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On Friday, March 18, 2011, a Press Conference was held as part of the 13th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival. Present were the directors Carol Dysinger (Camp Victory, Afghanistan), Alexander Nanau (The World According to Ion B.) Visa Koiso-Kanttila (Portrait of a Man) and Jennifer Arnold (A Small Act).
In her documentary Camp Victory, Afghanistan, director Carol Dysinger presents the reality of the US Strategic Withdrawal from Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). “I made the film in three years, during which I traveled to Afghanistan a total of five times, and stayed there for two months each time”, the director recounted. The film is more a deeply human film and not so much a war story, focused on the friendship that develops between Afghani General Sayar and Colonel Shute from the New Jersey National Guard. An unexpected camaraderie springs up between the two men, and Sayar’s increasing disappointment with the USA contrasts with their friendship, which keeps getting stronger. “General Sayar was an army man. He had fought many battles, had a lot of experience. On the other hand, Colonel Shute owned a gun store in New Jersey, was a good shot, knew a lot about weapons, and this had helped him win the respect of those around him. However, the most important thing was that he could listen, something difficult for Americans to do. When I got there, he told me “If you’re not here for the Afghanis, you’re not here for the right reason”. And he believed this. He took a great risk with his career remaining faithful to this reasoning”, the director noted.
While in Afghanistan, the director faced many difficulties which had to do, among other things, with daily life. “I believe that if I were Afghani, life there would be hell. But as a westerner and as a professor, I was respected. Generally, I had a problem co-existing with men, so it was a great relief to me when we went to villages where there were women. When I went to their rooms, they would fix my head scarf or comb my hair”, the director said.
One of the opinions that Ms Dysinger was forced to reconsider after making the documentary was about army organization. “I grew up with the point of view that the army was something very well organized, because my brother had fought in Vietnam and my mother was a nurse in the American army. It was a big shock to me when I realized that there was no organization. The higher up you go, the harder things become”, the director noted. She added that another fact that surprised her, but which isn’t shown in the film, is the character of the Afghanis. “Americans believe that Afghanis are illiterate farmers. However, they are a nation of poets. They have ways of telling your fortune through a poem. They remind me of my Italian grandfather who, even though illiterate, he could repair anything, with whatever he had in his pocket”, Ms Dysinger concluded.
Alexander Nanau, director of the film The World According to Ion B. was next to speak. The documentary is a portrait of Ion B., a 62-year-old homeless man living in Bucharest who has created more than 2,000 collages that he calls “my films”. In 2008, a young gallery owner learned about Ion by accident, and a year later the homeless man found himself in his own home, and recognized as one of the most important contemporary Romanian artists. “I happened to see his work in the gallery, and I was impressed. It was so strange. This man had made a pop-art collage without ever having seen anything like it in his life, since this form of art had been banned in Romania”, the director explained. Mr. Nanau had no particular problems convincing Ion B. to participate in the documentary. “Ion always loved film. Before they were banned in Romania in the ‘70s, he wanted to be a director and actor. So he had the chance, in this way, to tell his story”, the director noted. However, the good relationship between them didn’t continue to the end. “When success came, Ion was angry that he had no contract and hadn’t secured a percentage from the sale of his work. The Paris Art Gallery, where an exhibition of his work traveled, paid money to the Bucharest Art Gallery, but he didn’t get what he should have gotten. He became angry with me, too, because he felt that the film’s success was due to him, and demanded financial compensation. So to make a long story short, when I landed in Romania, I read three interviews against me in the newspapers. He said I was a piece of trash, and that I did everything for the red carpet. We haven’t spoken since”, the director noted. Ion B. abandoned his home once again, and today lives in the cellar he lived in before he became famous. As for the director, he is thinking of returning to Bucharest to make a second film on the Romanian art scene which, as he said “continues to be a black market. Everything is done only for money”.
In the documentary Portrait of a Man by Finnish director Visa Koiso-Kanttila, the leading character is a 40-year-old man who is going through a critical time in his life, as he is having a difficult time with his young son and with alcohol. “My character Karl’s father was an alcoholic and committed suicide. At this point in his life, my hero sees something of his father in himself, and is trying to change his life”, the director declared. And he added: “Finland has the highest rate of suicide in the western world. Middle-aged people, especially men, don’t look for support or help, and this is why I decided to make this film”. The director and leading character are friends, something which helped Karl open himself up more easily in front of the lens. “Generally, our generation is trying to change. It is not part of our culture for men to express their feelings, the role models are different, and we are trying to take some steps forward under these conditions”, the director said. Another reason for which the director decided to approach such a sensitive subject is that he himself had a bad relationship with his father. “I didn’t have a good relationship with my father. He was absent both physically and emotionally”, he stressed. As for Karl, the director declared that he was helped by the whole process, but that “he remains a loner, although he does have good friends”.
In her turn, director Jennifer Arnold spoke about her film A Small Act. The documentary tells the story of Chris Mburu, a young rural student from Kenya, who managed to finish school and study thanks to a scholarship he received from Hilde Back, a Jewish Holocaust survivor. Ms Back herself never expected to get news from her “protégé”, until Chris – now a graduate of Harvard and human rights lawyer for the UN decided to find his unknown benefactor and follow her example by founding a scholarship program which he named “the Hilde Back” fund. “Chris Mburu, remembering how much he was helped by Ms Back, began an effort to help young students at the Mukumbu primary school where he himself had studied”, the director noted. “When we began the film, scholarships were being given to ten students. By the end, we had already managed to gather 90,000 dollars, and after a year and a half there were another 750,000 dollars in the Hilde Back scholarship fund and other funds from donations”, Ms Arnold added.
The lives of the leading characters are now better. “All those who took part in our efforts are doing very well. Hilde feels like a movie star. At age 88 she finally experienced fame, and she is very excited by that. The children appearing in the film are now in the first grade of Secondary School and are getting ready to go to University”, the director declared.


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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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