The 51st  International Thessaloniki Film Festival (TIFF) kicks off Dec 3, and in addition to its competition and side sections, it offers three main tributes.

Two of them are dedicated to women directors, the Danish Suzanne Bier and the Polish Dorota Kędzierzawska.

The third and probably the most significant one highlights Iraqi director Mohamed Al-Daradji’s work which includes his last effort, the multiawarded Son of Babylon.

The fact that  Al-Daradji has recently been named“Middle Eastern Filmmaker of the year”  corroborates  the long standing decision of the new TIFF director Dimitris Eipides to host an homage to the director and through him to the Arab Cinema as a whole.

Eipides was among the first programmers who ”discovered “ the Iranian cinema  during the early ninenties introducing the western festival audiences to the films of such directors as Kiarostami, Panahi, Makhmalbaf and Ghobadi.

Eipides was at that time in charge of the celebrated New Horizons section of the Thessaloniki event.

Speaking exclusively to Screen the TIFF director explained the reasons he now turns to the Arab cinema describing  Al Daradji as ”an emerging master at the forefront of a new, promising and ambitious  cinema developing in the Arab world now. Al- Daradji’s films are made under harsh conditions and sometimes in complete lack of  production infrastructure. Nevertheless his determination and persistence overcome the gloom of the war torn lives set in the background”.

The extension of the homage to the Arab cinema as a whole is further reflected in  the inclusion of no less than four more Arab themed or produced films in the different festival sections as well as the upcoming collaboration between TIFF and its counterparts Abu Dhabi and Doha festivals.

The homage has even further political and financial connotations. It represents the forefront of the cultural events set to unfold in Thessaloniki every year starting in 2011 in the context of the “Crossroads of Civilisations” celebrations announced recently  by the Culture Minister Paul Geroulanos.

The first region to be honoured  in the celebrations is just the Arab one and this should also  be related to the financial help the government expects from Arab countries and investors interested in the privatization of important chunks of the battered Greek  state economy.

This is not however the first time TIFF turns to the Arab cinema. The event has staged two years ago, under former director Despina Mouzaki,  an extensive Middle East Spotlight accompanied by a publication and a roundtable on the subject of filmmaking in the Arab world.

Al- Daradji will be joined in Thessaloniki by the two women directors who are also celebrated with tributes to their work.

The Polish Dorota Kędzierzawska excells in the auteur oriented cinema. Her films are lyrical, emotional and timeless though they are deeply rooted in the social context  of her native country from the 1980s to nowdays.

She is much concerned with the contemporary human condition, offering a voice especially to women and children

The festival will present seven out of her eight titles-strong filmography,  produced from 1988 to 2009.She will offer a press conference/master class and will receive an honorary Golden Alexandre for her career.

Susanne Bier, one of the most renowned Danish filmmakers of the past two decades, will also receive an honorary Golden Alexander.

All her nine films produced  from 1991 to 2010 will be screened

Her cinema originally attached to the “Dogma” is realistic mostly dealing with relationships, family dramas and moral issues found in the small and everyday gestures and situations. Though her characters are always flawed and complicated she succeeds in drawing sympathy for them from audiences on account of their plausibility as truthful human beings.

In her latest feature, In a Better World, also screened at the festival she is reunited  with her long-time screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen and actor Ulrich Thoms in the story of two families and how a small act of violence will threaten to ruin them both.

The TIFF tributes are completed by a three films-strong posthumous hommage to Werner Schröter, one of the most unique filmmakers of the New German Cinema movement who passed away in 2010

The festival runs December 3 to 12. The complete line up will be announced early next week.