Welcome To Chechnya

Source: Sundance

‘Welcome To Chechnya’

David France’s Welcome To Chechnya has won a hat-trick of awards at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, which moved online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The film, which chronicles the ongoing anti-LGBTQ persecution raging in the Russian republic of Chechnya, won the festival’s top prize – the Golden Alexander award – which comes with a cash prize of €15,000 ($16,500). It also won the Mermaid Award, presented to the festival’s best LGBTQI-themed film, and the Fipresci prize.

The documentary, produced by New York-based Public Square Films and BBC Storyville, debuted at Sundance where it picked up an editing award and screened at the Berlinale, where it won the Panorama audience award, Teddy activist award and Amnesty International prize. The Exchange has international sales rights and HBO is the North American distributor.

The documentary festival’s special jury award, which includes a cash prize of €5,000 ($5,500), went to Acasa, My Home by Romanian filmmaker Radu Ciorniciuc. The film, which also debuted at Sundance where it picked up a cinematography award, centres on nine children and their parents who live in harmony with the wilderness of the Bucharest Delta but are forced to adapt to life in the big city after being chased out.

The 22nd Thessaloniki Documentary Festival was due to run March 5-15 but was postponed in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, instead taking place online from May 18-29.

A full selection of 210 films, including 15 world and international premieres, allowed for up to 400 free streams per title to Greek audiences using geo-blocking technology. An industry component including masterclasses with the likes of UK war correspondent Robert Fisk and Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang also went ahead online.

Golden Alexander awards

The festival’s Newcomers International Competition saw the Golden Alexander and a cash prize of €8,000 ($8,800) go to German documentary Walchensee Forever by Janna Ji Wonders. Born in the US but raised in Germany, the director tells the story of four generations of women in her family and the counterculture movement in the late-‘60s and early-‘70s. It debuted at the Berlinale, where it won the Compass-Perspecktive award.

The special jury award and a cash prize of €3,000 ($3,300) went to Elina Talvensaari’s Lady Time, which follows the Finnish filmmakers’ journey after she moves into a new apartment in Helsinki that is filled with the late, former owner’s personal belongings.

The Film Forward International Competition saw the Golden Alexander and a cash prize of €3,000 ($3,300) awarded to The Year Of The Discovery by Spanish filmmaker Luis López Carrasco. The film, which played in competition at IFFR earlier this year, revives 1992 when Spain was dealing with a socio-economic crisis and is relayed through stories told in a Cartagena bar.

After cancelling the physical edition in early March, TDF’s Agora Doc Market was one of the first film industry platforms to move online during the virus crisis. In addition, Thessaloniki International Film Festival launched a lockdown-inspired film series in April, led by award-winning directors including Jia Zhangke and Radu Jude.

Film productions were given the greenlight to restart in Greece on May 18 while outdoor cinemas have been cleared to reopen on June 1.

Thessaloniki Documentary Festival Awards 2020

Feature Length International Competition
Golden Alexander: Welcome to Chechnya (US) Dir: David France
Special Jury Award: Acasă, My Home (Rom-Fin-Ger) Dir: Radu Ciorniciuc

Newcomers International Competition
Golden Alexander: Walchensee Forever (Ger) Dir: Janna Ji Wonders
Special Jury Award: Lady Time (Neiti Aika) (Fin) Dir: Elina Talvensaari

Film Forward International Competition
Golden Alexander: The Year of the Discovery (Spa) Dir: Luis López Carrasco

Mermaid Award
Welcome to Chechnya (US) Dir: David France
Special mention: Madame (Swi) Dir: Stéphane Riethauser

Fipresci Awards
Best Film, International Competition Feature Length
Welcome to Chechnya (US) Dir: David France

Best Greek film, TDF’s international program sections
The Music of Things (I mousiki ton pragmaton) (Gre) Dir: Menios Carayannis

Human Values Award of the Hellenic Parliament
The Self Portrait (Selvportrett) (Nor) Dirs: Katja Høgset, Margreth Olin, Espen Wallin

ERT Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation Awards
The Music of Things (I mousiki ton pragmaton) (Gre) Dir: Menios Carayannis

Greek Film Centre Awards
Nikos Karouzos – Poems on a Tape Recorder (Gre) Dir: Yannis Karpouzis

Amnesty International Award
Aswang (Phil-Fr-Nor-Qat-Ger) Dir: Alyx Ayn Arumpac

Katerina Patroni for The Fourth Character (Gre)

Youth Jury Awards
Best Film Award: Good Morning, Mr Fotis (Gre) Dir: Dimitra Kouzi
Special Jury Award: In-mates (Gre) Dirs: Iakovos Panourgias, Nikos Voulgaris