Festival expands; 175 titles presented in a record fifteen different sections

The 17th Athens International Film Festival Opening Nights Conn-x (AIFF) launches today [Sept 14] with the gala presentation of  Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist.

The silent era-set romantic-drama, a hit in Cannes this year, stars Jean Dujardin who took the Best Actor award at the Cote d’Azur event.

This year’s festival looks stronger than ever due to new initiatives developed throughout the year which heighten its prestige and are reflected in its line-up.

New initiatives include the Athens Open Air Film Festival organized for the first time throughout this summer by AIFF with the backing of the Ministry of Culture and the Athens Municipality as well as the year-round Introduction to Cinema Scheme (Proti Ora) which toured schools around the country.

Reflecting the ever increasing appeal of the event among young film-goers, this year the festival is adding one more downtown venue to the existing four locations.

The line-up boasts 175 titles presented in a record fifteen different sections, among them tributes to late Japanese master Yasuzo Masumura and the late Dutch filmmaker Johan van der Keuken as well as a focus on Norwegian cinema.

The international competition section selected by artistic director Orestis Andreadakis features 14 titles.

Among them are acclaimed directorial debuts including actor Karl Markovics’ Breathing (Atmen) from Austria, Bullhead (Rundskop) by Belgian Michael Roscam and Volcano (Eldfjall) by Icelander Runar Runarsson.

In line with AIFF’s long-standing policy of showcasing the American independent film scene, five productions are presented in the international competition: Bellflower by Evan Glodell, Natural Selection by Robbie Pickering, Love by William Eubank, Silver Tongues by Simon Arthur and On the Ice by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean.

The UK is represented by Richard Ayoade’s Submarine while India contributes the strong anti-Bollywood social drama Asshole (Gandu) by Bengali director Qaushik Mukherjee.

The five-member international jury is chaired by former Edinburgh artistic director Hannah McGill. It is composed by European critics and  journalists representing publications Die Tageszeitun (Germany), Der Standard (Austria), Politiken (Danemark), the Dagers Nyheter (Sweden) and Billboard (UK-US)

A five-member international youth jury composed of students from European film schools will award the Golden Athena and €10,000 to the best film in the international competition. The  jury will also award the best director and screenplay. This last award is backed by Dewar’s cinema.

Another Golden Athena and €10,000 will be awarded to the best film in the second competition section reserved for Music and Film, which features nine documentaries.

Among those titles are titles Fix-the Ministry Movie by American Douglas Freel, Michel Petrucianni by British director Michael Radford as well as Mika Kaurismaki’s Mama Africa and The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye by French Marie Losier.

Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World and British director Nick Hamm’s Killing Bono get out of competition berths. 

Rounding out the prizes is the Audience award worth €6,000 to the local distributor for the awarded film’s theatrical release.

Another plus this year is the beefed up Greek section, featuring no less than 13 titles compared to seven in 2010.

The festival offers premiere berths to local productions and offers awards to the best local debutant director, actress and actor.

Included in the section is George Siougas’ outstanding debut Burning Heads (To Gala), seasoned  Dimitris Athanitis’ Three Days of Hapiness (Treis meres eftihias) and Elissavet Chronopoulou’s Hannibal Antes Portas (O Annivas pro ton pylon), actor George Pyrpasopoulos’ English-language directorial debut 4ever, Kostas Charalambous’ sophomore effort Tied Red Thread (Demeni kokkini klosti) and debutants Stelios Kammitsis’ Jerks (Kolopaida) and Greek Cypriot Elias Dimitriou’s Fish n’ Chips.

Greek cinema continues to do well at festivals around the globe. George Lanthimos and Athina Rachel Tsangari’s multiawarded (notably in Cannes and Venice) Dogtooth and Attenberg were followed this year by the best screenplay award for Lanthimos’ Alps last week in Venice. Philippos Tsitos’ Unfair World has been selected for competition in San Sebastian.

Non competitive sections include the Panorama and Premieres, horror and sci-fi section Midnight Movies and Documentaries.

Among the eagerly awaited titles in the Premieres section are Lynne’s Ramsay’s Cannes hit We Need to Talk About Kevin, George Clooney’s The Ides of March fresh from its Venice competition berth, Valerie Roncelli’s Cannes revelation Declaration of War (La guerre est  declaree), the Cannes special Jury prize winner Polisse by Maiwenn Le Besco as well as Robert Redford’s The Conspirator and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive which earned him the Cannes best director award.

Notable among side events is the Kafka Zone where an exhibition of works from the Deste foundation and Foundation of Arts for Contemporary Europe (FACE) member institutions is jointly presented with a fifteen title-strong selection of films reflecting the Kafka universe. It includes among others films by Joseph Losey, Orson Welles and Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub.

A number of directors from various sections will be present to introduce their films while the celebrated casting director Beatrice Kruger (Casino Royal, Oceans’ Eleven) will offer a master class on film casting.

The festival wraps September 25 with the awards gala and the presentation of Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, the Iranian social drama awarded this year’s Golden Bear at Berlin.

International competition lineup:

Bellflower, dir Evan Glodell (USA)

Silver Tongues, dir Simon Arthur (USA)

Volcano (Eldfjall), dir Runar Runarsson (Iceland)

Asshole (Gandu), dir Qaushik Mukherjee (India)

Familiar Grounds (En terrains connus), dir Stephane Lafleur (Canada)

Natural Selection, dir Robbie Pickering (USA)

Sensation, dir Tom Hall (Ireland)

Submarine, dir Richard Ayoade (UK, US)

Sidewalls (Medianeras), dir Gustavo Tarreto (Argentina)

Bullhead (Rundscop), dir Michael Roskam (Belgium)

Love, dir William Eubank (USA)

Silver Forest (Silberwald), dir Christine Repond (Switzerland)

On the Ice, dir Andrew Okpeaha Maclean (USA)

Breathing (Atmen), dir Karl Markovics (Austria)