The 24th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival kicked off with the opening ceremony on Thursday 10 March, in the packed Olympion theater. The ceremony was hosted by the actress, presenter and singer Nantia Kontogeorgi, while the festival was honored by the presence of the Deputy Minister of the Interior – Responsible for Macedonia and Thrace, Stavros Kalafatis, the Mayor of Thessaloniki, Konstantinos Zervas Deputy Regional Head of the Metropolitan Unit of Thessaloniki, Voula Patoulidou, as well as the director and the producer of the opening film, Oscar nominee David France and Mira Chang, who greeted the audience.
Initially, the presenter Nantia Kontogeorgi took the floor to greet the audience, and referred to the ability of the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival to adapt, resist and create, despite the adverse circumstances imposed by the pandemic during the past two years. Circumstances that, as she explained, led to the absence of the General Director of the Festival, Elise Jalladeau, from the ceremony due to contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case. Then, and after referring to this year’s edition’s program, and to the main tribute of the 24th TDF to post-reality, Nantia Kontogeorgi invited on stage the Festival’s Artistic Director, Orestis Andreadakis, who pointed out the challenges our society faced during the pandemic, as well as the multidimensional aspects of post-reality, this year’s festival main tribute.
“Exactly two years ago, the pandemic knocked on our door. It was a new reality, another reality, a post-reality. The clash was violent: we lost friends and family, we saw people change, we saw the world change. The terror of the pandemic, which is perfectly depicted in the brilliant film that you will soon be the first to watch, in its world premiere, changed us all”. In addition, the Festival’s Artistic Director mentioned the challenge of the new reality faced by the world, following the advent of the war in Ukraine. “Horror, in the words of Giorgos Seferis, is “alive, speechless, and continues to advance”. So, a few days ago we fearfully realized that horror had yet another face to show. The most atrocious, the most sinister, the most frightening. The face of war. All of us have our gaze turned to Ukraine. A place which reminds us that history has taught us nothing. A place that, 90 years ago, lived through another tragedy, the great famine, known in Ukrainian as the “Holodomor”. The famine imposed by the Stalinist regime, leading millions of people to death. At that time, the summer of 1932, the great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam wrote a heartbreaking poem, titled Old Crimea”. Immediately after, Orestis Andreadakis read the poem out loud, which was translated in Greek by Yannis Palavos and himself.
It's a cold spring. The Crimea is starving and fearful
and as guilty as it was under Vrangel and the White Guard.
The patched rags are in tatters, the sheepdogs are in the yard,
and the smoke is biting and pungent as ever.
The views are hazy, it is as beautiful as ever.
The trees are in bud, swelling slightly,
and are the real outsiders, and the almond,
blossoming with yesterday's foolishness, arouses pity.
Nature can't recognize her own face:
the refugees from the Kuban and the Ukraine are nightmare shadows.
The hungry villagers in their felt slippers
guard the storehouse gates, never touching the locks.
“Poetry, cinema and art hide within them a great power, the power of hope”, Mr. Andreadakis added. “Let’s search together these 10 days to find hope. Even if this may now seem hard, we hope that the light will beat darkness in the end. Enjoy the screenings. Let’s wish for health and peace”, he mentioned at the end of his speech. Later, Nantia Kontogeorgi invited on stage the Deputy Regional Head of the Metropolitan Unit of Thessaloniki, Voula Patoulidou, who, representing Regional Governor Apostolos Tzitzikostas, addressed the audience with a short greeting. As she mentioned, the Festival has always held a special place in her heart, and so has the documentary genre, which constitutes the ultimate art of documenting reality.
“As a member of the Red Cross, a few years ago, I had convinced our president at the time to fund the Audience Awards at the Documentary Festival. Documentary is the documentation of reality. But which reality are we referring to? The director’s gaze? The one we are experiencing? Documentary cinema helps us explore and identify any reality that comes on our way. And what we keep, what we filter and what we throw away, depends on us. Thessaloniki Documentary Festival embodies the moto “stay alert””. Mrs. Patoulidou did not fail to mention the harsh reality of the war in Ukraine, but also the educational role of documentary cinema. “We never thought we would live through a war in this century and yet here we are. And what one wonders is – because we are selfish creatures by nature – who is next? We however hope that these documentations will at some point teach us what we need to know. If history does not succeed, maybe the documentation of reality through documentary will somehow scare us. We wish this tragedy never happened. Those who are currently documenting the war scene, will maybe one day share their material with us”.
Moving on, Mrs. Patoulidou referred to the unbreakable professional bond between the Region of Central Macedonia and the Documentary Festival and the Thessaloniki Film Festival, as well as to the important work showcased by the Region of Central Macedonia for the promotion of Central Macedonia, and Thessaloniki, as ideal destinations for film production. “The relationship between the Region of Central Macedonia and the Documentary Festival and the Thessaloniki Film Festival is a close one, it is an everlasting road. Until now, the Region of Central Macedonia has invested more than 2.5 million euros, while Olympion has undergone energetic upgrade that amounts to 400,000 euros. Simultaneously, necessary action is being taken for its integration to the new NSRF. We have already set up a foundation, the Film Office, with a specific goal and purpose in mind: to make it easy for people to make a film here. Can you imagine the value of the phrase “Location Thessaloniki” or “Location Central Macedonia”? This is what we are fighting for, and we are doing so along with the citizens and the official institutions of this place”. Concluding her statement, she had a message for young filmmakers. “I am now addressing all the Greek and international filmmakers, because these people can certainly document many stories of this world, our beloved Thessaloniki. Because Thessaloniki is a multilayered novel with many stories to tell. And if you can visualize these stories through your art, that would be the best for us all. I wish you all a “fair play - and compete”, she distinctively mentioned.
The Mayor of Thessaloniki, Konstantinos Zervas, was the next to take the floor, making a remark about the “colors” of Thessaloniki, but also those of the Ukrainian flag. “This city has many colors, it is vivid. We are so thrilled for the red carpets and these crowded theaters. Unfortunately, though, our minds during these hard and critical times go to the two colors used in TDF’s great poster, yellow and blue. To everything that is currently happening a few hundred kilometers from our city and the pain that exists so close to us”. Then, the Mayor of Thessaloniki talked about the art of documentary, its evolution and its meaning.
“The art of documentary is probably the first one applied by the filmmakers, in films that lasted one or two minutes. In this long journey that amounts to more than 100 years, documentary cinema has reached high levels of soundness and aesthetics. It holds a big part in my heart, and that is the case for many cinephiles. And we are very happy that in the city hosting the 24th edition of the Festival, theaters will be full once again as we watch the films, intrigued and ready to exchange opinions. TDF is part of the life of this city”, he distinctively said. The Mayor’s address ended with the hope that the horror of war will soon come to an end. “I am very happy that we are leaving the crisis of the pandemic behind, a crisis that reminded us of the value of health. However, these days, we also think of the value of peace. All these years, we have also realized the value of solidarity. What I would like to wholeheartedly wish, apart from congratulating the organization and wishing good luck to all competition sections’ participants, is that by the end of the Festival, on the 20th of March, the horror that begun a few days ago will be over”, he said.
Then, Stavros Kalafatis, Deputy Minister of the Interior – Responsible for Macedonia and Thrace, addressed the room. “In a few minutes, the lights will dim down, the projector will be on and the Documentary Festival that was born, reached adulthood and grew up in Thessaloniki, will officially begin its screenings, starting with a film that stands as a diary of the pandemic. The Festival has found its way to survive these past two years and to continue in its hybrid form, with live screenings in the cinemas, which we truly need, and online screenings. It moved on and proved that the seventh art is also an ark that can transfer us from one side to the other. I wish good luck to this institution that promotes Thessaloniki internationally and serves as a window to the world. It is a ten-day embodiment of extroversion and hope. A crucial moment in the realm of art and culture”.
Mr. Kalafatis referred also to the war in Ukraine, declaring Greece’s undivided support to the struggling people of Ukraine. “After the pandemic we are faced with a new important crisis: the Russian invasion in Ukraine. From the very beginning we expressed the solidarity of the Greek government and the Greek people, to the fight of Ukrainians for what is fair and for their rights. We express our sorrow for the horror of the war and the unfair loss of so many people, even young kids. We express our support to the civilians and the refugees trying to escape the vortex of the war. In hope that all this will end as soon as possible and remain only – something unfortunately impossible – in camera and documentary footage, so that it will serve as historical documentation for future generations”, he mentioned concluding his speech.
At this point, the host of the night, Nantia Kontogeorgi, took the floor again, and referred to the valuable contribution of the Festival sponsors and supporters. Then, she introduced the opening film that went on to be screened in the Olympion theater. “The curtain of the 24th TDF will be raised with a world premiere, the film How to Survive a Pandemic by David France, an HBO production. From the fear and the unprepared-for-a-pandemic world community, to the new vaccines following the tremendous efforts of scientists, the redemption, the science itself and its adversaries, the politicians and the politics. I single out one moment from the film, in which one scientist, addressing her co-workers, is heard saying: “Maybe this is the moment in our lives when we will be the most useful to humanity”. Maybe this is the compass of the contemporary mankind, if we want to survive and be proud of our kind”, she said.
She then handed the floor to the director of the film, David France, who took the stage alongside the producer of the film, Mira Chang, to greet the audience. “Hello Thessaloniki! I have been waiting two years to say this! Two years ago, Thessaloniki Film Festival invited me and hosted my film Welcome to Chechnya, which revolved around the oppressed rights of the LGBTQI community and all the crimes conducted against them, in Russia. I had planned to attend the Festival, but the pandemic changed our plans. As many of you, we were also stuck on our screens, constantly watching the news, looking for a sign of hope and waiting impatiently to find out how and when a solution will be found so that we could see each other again in person”, he said.
As he explained, the pandemic situation was the source of inspiration for the creation of the documentary How to Survive a Pandemic. “We had this idea to document all the work, the fight for the creation and the development of the vaccines. For the people who worked so hard, behind the scenes, in their labs, for the research and development of the vaccines. I think it is important for all of us to have an idea of how hard the scientific teams worked. When we accepted the invitation from Thessaloniki Documentary Festival to attend this year, I thought that this film would be more than suitable for the festival opening”, he stated.
David France also mentioned the obstacles they faced during the making of the film, and did not fail to thank the producer, Mira Chang, for her enormous contribution to the completion of this difficult task. “I have to say it hasn’t been easy. Mira Chang, our producer, achieved something huge. She managed to organize the shooting of the documentary in many different continents, often on the same day. We had to work endless hours from our homes. At the same time, we wanted to ensure that it would not be visible to you, the audience, the fact that we were also having a hard time. I want to thank all of our collaborators. Without their help, none of this would be possible”, he said.
The ceremony came to an end with Nantia Kontogeorgi’s farewell, as she wished for peace and health for the world, also in sign language. Soon after followed the screening of the documentary How to Survive a Pandemic by David France.