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Focus contempory wars at Thessaloniki

Focus is the first thematic section to be presented at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, building its program around a topic that changes annually. It was inaugurated in the 47th TIFF with the “Teenage Lust/Teenage Angst” theme, while for the 48th TIFF it deals with the significant and always modern subject of Contemporary Wars.

Through a selection of productions made in the years 2006 and 2007, the Focus section, curated by film critic Konstantinos Kontovrakis, investigates the manner by which wars and conflicts in the 21st century are reflected in human relationships, societies, economies, gender, ethnicity and religious convictions. Evident is the diversity of the modern “battlefields”: the inside of people’s homes, small-scale societies, as well as the human and collective consciousness suffering from post-traumatic syndromes.

A paradigm of the latter is presented in the film Munyurangabo by Lee Isaac Chung (Rwanda/USA), the journey of two children dealing with the psychological aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. The film, presented in the Certain Regard Section of this year’s Cannes and in the Toronto Festival, uses non-professional actors and it is the first fiction film ever to be shot in the Kinyarwanda language.
The German film Along Came Tourists by Robert Thalheim deliberates on the commercialization of the Holocaust, using Auschwitz as its point of departure. The director manages to strike a balance between the antithetical notions of anger-joy and knowledge-ignorance, creating an honest –in its intentions and result- film in the process.

Two of the section’s films, AFR by Morten Hartz Kaplers (Denmark) and Strange Culture by Lynn Hershman Leeson (USA), effectively experiment with the documentary structure. AFR is an entertaining, multifaceted and provocative satire in the form of a mockumentary. It combines elements of reality and fiction, in order to construct a fake conspiracy drama about the fictional assassination of Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen. In Strange Culture, Lynn Hershman Leeson breaks the documentary conventions in telling the story of Steve Kurtz, American artist and professor, accused by the American authorities of the crime of bio-terrorism. The film, in which actors such as Tilda Swinton and Peter Coyote communicate their opinions, is highly critical of the US leadership and calls to attention the dangers of censoring politically minded artists.

The story of a young man as he becomes engrossed in religious fundamentalism is at the core of the film Making Of by Nouri Bouzid (Tunisia/Morocco). 25 year-old Bahta, a break-dancer on the streets of Tunisia at the beginning of the 2003 Iraq hostilities, becomes the victim of -and eventually joins- a group of fanatics, who plan to use him as a kamikaze on a suicide mission. Another tragic aspect of the affliction of religious fundamentalism is showcased in the debut film My Father, My Lord by David Volach (Israel). An underage boy, the son of a respected rabbi, grows up in an atmosphere of oppression; the child’s awakening triggers internal family conflicts and, finally, the truth is sacrificed in the altar of blind faith. The film won the Best Narrative Feature Award in this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

In contrast to the rest of the section’s selections, Bog of Beasts by Cláudio Assis (Brazil) relates the story of a teenage girl in provincial Brazil, the victim of violent sexual abuse and exploitation by her own grandfather. The film deals with an indirect and silent war, one that effectively destroys the social fabric: the psychological and physical abuse of women inside their family or intimate social circle.

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