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Thessaloniki International Film Festival

Dailies from the Thessaloniki international Film Festival

The 61st Thessaloniki International Film Festival was concluded with great success, receiving the audience’s love in every possible way. More than 80,000 viewers and movie industry professionals watched the films and attended the Festival’s online events, whereas a large number films of were sold out. Agora, the Festival’s development branch, also achieved a great attendance, offering support to Greek cinema through a series of new initiatives, actions, and awards.

The 61st Festival hosted a series of exhibitions and visual art events, within the framework of TIFF’s main concept, “Intimacy: a modern tyranny”. Works of art, video mapping, as well as The Glasshouse Project installation adorned the city streets and squares, as well as the Port of Thessaloniki, offering glimpses of joy and hope to the city’s residents, who had the chance to enjoy a touch of art during their scarce walks for exercise, groceries and the covering of basic needs, amidst these hard days we’re experiencing. The goal is for these exhibitions to remain in the city’s public space even after the Festival. 



Alexander Payne at 52nd Thessaloniki Film Festival

Alexander Payne at TIFF 2011 


52nd TIFF: Alexander Payne Press Conference (11/5/2011)


On Saturday, November 5th, a Press Conference was given by the Greek-American director Alexander Payne during the 52nd Thessaloniki International Film Festival, at Warehouse C. Present were the Festival’s Director, Dimitri Eipides and Mr. Payne’s director of photography Phedon Papamichael, also a Greek-American. Alexander Payne’s new film The Descendants had its premiere in Thessaloniki, opening this year’s festival.

Mr. Eipides expressed how excited the 52nd Festival is to have managed to screen the new, much-anticipated film. “This is a film that is gaining recognition everywhere, both in Europe and the US. It has participated at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, and was the closing film of the New York film festival”. Mr. Eipides said that he was particularly pleased to welcome Payne to the 52nd edition, since he has been a friend to Thessaloniki and to the Festival, and is a Greek-American who is “one of us, who is distinguishing himself in the field of international cinema and continues to produce important films”.

Explaining why it took him such a long time to make a new film, Alexander Payne stated: “This is something that bothers me, I didn’t want it to take so much time. I was working on the scrip of another film for three years, which obviously I haven’t made yet. But when I saw that I couldn’t find the financing, I decided to make The Descendants”. Phedon Papamichael, the film’s director of photography, speaking about this second collaboration with Payne (after Sideways), joked by saying that they are still recovering from the experience, and then said that the two met in Los Angeles in 1996. Their first meeting didn’t result in a collaboration at the time, but they kept in touch. “We’d see each other around the neighbourhood, at cafes; Alexander was still going to film school. Later, while I was on vacation in Greece he phoned me and proposed working on Sideways”.

Referring to what he looks for in a director of photography, Alexander Payne said: “I’m obviously looking for talent in photography! Aside from that, naturally I look for a good co-worker and friend, which is something we have”. Speaking about their next collaboration, he revealed that they will begin shooting this coming May. “It will be a small comedy, in black and white, which I have wanted to do for some time now”, Payne noted.

The director then spoke about George Clooney’s participation in The Descendants. Mr. Payne noted that he didn’t consider him appropriate for Sideways, but he finds him ideal for The Descendants, and he denied that it’s a cliché for a man as handsome as he is to play in the film, by saying that “in Hawaii people really are good-looking”. Mr. Papamichael then said: “For instance, if you see the main character’s wardrobe, you’ll understand that it’s nothing special. We always focused on realism, so that the image won’t manipulate the viewer, even though the beauty of the scenery is able to affect the audience psychologically by itself. However for us, the most important thing was realism”. Alexander Payne didn’t add anything further about his film’s message, noting: “People have been telling stories about dysfunctional families for centuries. So you have to see the film to understand its meaning”.

Regarding the differences between anthropocentric cinema and the studio film industry, Mr. Payne declared: “I feel lucky to be able to make these kinds of films, but at the same time I understand how rare this is, seeing fewer and fewer American directors attempt to do it. Part of my secret is that I keep the cost as low as possible in order to be able to continue making these films”. Mr. Papamichael focused on the policies of large studios, which count on the commercial success of their large projects so that films for adults can be made for example, for fewer than 10 million dollars. “Independent cinema continues to exist mainly because of digital technology, as well as independent filmmakers” he said and added: “That’s why they can continue to make films with budgets as low as 50 or 100 thousand dollars. Really, I believe that the majors’ subsidiary companies such as Fox Searchlight, depend on the success of the large studios so they can make films for the prestige, so that after their blockbusters and their Transformers they give us the chance to make good, meaningful films”. According to the director, what is missing from contemporary cinema is realism, characters, immediacy and actually the story itself. He gave the example of a film which, in his opinion, has all of these elements: “I very much liked Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, a film I consider almost perfect”.

Mr. Payne revealed that he would like to make a Greek film, on the condition that he first comes to Greece and learns to speak Greek well. He also spoke of the crisis in Greece: “What is happening is frightening and disappointing. I am very moved to be here, it is very important to me to speak with people. At times like these, even though I’m American and have a totally different life from yours here, I feel my Greek DNA being activated”. Mr. Papamichael agreed, however he noted the difference between American and Greek societies: “I feel the way Alexander does. I have friends who work here, and I try to encourage the people I know. We speak a lot about what is happening and the sacrifices made by people. But we mustn’t’t give up. In the States there are strong unions, people work hard and have pensions, good salaries, security, but there is also a hostile attitude toward Greeks without their knowing exactly what is happening here”.

Again speaking about George Clooney, Payne called their work together a wonderful experience, praising the American actor: “He is a very good star, a very good professional while he is also very cooperative. This is my second experience with a star actor after Jack Nicholson”. Speaking of the personal benefit he gains from such collaborations, he added: “The good thing about working with actors who have ideas, since they’ve made many more films than I have, is that it makes me want to be a better director. Working with a star is like driving a Maserati while before I used to drive a Fiat! And of course it’s always better to direct an actor like Clooney, who has previously directed his own films”. About the two girls who play Clooney’s daughters, Payne explained: “The older one is already a professional actress, known from a television series, as opposed to the younger one, who however proved to be very comfortable with the shoot. I found her by accident through friends and acquaintances, after 300 failed auditions with girls whose mothers had coached them on how to act and they proved to be terrible!”.

Speaking about Greek films that have distinguished themselves internationally, Alexander Payne mentioned Dog Tooth and Attenberg, films which have found an audience and international distribution. The director connected the success of contemporary Greek films to the financial crisis, noting that crises very often prove to be very beneficial to art, directly or indirectly, a fact that could be an excellent opportunity for Greek directors to go beyond their country’s borders. Mr. Papamichael referred to Y. Economides Knifer. At the end of the Press Conference, Alexander Payne reminded people of what the Mayor of Thessaloniki and President of the TIFF Board of Directors Yiannis Boutaris at last nights Opening Ceremony for the 52nd TIFF: “We need art and its beauty, on which we must focus”.

Please note that the film The Descendents which is in the Special Screenings section, is funded, along with other 52nd TIFF activities by the European Union – European Regional Development Fund as part of the Regional Operational Programmes “Macedonia - Thrace” 2007 – 2013.


Opening film at 52nd TIFF, The Descendants (2011) by Alexander Payne. 

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About Thessaloniki International Film Festival

Industry: CROSSROADS Co-Production Forum,AGORA, script-development BALKAN FUND. Competition for directors with 1st or 2nd films. Golden Alexander Prize 37.000 €

Coverage by Vanessa McMahon, Laurie Gordon



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