Lisa Cholodenko’s Sundance hit opens the Athens International Film Festival – Opening Nights today (September 16); the event secures record number of Greek films despite local film industry crisis.

The 16th Athens International Film Festival opens today (September 16) with a gala presentation of Lisa Cholodenko’s comedy The Kids Are All Right, which stars Annette Benning and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple whose teenage kids go in search of their biological father (Mark Ruffalo).

This year’s festival promises to be a banner year combining innovative new features with a record number of local productions. It will close on September 26 with a screening of Woody Allen’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.

Local premieres make up more than half of the 200-strong programme alongside 30 short films. It is divided into 12 sections and three tributes - Ernst Lubitsch, Olivier Smolders and Sebastien Lifshitz.

New for this year is a section combining film and art based around the concept of “The Hole”, which is developed by Athens artistic director Orestis Andreadakis and based by 14 prestigious art institutions include the Benaki Museum, the National Archaeological Museum and the National Gallery.

Films in the section include Henry Hathaway’s Peter Ibbetson (1935), Jacques Becker’s Night Watch (1960) and Tsai Ming-Liang’s The Hole (1998).

A European youth jury has been formed to judge the 14-strong international competition. The members, aged between 18 and 25 years old, have been selected from nine European member states. They will judge the Golden Athena for best film.

A second Golden Athena will be awarded to the best film in Music and Film competition, which features seven documentaries. It is being judged by a five-member international jury made up of critics and journalists from The Wire, UK newspaper The Guardian and German magazine Sueddeutsche Zeitung. The winners of both competitions will receive $13,082 (€10,000), while the winner of the audience award will receive $7,848 (€6,000).

The Panorama and Avant Premieres sections feature a number of international premieres; while the Midnight Movies programme is dedicated to horror. Organisers have scrapped last year’s Greek film competition, which was reserved for first time directors, but the festival remains committed to offering premiere berths to local productions. No less than seven features, including Homeland by Sylas Tzoumerkas, fresh from Venice Critics Week, are presented in the Avant Premieres section.

The record number of Greek films comes as the local industry struggles to cope with the aftershocks of the country’s financial crisis, and the lack of a modern legal framework regulating the sector. The Culture Ministry has repeatedly failed to come up with the long promised film law to put some order into the production and distribution of local productions (ScreenDaily, August 12).

It is indicative that the four Greek films selected for the recent Venice Film Festival, were majority produced by private funds with a minimal state backing. The state subsidised Greek Film Centre has not been able to green light any new productions for more than a year due to a lack of funds.

The shifting from state funding to private money also affects local film festivals with Athens, which is mainly funded through sponsorship, now able to secure more Greek titles than the Thessaloniki International Film Festival (December 3-12), which relies on Government subsidies. This is expected to worsen if the Ministry continues to drag its feet on drafting the new film law.

Thessaloniki was severely hit last year by a boycott by the “Filmmakers in the Mist” movement protesting at the Ministry’s delays (ScreenDaily, Sept 8, 2009). The row led to many Greek directors pulling their film’s out of the festival, a move that is expected to be repeated next year.

International competition line up:

Au Revoir Taipei, Arvin Chen (Taiwan)

R U There, David Verbeek (Netherlands)

The Temptation of St Tony, Veiko Ounpuu (Estonia)

Little Baby Jesus of Flandr, Gust van den Berghe (Belgium)

The Robber, Benjamin Heisenberg (Austria)

Some Days Are Better Than Others, Matt McCormick (USA)

Southern District (Zona Sur), Juan Carlos Valdivia (Bolivia)

Hitler In Hollywood, Frederic Sojcher (Belgium)

Sebbe, Babak Najafi (Sweden)

Brotherhood, Will Canon (USA)

Symbol, Hitoshi Matsumoto (Japan)

Four Lions, Christopher Morris (UK)

Exit Through The Gift Shop, Banksy (USA,UK)

Freakonomics, Eugene Jarecki, Heidi Ewing, Morgan Spurlock, Rachel Grady, Seth Gordon, Alex Gibney (USA)