Yaron Shani and  Scandar Copti’s dynamic debut feature Ajami and Calin Netzer’s Romanian drama Medal Of Honour took the top prizes at the 50th Thessaloniki International Film Festival in Greece on November 22. 

Ajami, a drama set on the crime-infested streets of the Israeli city of Jaffa, featuring a cast of newcomers, was named best film receiving the Golden Alexander and a Euros 40,000 prize. It is Israel’s entry to this year’s foreign-language Oscar.

Medal Of Honour, about an old man who is surprised to received a medal of honour for deeds during World War Two which forces him to review his entire life, received the Silver Alexander and prize money of  $37,400m (Euros 25,000). It was a world premiere at the festival.

The two films shared the screenplay award while Medal of Honor received the Fipresci prize and the film’s lead Victor Rebengiuk was named best actor.

Ajami also received the audience award and a further $6,000 (Euros 4,000).

The jury, chaired by Theo Angelopoulos, named Rwanda’s Ruth Nirere best actress for her role in  Philippe Van Leeuw’s The Day God Walked Away, a drama about the Rwandan genocide.

Mexico’s Rigoberto Perezcano was named best director for his debut Norteado, a Mexican border drama, which premiered earlier this year at the Toronto International Film Festival.  

The Thessaloniki festival celebrated its 50th anniversary this year but it looks like the end of an era for the festival.

There were few local films this year due to a boycott by the 200-strong Filmmakers In The Mist group which is calling for a new film law from Greece’s Ministry of Culture.  

This may herald considerable changes at Thessaloniki. Until now, all Greek films had to screen at the festival to be eligible for the State Film Awards. No awards will be presented this year due to the boycott.

It is expected that the law, when tabled in parliament, will introduce a new state cinema awards scheme separating them from the festival leaving the event free to select which local films it chooses.

Thessaloniki also faces a radical overhaul of the way it is funded due to both the country’s economic problems and the election of a new Socialist government last month. 

Festival president Georges Corraface plans to leave his post to concentrate on acting. Festival director Despina Mouzaki may also decide to leave after five years at the helm during which she has boosted the festival’s industry profile as both a regional market and co-production hub. 

All decisions lie with new culture minister Pavlos Geroulanos who will introduce the new film law regulating overall film policy in Greece over the next few months. 

For the full list of awards please go to the official film festival website.