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11th THESSALONIKI DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL - Images of the 21st Century
MARCH 13 – 22, 2009



The 11th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, within its goal of promoting social and political awareness, has chosen Africa as its main thematic tribute for its 11th edition. For the first time in Greece and the Balkans, African documentaries relating to urgent issues afflicting the continent, made by African filmmakers, are presented in such a comprehensive tribute. Amongst the films to participate are:

The Dancing Forest, dir. Brice Lainé, Togo / UK / France (2008): In the poverty-stricken village of Baga in Togo local man Seda creates CIDAP (Centre International pour le Development Agro-Pastoral). By educating people from the village and gradually a wider area, CIDAP succeeds in increasing crop production and improving the natives’ way of life, as well as giving power to the local women, who become the driving force behind the development.
Victims of our Riches, dir. Kal Toure, Mali (2007): Via testimonies of Africans who attempted to immigrate, this documentary exposes the criminalization of African workers, as well as the inhumane treatment they suffer during their attempts to cross into Europe. Issues explored in the film are the economic policies forced on Africa by Europe, as well as the callous conditions faced by those who managed to cross continents and find employment.
Iron Ladies of Liberia, dir. Daniel Junge and Siatta Scott Thompson, Liberia (2007): Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, is the first female head of state in Africa. The filmmakers spent her first year in office recording the running of her impoverished, war-torn country. In the process, they discovered the stories of the President’s “dream team”, an extraordinary group of women such as the police chief, the minister of justice and the minister of gender.
Keiskamma: A Story of Love, dir. Miki Redelinghuys, South Africa (2007): In the South African village of Hamburg, many children are ill and orphaned, as their parents have died from AIDS and HIV-related diseases. A female doctor, who hospitalizes kids in her house, as well as the natives, are portrayed in a cinema verité style as they struggle to care for the children. 130 village women sew a gigantic tapestry, a piece of art that now travels around the world as an altarpiece and narrates the village's struggle with the AIDS epidemic.

Along with the film program, a conference will be held, with a panel comprised of prominent speakers, who will address the situation of the African developing countries within a global context. The panelists will be announced at a later date.


Austria, enjoying a buoyant national film production, pays particular attention to the documentary genre: in 2008, out of 29 Austrian films released in theaters 13 were documentaries. Initiatives such as Docu Zone Austria (the organization of Austrian documentary filmmakers) target, through various international collaborations, the reinforcement of documentary production and the showcasing of films both in Austria and internationally. Amongst the films to participate in the Spotlight are:

Road to Mecca – The Journey of Muhammad Asad, dir. Georg Misch (2008): Jewish Leopold Weiss was born in the Ukraine in 1900. The documentary records Weiss’ remarkable journey from his first travels to the Middle East, his conversion to Islam in the 1920s, his adoption of the Muslim name Muhammad Asad and his posting as an advisor to the King of Saudi Arabia. His own radical change may have well shaped the course of history, as Asad became one of the first proponents of the creation of Pakistan and a UN advisor.
7915 km, dir. Nikolaus Geyrhalter (2008): The Paris-Dakar rally, now named the Dakar rally raid, is an annual off-road automobile race supported by all sorts of big businesses. The documentary team that shot this film set off on a three-month journey on the route the rally covers in two weeks, discovering that, behind the glamorous trail of dust the automobiles leave behind, there is a world of poverty and extreme hardships.
Let’s Make Money, dir. Erwin Wagenhofer (2008): Wagenhofer’s documentary dissects the workings and machinations of today’s financial system with shocking conclusions. Traveling around the globe and meeting corporate heads of banks and insurance companies, economic “hit men”, academic theorists and policy makers, the film follows the tracks of the average citizen’s money through the worldwide finance system.
Who’s Afraid of Kathy Acker?, dir. Barbara Caspar (2008): The first documentary to delve into the life of Kathy Acker, Caspar’s film is a result of extensive research into the personality of the cult author, who died in 1997 in Tijuana. The documentary covers many aspects of Acker’s fearless life, from her sexually graphic fiction to her wild years in New York, employing animation, reenactments, as well as interviews from people such as William Burroughs.


Mexico’s documentaries uphold a long tradition of focusing on social issues, seen in the work of such filmmakers as Juan Carlos Rulfo, Mercedes Moncada, Jose Rovirosa, Paco Urrusti and Carlos Mendoza. In the past decade Mexican cinema has enjoyed a remarkable boom; documentary production, supported since the 70s by various educational and state institutions, is again today in the forefront of socially focused filmmaking. Amongst the films to participate in the Spotlight are:

Presumed Guilty, dir. Roberto Hernandez (2008): An exposé of Mexico’s corrupt judicial system, Presumed Guilty is a documentary made by two lawyers who succeed in correcting the wrongful murder conviction of Antonio, a rapper in his twenties. The film shows the retake of Antonio’s trial, accompanied by raw Mexican hip-hop. Due to the skill and persistence of the lawyers/filmmakers, this was the first time that a camera was allowed in a Mexican court.
Ex-voto for Three Souls, dir. Diego Rivera Kohn (2008): An ex-voto is an offering to ask God for a miracle; this film is the portrait of three Mexicans, all of who need one for reasons of health or poverty. It is also a portrait of deep, spiritual faith even in the most dismal conditions.
Shakespeare’s and Victor Hugo’s Intimacies, dir. Yulene Olaizola (2008): In the corner of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo Streets in Mexico City lives Rosa Carbajal, the filmmaker’s grandmother. The film records her recollections of her amiable but strange neighbour, Jorge Riosse, a closeted homosexual man who may have been linked to a series of murders.
The Inheritors, dir. Eugenio Polgovsky (2008): Polgovsky travelled for long periods of time in the Mexican countryside, always noticing the vast numbers of children working there, those kids who have inherited a cycle of poverty that cannot be easily broken. His film is an homage to the courage of these children.
My Life Inside, dir. Lucia Gaja (2007): Mexican illegal immigrant Rosa Estela Olvera was convicted in a Texas courtroom in 2005 of suffocating a child she was babysitting. The documentary argues her wrongful conviction of 99 years in prison and tries to plead Olvera’s case.


Documentary director and producer Stefan Schwietert was born in 1961 in Germany and studied in the California Art Institute and the Deutsche Film-und-Fernsehakademie in Berlin. He founded the production company Neapel Film in Basel and regularly teaches film in Switzerland and Germany. His directing work has focused exclusively on music, especially on folk and ethnic subjects that fall off the radar of the more mainstream music documentaries. Schwietert will attend the 11th TDF to present his work and all five of his documentaries will be screened on the occasion of the Spotlight.

Echoes of Home (2007): Schwietert follows three different musician/performers to trace a cross-cultural and contemporary take on yodelling, the traditional folk art of Switzerland.
Accordion Tribe (2004): The Accordion Tribe is a group comprised of five innovative accordionists from different countries. Schwietert’s camera follows them in their travels all over Europe, as they combine their talents in jazz, folk and avant-garde to perform in front of enthusiastic audiences.
The Secret History of the Alphorn (2003): The curious Swiss Alphorn instrument, a staple of Switzerland’s folklore, is presented in this documentary via three leading innovators in Alphorn music, who transcend the traditions to take their musical culture into new artistic territories.
El Acordeon del Diablo (2000): Portrait of Colombian musician Pacho Rada, who spent his life playing accordion all over his country. Rada became famous not only because of his music, but by the tribute paid to him by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: in "One Hundred Years of Solitude", the troubadour Francisco El Hombre is based on him.
A Tickle in the Heart (1996): The Epstein brothers, known in America as the Kings of Klezmer -an antique, popular Yiddish musical genre- are the subject of this moving documentary. The film follows the three elderly siblings, who now reside in a Florida retirement community, but still travel to perform their music.


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About Thessaloniki

Mcmahon Vanessa

Vanessa McMahon Covered the 13th and 14th, and 16th edition.
Catherine Esway has covered the 12th edition of Thessaloniki Documentary Festival
Cécile Rittweger covered the  11th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival

Christine Marik's reported from 49th Thessaloniki International Film Festival
Past coverage from the 10th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival by Bruno Chatelin.

Through its tributes, it focuses both on discovering filmmakers with a unique cinematic point of view, and on the internationally recognized for their contribution to documentary.

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