17th Athens International Film Festival: Details and impressions (update 2011-09-18)

Back for the 17th year in a row, stronger than ever in the middle of the crisis and expanded into an extra movie theater, the Athens International Film Festival - "Opening Nights Conn-X" must be doing some things right! Just like the festival, I'm learning a few more tricks about it each year. This time, the lesson was: "If you want to get a 10-screenings discount pass you must  go buy it at the 1st or 2nd day of sale, otherwise it's bye-bye!". So, for one last year I will have to make do with regular tickets like most people. However, tickets prices are much lower than in the regular season (6€ instead of 8/9€) and morning screenings for the press are also open to the general public, for 4€ each. I think I just broke a personal record today, watching four(4) feature films in one day! I guess I might go for the 25-screenings discount pass next year.

The opening was last night with a screening of an old black and white film but for me it was this morning with On the Icea film taking place in the remote, snowy town of Barrow, Alaska with many indigenous actors and staff participating in it. It’s a well-shot, powerful (but not melodramatic) story with a rough edge that captured my attention and is worth checking out if you come across it. I was not even able to tell that this was an independent studio production until the end titles of the film. The rapping Eskimos of "On the Ice" were a good reminder of the Film Festival's constant interest in "music & film", one of the permanent sections of the festival, which seems quite awkward considering music films always flop in Greece. I mean, even Ray flopped here...Perhaps the festival has become the main place where music lovers can enjoy such films since the general audience just totally fails to connect with them.

The second film I watched was Hit So Hard, a music documentary, on the life of Patty Schemel, drum player for the 1990's band Hole. The film takes you into Seattle's 1990s grunge scene, the inner workings of the band and Schemel's fight with her drug and alcohol addiction. A large part of the film consists of archive footage from the band's touring and personal moments, including scenes with the late Kurt Cobain while the rest is interviews. Patty Schemel currently works taking care of dogs (www.dogrocker.com - I think in Portland) and teaches drums in a Rock'n'Roll Camp for Girls. Overall quite an interesting film.

Getting out of the theater to go home, I came across some communist student union demonstration, against the recent university reforms (all calm). Streets were still full of garbage from a recent 48-hour strike of municipal garbage collectors but I managed to get home safe and sound:) I guess that's part of the allure of a movie festival; to take you out of the everyday mess and ongoing problems and transport you to different worlds and places. 

I got back into the action in the evening, for the premiere of a Greek film called "3 Days of Happiness". Overall, 12 new Greek films are scheduled to premier in the festival. You could tell this was not a regular screening by watching the action before the screening: lots of people involved into film-making (including a good number of the crew and cast as well as other actresses.I think you can tell them apart when they kiss someone and at the same time look around... :) The film (shot in black & white) draws a dark, grey, violent  and inhospitable portrait of Athens with sex-trafficking in the crux of the story. Besides the excellent photography and its achievement in creating a certain atmosphere, its slow tempo and often unnatural, minimal dialogues could very easily make you drowsy, as I noticed in others and myself especially at the first half. Anyway, if you don't want to come to Athens this is a film to see as it will surely put you off for good :)  To my pleasant surprise the film had English subtitles and the translation seemed to be quite good (not always the case).

Finally, a break and a Coke later, I was ready to see the final film of the night, Killing Bono, which is an angst-filled, and at the same time light-hearted, music comedy loosely based on the true story of a band coming from the same school with U2 and trying to make it big like their old school-mates. You can see an interview of the real McCormicks at the site of The Telegraph.

Now, for some general information on the Athens International Film Festival (AIFF), here's what you need to know: Besides the "music & film" section, other sections include "premieres", "short premieres", "short stories", "retrospective" (each year on 1 or 2 filmmakers - for 2011 it's Johan van der Keuken and Jasuzo Masumura and don't worry I hadn't heard of them before either), "director to watch", "midnight movies", "special screenings" (w/ restored old classics),  "documentaries" and "cinema on the edge". Almost all featured films compete for the same prize which makes the AIFF's competion really distinct. An additional prize is given in the "music and film" category.

The screenings take place in 3 movie theaters downtown (Apollo Cinemax, Attikon Cinemax and Astor Hollywood at 19 Stadiou St. and 28 Stadiou St.) and at the Danaos 1 and Danaos 2 cinemas a bit further north (109 Kifissias St., Athens), near Panormou Metro Station.

A number of events are also planned to take place as part of the festival, including a concert in front of the Acropolis Museum, in the evening of September 23. For more info, including the full schedule / timetable of screenings you should check out the Film Festival's official site here. It lasts from 14 to 25 September 2011. I shall probably post additional thoughts and updates from the following days below.

Updates: I also highly recommend the excellent, very-well directed, music documentary on Miriam Makeba, which I watched on Friday morning. Especially the first half describing the start of her career was a sheer pleasure to watch and listen to.
On Sunday night (18 Sep.) I got to watch Orson Welles' "The Trial", based on the book by Franz Kafka. The AIFF has certain quirky themes (or "zones") each year and the "Kafka zone" is this year's major zone.

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