Jacques Audiard’s Rust & Bone, starring Oscar winner Marion Cotillard and rising Belgian star Matthias Schoenaerts, and Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild will bookend the 18th Athens International Film Festival-Cosmote.

Matthias Schoenarts is expected to attend tonight’s gala screening of Rust & Bone.

The multiawarded Beasts of the Southern Wild (Cannes Camera d’Or and Fipresci prize, Sundance Grand Jury Prize) will close the proceedings on Sept 30.

Schoenarts will be joined during the festival by several actors and directors of the films unspooling at the event.

Among them, Fatih Akin will present Polluting Paradise, his polemic, environment pollution themed documentary shot in his native Turkey. He will be accompanied by his long time associate and co-writer Adam Bousdoukos. Akin will also stage a musical event acting as DJ.

Christian Petzold will introduce his Berlinale prizewinner Barbara, with actor Ronald Zehfred also in attendance.

Philippe Falardeau will introduce his latest, Monsieur Lazhar, which represented Canada at this year’s Oscars, Hans-Christian Schmid will be on hand to accompany his Home for the Weekend while US independent Dan Mirvish will introduce Between Us.

Festival topper Orestis Andreadakis put together a 179 films-strong selection spreading in 12 sections, having just wrapped the highly successful summer sister event, “Athens Open Air Film Festival”.

Organized for the second consecutive year with the help this time of the NSRS (National Strategic Reference Framework) European Union funds made available through the Greek Film Centre, the summer event served as an appetizer for the AIFF as well as a most welcome free entertainment-more than 20,000 attendants- for the Athens public severely affected by the rampant financial crisis.

Following with this socially minded policy AIFF will make available 2000 free tickets to unemployed cinephiles as well as reducing the €6 admission price to €4 for morning screenings.

Alll that in spite of the adverse financial conditions and lack of sponsors which affect all cultural events the AIFF included. It is indicative that Andreadakis and his team were trying, hours before the start of the event, to secure the cash set to accompany, as in previous years the two main awards of the event (Golden Athenas).

New this year are, new festival venues following the destruction by fire during the last February riots of the long time festival cinema flagships Attikon and Apollon as welll as the creation of a competition section for Greek shorts.

The later represents an effort by the AIIF leadership to reinforce the event’s national cinema profile following the introduction a couple of years ago of a Greek fiction feature films competition section. In doing so AIFF directly challenges such established national film events as the Short Films International Festival of the city of Drama (September 17 to 22) and the Thessaloniki International Film Festival (November 2-11) that have respectively nurtured short and fiction feature national fare over the years.

The ten titles-strong international competition section features no less than seven first films. Among them, Swiss Ursula Meier’s Sister (L’enfant d’en haut), Chilean Marialy Rivas’ Joven y Alocada, American Lucy Mulloy’s Una Noche, Danish Mads Matthiesen’s Teddy Bear, and Bulgarian Kristina Nikolova’s Faith, Love and Whiskey.

A youth jury formed by young students of cinema schools aged 18-25 will award the Golden Athena to the competition’s best film as well as the best director and best screenplay trophies. They will be accompanied by the audience award.

The other traditional competition section reserved for Music and Films comprised of musical documentaries from all over the world features such titles as Kevin Macdonald’s celebrated Marley, Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern’s Shut Up and Play the Hits and Jesse Vile’s Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet.

Jonathan Demme’s Neil Young Journeys, which concludes the trilogy Demme dedicated to the legendary American singer and composer Neil Young, is presented out of competition.

The international jury, which will award the Golden Athena to films of the section, is comprised by such film and music critics as Jorg Gerle (Filmdienst, Germany), Fernando Rodriguez (ABC, Spain), Mode Steinkjer (Dagsavisen, Norway) and their Greek colleagues Christos Mitsis (Athinorama) and Manolis Oikonomou (Sound, En Lefko).

Two more juries, formed by local filmmakers and critics will award the trophies to the best debut director and actors in the Greek fiction features section as well as  to the Greek Shorts section introduced this year. The award to the best short will be accompanied by €2,000 in cash.

The non-competitive Panorama and Premieres 28 titles-strong sections include such films as Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner Amour, Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, Walter Salles’ On the Road, and the portmanteau Do Not Forget Me Istanbul.

Other films from those sections are Oliver Stone’s Savages, Ira Sachs’ Keep The Lights On, Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed, Eytan Fox’s Yossi and the French animation Ernest and Celestine by Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner.

Among the other non competitive sections are Special Screenings and Documentaries, featuring among its 10 films-strong selection such titles as Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre’s Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, Marina Zenovich’s Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out,  Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and Robert B Weide’s Woody Allen: a Documentary while Midnight Screenings, Cinema on the Edge, Camp: a tribute, are reserved to genre films.

Other tributes are dedicated this year to maverick American director and screenwriter Whit Stillman and to the Japanese cinema through the Nikkatsu Studios.

Stillman will be present to introduce several of his films, including his debut Metropolitan which made it to a Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay in 1991, Barcelona (1994),The Last Days of Disco (1998), and his more recent Damsels in Distress (2011).

The 100th anniversary of the oldest Japanese studio Nikkatsu, home studio of the legendary film maker Kenji Mizogushi,  is the object of a seven-film homage. Films include such masterpieces as Kon Ichikawa’s The Burmese Harp (1956), Shohei Imamura’s Pigs and Battleships (1961) and Intentions of Murder (1964) as well as Kyoshi Kurosawa’s Charisma (1999).

A number of Master Classes will be offered with the participation of  Stillman, Petzold and Falardeau.

The Greek fiction features competition section comprises 10 films including Stella Theodorakis’ Amnesia Diaries, Petros Sevastikoglou’s Attractive Illusion, Greek-Australian Bill Mousoulis’ Wild and Precious and Marco Gastin’s Demokratia: The Way of the Cross.

The Greek shorts competition boasts 65 films.