10th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival –
Images of the 21st Century
March 7-16, 2008



The first “Just Talking” of the 10th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival took place on Sunday, March 9 in the Excelsior room of the Electra Palace Hotel. The participants were the directors Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson and Ari Alexander Ergis Magnusson, (At the edge of the world), Hillary Helstein (As seen through these eyes), Chris Swider (Children in exile), Olaf Koelewijn (Farmer’s wisdom) and the producer Sebastian Runschke (The Whispering of the trees).
B. Bjorgulfsson and A. Magnusson spoke about their documentary At the edge of the world. They agreed that it is important to show the human being hidden behind every story. They documentary tells the story of young boys, victims of abuse, rape and systematic humiliation, in an Irish institution for children with behavioural disorders. “It was very difficult to convince them to speak in front of the camera at first. But finally they sought me out themselves, they decided to share their stories with us”, Β. Bjorgulfsson explained. “We must always see the person hidden behind the story and not forget the impact that it could have on the entire society”, A. Magnusson added. He continued, “the purpose of the documentary is to cause change”. They also referred to the importance of the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival as an institution, because, as they said, it features extremely interesting documentaries, that people only have the opportunity to see at festivals.

The producer of the film The Whispering of the trees, Sebastian Runschke spoke about his contact with the natives of the Mapuche tribe in Chile. “The decision as to who will end up being the character you show is quite difficult”, he stressed. He went on to say that shooting took place under difficult conditions, since the film follows the journey of a native family which leaves its home every year in order to gather fruit from the trees in the forests.

Chris Swider, director of the film Children in exile, photographed people who survived exile in Siberia, describing their experiences as the newest victims of the Soviet system. C. Swider particularly stressed the difficulty in finding archival material from that era, and noted the question that “tortures” every documentary maker, which is “why should someone see and remember my film”. He had no trouble winning the trust of the people participating in his film, as he said that they themselves wished to recount events from their own point of view. “The good thing about documentaries is that you meet people who under ordinary circumstances you would most probably never meet in your life”, the director stressed.

Olaf Koelewijn, director of Farmer’s wisdom had been destined by his family to take over his father’s painting business. However, he never worked at that particular profession, since he had already decided to work in television from his school days, originally as a reporter and then as a documentary maker. He spoke of the difficulty in raising financing for documentary films, something that never stopped him from shooting his film with his own money, he explained.

It took Hillary Helstein 10 years to shoot her film As seen through these eyes. Her documentary, enriched with interviews with Holocaust survivors who resisted Fascism through their art, is an ode to the human will to live. “Many times I asked myself why I was making it, and if anyone would be interested in seeing it”, H. Helstein said. With As seen through these eyes she wished to show the poetry and beauty of art that can spring out of the most difficult of circumstances, such as those her heroes lived through.

Then the discussion turned to the trust a director must build with his subject before he begins filming, as well as the responsibility he has to his subject matter.
“In order for trust to be developed between the filmmaker and his hero so that he feels comfortable and begin talking, there have to be many meetings beforehand until they get to know each other well”, commented A. Magnusson. Β. Bjorgulfsson stated “The secret is to listen”, with which all the directors agreed.