world of contradictions, making her own way and finding the space to develop her own personality. Through the documentary’s exceptional filmmaking and editing, we look forward to seeing Amal grow up during the film!” On behalf of the post-production company 2|35, Mr. Nikolaos Moutselos presented the award. From his part, the director thanked the Festival for the support and said he had two reasons to be happy, as he recently discovered that his grandfather was born in Thessaloniki, by his birth certificate.

The FIPRESCI awards were subsequently presented. This year’s jury consisted of: Melis Behlil-President (Turkey), Sasja Koetsier (Netherlands), Anna Bielak ​ (Poland), Silvestar Mileta​ (Croatia) and Georgios Papadimitriou (Greece). Ms. Behlil thanked the Festival “for an unforgettable week” during which “we saw 17 international and 22 Greek films in a series of different subjects and styles”.

The FIPRESCI Award for best foreign documentary was bestowed to What He Did by Jonas Poher Rasmussen (Denmark) “for its cinematic subtle style with which he approaches a particularly complicated subject”. In a video-message, the director thanked the Festival, stressing that “it is a great reward to see that the film is appreciated”.

The FIPRESCI Award for best Greek documentary went to the film Whispers of the Sky, directed by Maro Anastopoulou. As Mr. Papadimitriou noted “in a time when documentaries go far beyond the boundaries of simply recording, we were pleased that we could give out this award to a film which is a completed, original and deeply moving work”. From her part, the director thanked the Festival for providing a space for filmmakers, because it is a very difficult time to make films. The documentary was produced with limited budget, as “we couldn’t find financing and many acclaimed film professionals had to work for free to get the film done”.

The 18th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival ended with the presentation of the FISCHER Audience Awards. As the representative of sponsorships for the Athenian Brewery, Giannis Katsougris, noted: “The festival is a proof that creativity and talent can bloom even under difficult circumstances”. Mr. Katsougris went on to thank Mr. Eipides, on behalf of the Athenian Brewery, for “being the inspiration and founder of this institution and for having dedicated his life to it. He is the living proof that vision when combined with passion and love for cinema can inspire and move people, as well as fill the theatres”. This year, the audience participated even more actively in voting, breaking last year’s record of 16,000 votes by submitting 20,785 votes. 

The FISCHER Audience Award for a Greek film under 45’ went to Viktor Ullmann: Biography of a recording, directed by Ioannis Grigoropoulos and Michalis Aristidou (Greece). The directors thanked the audience for voting for the film.

The FISCHER Audience Award for an international production under 45’ went to the film Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah by Adam Benzine (UK, Canada). In a video-message, the director thanked the audience and stressed that “the screening of my film to theaters full of people, an amazing audience, was a great honor” and promised to come back to Thessaloniki next year.

The FISCHER Audience Award for a Greek film over 45’ went to Argo Navis, directed by Susanne Bausinger and Stelios Efstathopoulos (Greece, Germany). Mr. Efstathopoulos thanked the Festival and the audience for the honor and noted that this filmic journey started from an affair that went on to become a true love, and the documentary was the child of this love. From her part, Ms. Bausinger noted that “during the last days I started being uncomfortable. At the same time that people were drowning in plastic boats in the Mediterranean, we were making a film about a sweet adventure, about people who returned to their homes and had their experiences to share in their own way. I was thinking that this story of the Argonauts’ expedition talks about the nature of the Mediterranean Sea. In this sea, there has been an exchange of valuable goods, but also of guns, of new thoughts, but also of slaves, for centuries. The film is an occasion to think about how this sea must and can become a space of collaboration and living together, if we change things, rather than the graveyard of fleeing people”.

Finally, the FISCHER Audience Award 2016 for an international production (”Peter Wintonick Audience Award”) went to the film Landfill Harmonic: A Symphony of the Human Spirit directed by Brad Allgood and Graham Townsley (U.S.A., Paraguay, Norway, Brazil).  The film was also the opening film of this year’s TDF.

The film Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah by Adam Benzine was screened after the awards ceremony.