16th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival –
Images of the 21stCentury
March 14-23, 2014
JUST TALKING 16/3
The “Just Talking” section of the 16th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival opened on Sunday, March 16 2014. Participating were directors Alexandra Anthony (Lost in the Bewilderness), Deborah Perkin (Bastards), Shawney Cohen (The Manor), Horacio Alcala (Grazing The Sky), Axel Salvatori-Sinz (The Shebabs Of Yarmouk), Bill Siegel (The Trials Of Muhammad Ali) and Bernard Dichek (The Kalusz I Thought I Knew).
First to speak was Shawney Cohen, about his documentary The Manor, which deals with the family business by the same name: a provincial strip club, which his father bought when the director was six years old. Thirty years later, the author began filming his family and to what extent the specific professional occupation has affected their lifestyle. He concluded by commenting: "Through this film we came closer as a family. I feel proud of my parents."
For his part, Horacio Alcala’s documentary Grazing The Sky focuses on the circus world, not the kind that features animals, but rather circus troupes and acrobats. What caught the interest of the director was "how ordinary people manage to perform superhuman acts", he noted. For him, the film is symbolic of how people can reach even the most elusive of dreams. The director said that he had to do research for two years in order to make the film, seeking acrobats in eleven countries, while filming the documentary lasted another five years.
Muhammad Ali was a childhood hero for Bill Siegel. However, the documentary The Trials Of Muhammad Ali follows the famous boxer outside the ring, as a fighter who refused to go to war in Vietnam, and also as a man who spoke out against war and racism. "The film ultimately refers to how this man became what het was, namely Mohamed Ali," said the director.
After 25 years on BBC television, Deborah Perkin decided to make the film she had dreamed of making, without limitations and standards imposed by anyone other than her. The documentary Bastards makes its world premiere at the 16th TDF. Heroine of the film is a girl from Morocco who was married against her will at the age of 14 and who was thrown out while she was pregnant when it was discovered that her marriage - and child – were not recognized for formal reasons. Eventually, she fought an 18 month legal battle in order to have her child recognized. "It was like a soap opera, only that it is a true story," said the artist.
Lost in the Bewilderness by Alexandra Anthony also tells an unusual story: The adventure of the filmmaker's cousin, Loukas, who was abducted by his mother at the age of 5 from Greece, and was found just before his 16th birthday in the USA. In fact, Loukas’ father received a phone call from the child’s mother and then went to the U.S. to get him back. With him was the director, who was filming the events. The shooting lasted for 18 years, recording Loykas’ path to adulthood and self-knowledge, culminating in the moment when he becomes a father.
The Kalusz I Thought I Knew by Bernard Dichek also tells a personal story. The director’s father immigrated to Canada in 1949 and never returned to his hometown of Kalusz in Poland, which suffered extensive damage during the Second World War. When he was a child, the director constantly heard stories about Kalusz, and when his father died, he decided to make the return voyage on his father’s behalf. "I heard about this place all my life and the image I had formed in my mind was different from reality. I think the movie touches the audience because many people in Thessaloniki have the same experience. I feel like there is also a piece of history here that has not been told”, said the director.
To conclude the presentation of the documentaries, Axel Salvatori-Sinz spoke about his debut film The Shebabs Of Yarmouk, which focuses on a small group of young Palestinian refugees living in the Yarmouk camp in Syria and who must choose between their desire to take risks and prospect of an orderly life.
Using Peter Wintonick’s quote that a filmmaker should honor what originally inspired him, the directors were asked to talk about their own inspiration. For Bill Siegel, the charming story of Muhammad Ali is the path, the journey that one follows to evolve as a person. "As a child, Ali was my hero. I thought I knew who he was, but he showed me how much I still had to know about him. This is the meaning of life, to find out how you want the course of your life to be recorded and to stay true to your principles," the director said. For Deborah Perkin, it is important to strive to make a difference. "After so many years, I think I made a difference when I left the BBC. This was a huge journey, I finally did something for me and it was liberating," said the director. For his part, Bernard Dichek drew inspiration from the fact that the young people with whom he worked in the film were interested in a place they had never heard of, just as he himself grew up with the memories of his father. "I knew that if I did not make this movie no one would", Horacio Alcala noted that although real, the stories of the people featured in the documentary, look like they are fiction. Source of inspiration for Axel Salvatori - Sinz were the protagonists of the film, who were the same age as he was and had the same passion for life while living in such a different environment. "True stories are more bizarre than fiction", said Alexandra Anthony, who was inspired by the experiences of her family but also from her Greek descent . "Having the Greek myths in my DNA, I had the freedom to use metaphors referring to Orpheus", she noted .
Afterwards, the directors spoke about what they discovered about themselves through the creation of their documentaries. "I learned that we need to persist, no matter what problem we meet, just like acrobats, again and again, until you get where we want to be," said Mr. Alcala. "I learned something about my father's life, even though I ended up in a different place from where I thought I would be when I started to make the film," noted Mr. Dichek. For Mr. Siegel, the documentary was the means to tell a story that would otherwise be overlooked by future generations. "I want to fight the extinction of history", he stressed. "I learned how to be a better person, I learned about my family and I think that my film was like a kind of psychotherapy," said Mr. Cohen. For Mr. Salvatori – Sinz the film was a lesson in how someone who does not have the opportunities of those living in Europe tries to fulfill his dreams and shape his own life. As for Alexandra Anthony, "Love can heal. This is what I learned through my film."
"Do not do it for money, don’t let having no money stop you”, Mr. Siegel said. “Money will not give me this joy," added Mr. Cohen and Mr. Dichek noted: "We need to take risks, to follow our instincts, to invest in young people." For Ms Perkin, the following applies: "Do something that you believe in, switch on a light for your viewers about a world they don’t know or understand. We are not poets, we tell stories and viewers are part of this ongoing dialogue." For her part, Ms Anthony said: "Do not lose the joy of holding a camera, do not lose the surprise of beginning something. It’s magical to hold a picture in time". Mr. Alcala said: "We need to enter into the whole story with passion and bravery," while Mr. Salvatori - Sinz concluded: " The important thing is to believe in your work and keep going until the end."