Expected guests include Alexander Payne, Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, Mohammad Rasoulof, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Sara Driver, Ole Christian Madsen, Ulrich Seidl and Erden Kiral.

The 52nd Thessaloniki film festival (Nov 4-13) will be bookended by two independent American productions: Alexander Payne’s The Descendants and Sean Durkin’s Sundance-directing-award winning thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene. Payne returns again to Thessaloniki, where his debut feature Citizen Ruth won the best screenplay award in 1996. He and his the film’s cinematographer Phedon Papamichael both have Greek heritage.

Other notable guests set to present their films in Thessaloniki include Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud who re-teamed after Persepolis for their new live-action Chicken With Plums; Cannes special jury prize winner Andrey Zvyagintsev with Elena. The festival will produce special tributes to Jim Jarmusch collaborator Sara Driver, Danish director Ole Christian Madsen, Austria’s Ulrich Seidl, Turkis filmmaker Erden Kiral and Greece’s Constantine Giannaris. Also, Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino will get a tribute.

The presence of those and other foreign filmmakers was made possible thanks to a European Union grant backed by additional MEDIA programme financial assistance to Thessaloniki’s film market and Crossroads co-production forum.

That grant should enable the festival to keep on going at least till 2013, while waiting to receive the much delayed subsidy from the financially strapped culture ministry of Greece. Artistic Director Dimitri Eipides, at the helm for the last 18 months, has had to introduce austerity measures across all organisational aspects of the event.

The number of films was trimmed to 150 from nearly 200 in past editions and the budget of the event was brought down to €1.5m compared to three times that in the past. Previous administrations debts of €6.5m have been reduced to €2m.

Austerity measures are not, however, expected to affect Thessaloniki’s smooth operations and attendance of guests.

Eipides has also strengthened the Open Horizons section, reintroduced last year (after Eipides ran it from 1992-2005).

The competition section, open to first and second films, is comprised of 15 titles (listed below) representing 21 producing and co-producing countries.

All competition titles will be available after their first screening and for six months after the festival on Festival Scope following a deal struck with the industry screening platform for film professionals.

The Golden Alexander (€20,000), the Silver Alexander (€10,000) and the Special Jury Prize (€5,000) will be awarded by an international jury comprised of Larry Kardish of New York’s MoMA (president); Sitora Alieva of Russia’s Kinotavr film festival; Frederic Boyer formerly of Directors Fortnight and now of the Les Arcs European Film Festival; Greek director Constantine Giannaris; and US producer Hisami Kuroiwa.

The 50+ titles of Open Horizons include Mohammad Rasoulof’s Goodbye (Be Omid E Didar) [the director is expected to attend despite his legal troubles in Iran]; Faust by Alexander Sokurov; Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s The Kid with a Bike; Matthieu Kassovitz’s Rebellion; Patty Considine’s Tyrannosaur; Mia Hansen-Love’s Goodbye, First Love; Pablo Giorgelli’s Las Acacias; Lisa Aschan’s She Monkeys; Emanuele Crialese’s Terraferma; Markus Schleinzer’s Michael; Miaoyan Hang’s Black Blood; and Ruben Ostlund’s Play.

The Greek Films section is particularly beefed up this year. Eipides said: “the festival should provide Greek films with an adequate promotion platform.”

The 33 titles-strong selection is composed by nine world premieres as well as by the presentation in the film market of such titles as George Lanthimos’ Alps and Philippos Tsitos’ Unfair World.

The Balkan Survey, now running for 18 years and showcasing regional work, presents 14 titles as well as a tribute to veteran Turkish filmmaker Erdan Kiral.

The Experimental Forum includes tributes to the French Collectif Jeune Cinema on the occasion of its 40th anniversary as well as to the Israeli Dror Heller, the Slovenian OM Production, Eric Baudelaire and the films of American J.X. Williams.

As previously reported, The Agora/Market industry side of the festival offers a 200-title-strong digital film library (up from 170 titles last year) plus 10 Works in Progress and 17 projects, as compared to 10 last year, in the Crossroads Co-Production Forum.

Attendees are confirmed from companies including Wild Bunch, MK2, Arte, Pyramide, ZDF, Match Factory, Films Boutique, The Co-production Office, Elephant Eye, Icon Entertainment, Visit Films, and RAI TV.

Festival events include a roundtable talk about producing films in countries with complicated social conditions (Israel, Romania, Greece); a workshop from Ulrich Seidl where he will present his new project Paradise; and photographic exhibitions from Spiros Staveris and Rainmer Simon.

Thessaloniki 2011 International competition line-up

  • Alois Nebel by Tomas Lunak (Czech Republic, Germany, Slovak Republic)
  • Behold the Lamb by John McIlduff (UK)
  • Donkeys (Burros) by Odin Salazar (Mexico) 
  • The House (Dom) by Zuzana Liova (Slovak Republic, Czech Republic)
  • Tollbooth (Gise Memuru) by Tolga Karacelik (Turkey)
  • J.A.C.E. by Menelaos Kramaggiolis (Greece, Portugal, Turkey, FYROM, Netherlands)
  • The Salesman (Le vendeur) by Sebastien Pilote (Canada)
  • The Flood (Mabul) by Guy Nattiv (Israel, Canada, Germany, France)
  • Eighty Letters (Osmdesat Dopisu) by Vaclav Kadrnka (Czech Republic)
  • Paradise (Paradisos) by Panayiotis Fafoutis (Greece)
  • Porfirio by Alejandro Landes (Colombia, Spain, Uruguay, Argentina, France)
  • Twilight Portrait (Portret V Sumer Kakh), Angelina Nikonova (Russia)
  • Land of Oblivion (Terre outrage) by Michale Boganim (France, Germany, Poland, Ukraine)
  • Without by Mark Jackson (US)
  • The Fire (Der Brand) by Brigitte Maria Bertele (Germany)