Adverse weather conditions and the severe economic situation of the country did not manage to blackout the success of the 51st edition of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival (TIFF), the first under the new artistic director Dimitris Eipides.

The festival wrapped with the gala screening of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.

Two Romanian productions took four of the seven main awards in the competition, catering to first and second films.

Outbound (Periferic) by Bogdan George Apetri, a Saga Film production in co-production with the Austrian Aichholzer Filmproduktion, sold by France’s MK2, received the top award for best film, the Golden Alexander accompanied by Euros 20,000. The film landed in  the Thessaloniki competition  following its participation in the Balkan Works in Progress Film Market strand during TIFF 2009. 

Ana Ularu received the best actress award for her part in the film, that of a young woman who takes a 24 hours leave from prison to attend her mother’s funeral. On the way she will reconsider her past and relations in quest for a new life.

Outbound also walked away with the award of the Greek film critics association (PEKK).

The second Romanian competition film, Morgen by Marian Crisan, a Mandragora production in co-production with the France’s Slot Machine, sold by  Les Films du Losange, received the Best Director nod for Crisan as well as the Best Actor award ex aequo for its protagonists, Andras Hatazi and Yilmaz Yalsin. The screenplay by Crisan himself deals with the relations between a Romanian family living near the Romanian-Hungarian border and a Turkish illegal immigrant who tries to cross over to western Europe.

Morgen also received the Fipresci prize for best film in the international competition.

This is the third consecutive year Romanian productions rank among the top films in Thessaloniki. Hooked by Adrian Sitaru received a Silver Alexander in 2008 while Calin Netzer’s Medal of Honour was bestowed another Silver Alexander in 2009.

This year’s Silver Alexander-Special Jury Award, accompanied by Euros 10,000, was awarded to the Greek film Attenberg by Athina Rachel Tsangari, produced by Haos Film, co-produced with Faliro House Productions, Boo Productions, Stefi Productions and the support of the Greek Film Centre. International sales are handled by The Match Factory. Attenberg landed in Thessaloniki after its acclaimed world premiere in Venice where its protagonist Arian Labed received the Copa Volpi for best actress.

The Dominican/Mexican coproduction (Aurora Dominicana/Canana Films) Jean Gentil by Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cardenas (who previously made Cochochi) received the Bronze Alexander-Jury Award for originality and innovation, a new prize introduced this year accompanied by Euros 5,000.The screenplay by the directors themselves focuses on the efforts of an Haitian economic immigrant to find work in the Dominican Republic. Jean Gentil was one of the nine Latin American productions scattered in all the festival sections as TIFF. has consistently showcased and awarded every single year  productions from that continent.

The screenplay award went to the Polish Marek Lechki for Erratu, a film he also directed. The Harmony Film, Heliograf sp.z o.o., Voiceland sp and Polish Film Institute production deals with a middle-aged man who reconsiders his past and present after he kills an elderly man in a car accident.

Finally  the artistic achievement award went to the Turkish production Zephyr (Filmik production) by Belma Bas, dealing with the troubled relationship between an 11-year old girl with her rarely present activist mother.

The international jury was chaired by local film critic and former TIFF director Michel Demopoulos joined by film directors Mohamed Al-Daradji (Iraq) and Scandar Copti (Palestine), producer Behrooz Hashemian (Iran/US) and Martin Schweighofer, managing director of  the Austrian Film Commission (Austria).

As for the second Fipresci award, that reserved to a film in the Greek Films programme, it went to Apnea by Ari Bafalouka, an Artwave production with the support of the Greek Film Centre. It deals with a young Olympic competition swimmer whose life is thrown off balance after the disappearance of his girlfriend.

The audience awards went to Ari Bafalouka’s Apnea (international competition), Christos Nikoleris’s Nobody (Kanenas) (Greek Films section), Danis Tanovic’s Cirkus Columbia (Balkan Section), Hans Petter Moland’s A Somewhat Gentle Man (Open Horizons). The Cinema and The City Award went to Maxime Giroux’s Jo For Jonathan.

The festival managed thanks to a good programme selection in its different sections, to excel in spite of  the substantial reduction in its budget (Euros 2.5m vs 4.5m in past years,) half of it provided by the Culture ministry.

Fifty percent of all screenings were reported sold out in spite of the adverse weather conditions, which resulted also in international guests and directors arriving late. The Danish director Suzanne Bier, enjoying a full retrospective to her work, cancelled her arrival fearing she would not arrive on time due to bad weather affecting flights out of Denmark.

Other celebrated film directors did manage to come. Notably the Cannes Golden Palm winner Apichatpong  Weerasethakul and the Polish Dorota Kedzierzawska were present to receive their tributes.

The Agora/Market activities proved encouraging. Several buyers among the 120 guests attending Agora, many from the Balkan countries, showed interest in a number of titles with definite deals looming in the near future. From France, Arte’s Claire Launay expressed interest in the Israeli Shred of Hope by Tom Shoval while Cinemas Independents Parisiens’ Claudine Castel showed interest in such Greek titles as the competition entry Apnea, Nikos Perakis’ Artherapy as well as in the Open Horizons and Independence Days sidebars titles Winter’s Bone by Debra Granik and Bi, Don’t Be Afraid by Pham Dang Di.

The competition Polish title Erratum and the Special Screenings Russian entry The Edge attracted interest from the Albanian TV RTSH. The Irish production One Hundred Mornings by Conor Horgan presented in the Open Horizons section reported brisk interest from various quarters while Greek distribution outlet Film Trade showed interest in The Balkan Survey entry Oxygen by Romanian Adina Pintilie.

Among projects coming to fruition during this year’s Agora, Greek producer Lilette Botassi of Inka Film and TV Productions announced the entering in pre-production of Agon, a project that originated in TIFF’s Agora/Crossroads strand in 2008 before reaching a co-production agreement with such partners as Albanian Erafilm Production, French Takami Productions and Romanian Elephant Films. The production is actually seeking the Eurimages backing after having received the South Eastern Europe Cinema Network (SEE) development support. Shooting is scheduled for autumn 2011 in Thessaloniki.

The participation of Greek films this year in the festival was abundant, no less than 22 titles, contrasting with  last year’s boycott by the Filmmakers in the Fog movement.

This does not mean however that the problems between the Greek film industry and the festival are settled. Film directors claim for a major part of the festival to be exclusively dedicated to their films as well as for the creation of a Greek competitive festival within the Thessaloniki international one.

TIFF itself is poised for a number of significant transformations when the new film law will enter in operation. The culture minister Pavlos Geroulanos was present at the festival closing ceremony to confirm attendants that approval of  the law by the parliament was now only a question of days. One has to wait to see what changes will be brought in when the law will be finally adopted.

The draft calls for a director general to overview TIFF’s  operation and only one artistic director to programme all the festivals, the feature fiction festival in November, the Greek festival within it and the documentary festival in March. Doubts exist too concerning TIFF’s level of subsidy by the ministry as well as the way the 5m debt inherited by the previous administration will be settled. Festival temporary personnel that remains unpaid since last year staged a noisy protest at the entrance of the gala opening screening.