Alexander Payne’s Nebraska to close the 10-day festival in the Greek city.

The 54th Thessaloniki International Film Festival is set to kick off today with the gala presentation of Only Lovers Left Alive in the presence of director Jim Jarmusch.

Jarmusch will attend following several efforts to lure him to the festival in northern Greece.

Only Lovers Left Alive, which played in competition at Cannes, was executive produced by Greece’s Christos Konstantakopoulos of Faliro House Productions.

The festival will wrap on Nov 10 with Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, for which lead actor Bruce Dern won best actor at Cannes.

Greek-American Payne returns to the festival to present the film and will preside over the international jury.

A total of 14 titles make up the competition and the award for the Golden and Silver Alexander will be decided by a jury including Romanian producer Ada Solomon, Cannes Directors Fortnight head Edouard Weintrop, Variety chief critic Scott Foundas and Greek composer Konstantinos Vita. 

Scroll down to see the international competition line-up.

Guiraudie, Simon tributes

The line-up, comprising more than 150 films, has been compiled by artistic director Dimitri Eipides and is spread across 12 sections such as Open Horizons, Balkan Survey, Greek Panorama and tributes.

Tributes have a distinctive French flavour this year.

The main tribute will be dedicated to gay cinema director Alain Guiraudie, including all six of his features including Stranger by the Lake (L’inconnu du lac) which won two prizes at this year’s Cannes including the Queer Plam.

French filmmaker Claire Simon will have four of her films screened, led by this year’s Gare du Nord.

Both Giraudie and Simon will attend the festival.

South America

Argentinian cinema will be in the spotlight at this year’s festival, with eight recent productions set to be screened. A further three Argentinian films will be included across different sections.

It is part of an increased presence for Latin American films at the festival

Mexico boasts four films, among them Diego Quemada Diez’s Jaula de Oro A Golden Dream (La Jaula De Oro), which scooped top prizes at festivals in Zurich and Mumbai as well as the Talent award in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section, while Fernando Eimbcke returns to Thessaloniki with San Sebastian winner Club Sandwich.

Chile, Venezuela, Cuba and Brazil each have two films in the line-up including La Chupilca del diablo (The Devil’s Liquor) by Ignacio Rodriguez (Chile); San Sebastian winner Pelo malo (Bad Hair) by Marian Rondon (Venezuela); and Melaza (Molasses) by Carlos Lechuga. All three are in competition.

Guatemala is present for the first time ever in the festival with Maximon Monihan’s O Exercicio do caos (The Exercise of Chaos), a co-production with the US. 

The US independent scene enjoys a massive presence with no less than 11 features across all sections, among them Goodnight by Sean H.A. Gallagher and Bluebird by Lance Edmands, a co-production with Sweden, both in competition.

Equally strong from Europe is the presence of France, Austria and the Scandinavian countries. The later have 1 film competing- Vi (US) by Mani Masserat (Sweden) plus 9 more in different sections.

Austria has 8 films and France no less than 20 including Katell Quillevere’s Suzanne and Gilles Deroo and Marianne’s Mouton (Sheep), both in competition.

Asia is also strong though not a single Chinese film was selected this year….South Corea presents 2 films, Tae-gon Kim’s Ilgugugu, Myeon Hue (Sunshine boys) in competition and Sang-soo Hong’s Nugu-ui ttal-do anin Haewon (Nobody’s Daughter Haewon). Japan has another 2 including the Cannes awarded Soshite chichi ni haru (Like Father, Like Son) by Hirokazu Kore-Eda.
Though the UK counts only one selection, the film handpicked is Clio Barnard’s widely acclaimed debut The Selfish Giant competing for the European Parliament Lux Awards alongside actress turned director Valeria Golino’s Miele (Italy) and Felix Van Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium, Netherlands). All three nominated films are presented in Thessaloniki.

The non-competitive Open Horizons, the Special Screenings and the new Current -catering to experimental and innovative films-section offer no less than 63 titles.

Eagerly expected among them are such films as, Roman Polanski’s Cannes hailed La Venus a la fourrure (Venus in Fur), Canadian Denis Cote’s Vic+Flo ont Vu un Ours (Vic+Flo Saw a Bear) awarded in Berlin, his fellow Canadian Xavier Dolan’s Tom at the Farm, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida hailed and awarded at Totonto, the Cannes awarded Neveshtehaa nemisoosand (Manuscripts don’t Burn) by Mohammad Rasoulof who will not be present as he is prevented from exiting his native Iran by his country regime, Austrian Ulrich Seidl’s last part of his Paradise triptych Hoffnung (Hope), Hungarian Janos Szasz’s A nagy fuzet (The Notebook) awarded at Karlovy Vary as well as the Cannes Directors Fortnight sensation L’escale (Stop Over) shot by Iranian -Swiss resident Kaveh Bakhtiari in Greece dealing with the life conditions of exiled illegal Iranians here. A round table on the controversial problem of illegal immigration in Greece will follow the screening.

The emblematic Balkan Survey section curated by Balkan film industries specialist and film scholar Dimitris Kerkinos celebrates this year its 2Oth anniversary with a 17 titles-strong homage to the most outstanding films of that period. Directors from 9 Balkan countries contributing with their films range from veteran Romanian Lucian Pintilie (Balanta-The Oak, 1992), to Turkish Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Casaba-The Small Town, 1998) down to Bosnian Jasmila Zbanic (Grbavica, 2006) and Serbian Oleg Novkovic (Beli, beli svelt, White, White World, 2010).

The Balkan Survey core program includes 8 features and 7 shorts. Among them Turkish Reha Erdem’s Jin, Croatian Vinko Bresan’s Svecenikova a djeca (The Priest’s Children), Moldovian Ana-Felicia Scultenicu’s Panihida (Sleeplessness) as well as Romanian Corneliu Porumboiu’s Cand se lasa seara peste Bucuresti sau metabolism (When Evening Falls in Bucharest or Metabolism).

The Greek Panorama section showcases only 8 features-as compared to 14 last year-competing for the Fischer breweries backed audience award in memory of the late internationally acclaimed Greek director Mihalis Kakogiannis.

Among them, the eagerly awaited Alexandros Avranas’ Miss Violence, a Faliro House production fresh from its Venice Silver Lion for best direction and Copa Volpi for best actor (Themis Panou) and Yiorgos Servetas’ debut Standing Aside Watching which has already secured a berth in an important international festival early next year. Two more debuts, Yiannis Sakaridis’ Wild Duck and Elina Psykou’s The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas form part of the Panorama as well as of the international competition. They will enjoy their national premiere in the festival arriving fresh from a successful tour in foreign festivals in recent months.

Reasons for the scarcity of national titles available for Thessaloniki seem to be three fold:

a/ The lack of funds available for co-productions during the past two years by the Greek Film Centre.

b/ The September Athens International Film Festival ambitious policy in beefing up its national section draining films from Thessaloniki and,

c/ New director´s recent efforts either being in post-production and not ready for Thessaloniki on time or holding them back eying possible selection at upcoming major international events such as Rotterdam, Sundance, Berlin and even Cannes….

The presence of Greek films seems to be more enhanced in the business section of the event -Agora Industry, focusing on films from the Balkans, Eastern Europe an the Mediterranean- where 22 recent local titles are on offer to the attention of foreign sales agents while productions in post stage and upcoming projects have been selected for the Works in Progress and the Crossroads co-production strands.

Five local film projects are among the 16 titles-strong Crossroads selection put together by the section topper, French producer Marie-Pierre Macia and coordinator Angeliki Vergou.

Projects selected come from 12 countries. Six awards including those by the French CNC -Euros 7,000- and the Cannes Producers Network will be handed out by a three-member international jury formed by UK producer Peter Carlton (Warp Films), former Sundance Film Institute executive Alesia Weston and Greek producer Amanda LIvanou (Beben Films).

The 12 films representing 13 countries selected for the Works in Progress section include 3 Greek productions. Among them Yiannis Economides’ Stratos-aka The Six Fingered Man, Grey Light- a Greek, German, Cyprus co-production (Faliro House-Match Factory, Argonauts Productions) backed by Eurimages, presented out of competition. Also out of competition is Margarita Manda’s For Ever, another Faliro House production in association with Konstantinos Kontovrakis and George Karnavas’ Heretic.

The three-member jury is composed by Matthieu Darass, festival programmer-San Sebastian, Olivier Heitz-international acquisitions at MK-2 and Konstantina Vonorta, producer from Greece.

The main award worth Euros 70,000 in services in kind is offered by the local digital intermedia post production powerhouse GRAAL

All in all the Agora-Industry film market headed by Yianna Sarri is offering 300 plus international titles to invited industry professionals through its state of the art digitalized video library.

The viability of the event was made possible thanks to the European Union support through the NRSF scheme and the Media programme financial assistance. The grants enable the festival to keep on going at least till this year as the regular subsidy from the financially strapped culture ministry has been greatly reduced.

To counter this situation signs of the austerity measures introduced by Eipides are evident this year too in all organizational aspects of the festival.

The main awards of the event, the Golden and the Silver Alexander as well as the Special Jury Prize are not, for the second year in a row, accompanied by the usual combined Euros 35,000 purse.

The budget of the event was brought to €1m+ as compared to three times that before 2010.

International competition

* EP = European Premiere

Zazrac (Miracle)
Juraj Lehotsky (Slovak-Czech) EP

Al-Khoroug Lel-Nahrar (Coming Forth By Day)
Hala Lotfy (Egypt-UAE) 

Pelo Malo (Bad Hair)
Mariana Rondon (Ven-Peru)

Vi (Us)
Mani Maserrat (Swe) EP

Good Night 
Sean H. A. Gallagher (US) EP

La Jaula De Oro (The Golden Cage)
Diego Quemada-Diez (Mex-Spa) 

Melaza (Molasses)
Carlos Lechuga (Cuba-Fra-Pan)

Ilgugugu, Myeon Hue (Sunshine Boys)
Tae-gon KIM (S Kor)

Katell Quillevere (Fra)

Lance Edmands (US-Swe)

La Chupilca Del Diablo (The Devil’s Liquor)
Ignacio Rodriguez (Chi)

Mouton (Sheep)
Gilles Deroo, Marianne Pistone (Fra) 

Wild Duck
Yiannis Sakaridis (Greece) 

I Aionia Epistrofi Tou Antoni Paraskeva (The Eternal Return Of Antonis Paraskevas)
Elina Psykou (Greece)