23rd Athens International Film Festival - Opening Ceremony

On Wednesday the 20th September the opening ceremony of the 23rd Athens international Film Festival took place at the Athens Concert Hall with a screening of “Wonderstuck” by Todd Haynes in a very celebratory  atmosphere.

The ceremony was attended by the  Labour Minister Ms Efi Achtsioglou, the  former Minister of Tourism Ms Olga Kefalogiannii, the former Minister for Mercantile Marine Mr Manolis Kefalogiannis as well as the Director of the City of Athens Cultural, Sport and Youth Organization, Mr Konstantinos Mpizanis.  Also gracing the event with their presence were guests from the art world including directors Giwrgos Zois, Ektoras Lygizos, Nikos Perrakis, Argyris Papadimitropoulos, Panagiotis Fafoutis, Christos Karakatselis, Sofia Exarchou, Marina Danezi and Nikos Karathanos as well as actors Themis Mpazaka, Mirto Alikaki, Lena Drosaki, Elli Triggou, Maria Kallimani and Giwrgos Pirpasopoulos. The opening ceremony was conducted with parallel interpretation in the Greek Sign Language by Theodora Tsatoiti.

The Artistic Director of the 23rd Athens International Film Festival, Loukas Katsikas, welcomed the audience and joked that the ceremony to follow would be simple and  discrete and not feature any musical dance numbers. The ceremony started with a brief review of the year gone by with special mention of the record attendance of the 22nd Athens International Film Festival as well as the Festival being mentioned at the Golden Globes and in National Geographic. Mr Katsikas also made reference to the EFFE Festival Label Award which ranks the Festival among the best in Europe. Special mention was also made of the posters of last year's Athens International Film Festival which won four awards, three in Greece and one abroad. Vasilis Mexis who was responsible for last year's posters also created the posters for this year's Festival.

“If there is something I would like to hold on to from last year's Festival is the humility, love and kindness of my co-workers which was apparent to the public, so much so, that they expressed it in kind.  Last year we jokingly spoke of a Festival based on a great deal of love and hardly any affectation,  which has become this year's motto.”

However, the cinematic activities of the Athens Film Society were not limited to the Athens International Film Festival. Two months after the the completion of last year's Festival a great retrospective was organised which offered Athenian film buffs “Rainer Werner Fassbinder Like it or Not”. The tribute was organised in collaboration with the Goethe Institute and the Greek Film Archive. Distinguished Artists, Scientists, Authors and Politicians all contributed to the tribute as guest speakers. Mr Katsikas went on to mention the Festival's part in the much discussed exhibition of Greece in the 80s (GR80s) which took place at Technopolis. The Athens Film Society curated the section relating to cinema with the invaluable help of Ms Melissanthi Genousi and the director Mr Giwrgos Georgopoulos who  was responsible for a beautiful montage and managed to fit the whole of the decade in just two hours. Furthermore, in January 2017 the educational programme of the Athens Film Society, “Cinema First Period” travelled to schools in Brussels.

Significant mention was also made of the 7th Athens Open Air Film Festival. In a space of three months, Athens wast transformed into a big open air cinema with 22 films being screened in the most unexpected parts of town. The Festival was attended by about 15000 audience members in more than 18 exotic locations of Athens. Mr Katsikas mentioned that the Festival “started in squares, parks, museum courtyards and even took place at hilltops with a view of the city, beaches as well as museum roof tops including a special event at the city of Athens' Technopolis featuring the first worldwide screening of the new Blade Runner director's cut.” He went on to give his warm thanks to Mr Thodoris Vasilopoulos of Art of Sound without whom none of the above would have been possible. He also extended his great gratitude to the Greek Economy Alternate Minister Alexis Charitsis , the Secretariat Special for the Management of Sectoral O.P. of the European Social Fund, Yiorgos Ioannidis  as well as the Regional Governor of Attica, Rena Dourou.

The ceremony continued with a brief presentation of this year's Festival programme which among others includes new films by Michael Haneke, Joachim Trier, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Luca Guadagnino, Aki Kaurismäki, Todd Haynes, Sean Baker as well as new and promising filmmakers from around the world introducing themselves to the Festival's audience.

This year's programme also includes many guests who “we like a lot without ever having met them, exactly because we only know them through their films”.  Two of them are the  actor Arnaud Valois and Robin Campillo, the director who brought a tear to Almodóvar's eye, the president of the jury of the recent Cannes  Film Festival.  Lynne Ramsay is our special guest at this year's Festival who has recently been working on a new cut of her film “You Were Never Really Here”, and which she will be sharing with us at the Festival. Furthermore, this year we will have the great honour of welcoming the talented actress, Vanessa Redgrave, who will be with us for the screening of her documentary “Sea Sorrow” within the context of a charitable event. The screening will take place on Friday 22nd September at 19:30 at the Athens Concert Hall and tickets will be on sale through Viva.gr, while all proceeds will be donated to the humanitarian organisations “Safe Passage” and “Doctors Without Borders”. Mr Katsikas gave a special thank you to Ms Mimi Denisi for her invaluable help. Finally, special mention was made of this year's Festival tributes: the spotlight on Robin Campillo, the John Huston Tribute, whose films will be screened in digitally restored format or 35 mm film and Claire Denis' Retrospective whose feature-length films will be screened together for the first time in Greece.

Later on a presentation was made of the tribute “Nothing About Us Without Us” (Film and Disability) which will take place from the 21st to the 24th September. Entry will be free and the tribute is organised in collaboration with the Movement of Artists with Disabilities and the Onassis Cultural Foundation. The tribute includes 8 films in total relating to the subject of disability, four of which will be screened for the first time with the other four being classic films. Two of these films “Struggle of the Blind” and “The Miracle Worker” will be screened with audio description, the latter will be the first time a foreign-language film will be screened with audio description in our country. Mr Katsikas then welcomed  Mr Antonis Rellas, the representative of the Movement of Artists with Disabilities, who spoke about the self-evident and indivisible right of people with disabilities  to enjoy cinema  in accessible venues. Mr Rellas also spoke about the opening film, “Wonderstruck”, in which a deaf girl stars, highlighting the fact that it really is a film for all!

The opening ceremony was concluded with the screening of the film “Wonderstruck” by Todd Haynes.  It is a cinematic adaptation of an illustrated book by Brian Selznick, in which two stories from different times through a harmonious nafrration. The first story, presented as a silent, black and white film, introduces Rose, a lonely girl from New Jersey in 1927, who is deaf from birth and lives without her mother. The second story is about Ben, a boy from rural Minnesota in 1977, who also has no mother and has never known his father and who dreams of a better life. Both of these heroes abandon their birthplaces and follow an impulse which will lead them to New York as a set of coincidences and chance meetings will bridge their seemingly different destinies in unexpected ways. It is a beautiful fairytale for all those struggling to find where they belong and who areseeking for love  by the geat director of “Carol”.

Mr Katsikas made a comment with regards to the film''s message and how it relates to the Festival. “As Todd Haynes' film illustrates everyone has a place where they belong. Behind this wonderful film, there is the need to bellong somewhere and it shows that all people, their parrticularities aside, find a “tribe” to belong to, where they are understood, liked and supported. And for me, my co-workers are my tribe”.   

Following the ceremony, a party took place in the Athens Concert Hall courtyard with the support of Jameson who offered refreshing drinks to the people who attended. See you in the cinemas!