With their Athens offices shuttered by the pandemic in the weeks leading up to this year’s Thessaloniki Intl. Film Festival, industry head Yianna Sarri and her brain trust began holding weekly meetings at cafés in the Greek capital, social-distancing and trying to make the most of an increasingly fluid and unpredictable situation.
Despite the uncertainty about whether or not the festival would move forward with a physical edition—a plan that was ultimately scrapped just days before the opening night on Nov. 5—Sarri and her team knew that Agora, the festival’s industry arm, would be an online affair. “We took this decision from the beginning,” she told Variety.
The group might have felt an uncanny sense of déjà vu: this spring, TIFF’s sister event, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, was among the first international film fests to go virtual, live-streaming the pitching forum of its annual Agora Doc Market just days after the festival’s 22nd edition was postponed by the pandemic.
But nearly eight months later, as coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on economies across the globe, and much of Europe—including Greece—moves into a second lockdown, Sarri said the role of the Thessaloniki Film Festival to support local filmmakers couldn’t be more urgent. “We try to do everything in our power, even if it’s online…even in these circumstances, we will do our best to help the Greek industry,” she said.
This year, Agora has bolstered its activities for the Greek film biz, increasing the number of local projects in the Crossroads Co-Production Forum; introducing Agora Lab, a development workshop for Greek films at the editing stage; dedicating the Thessaloniki-Locarno Industry Academy, a collaboration with the Swiss festival, to film professionals living and working in Greece; and presenting two new awards for Greek projects in the development sections of Agora.
The program will also include the second edition of Meet the Future, a showcase for emerging professionals working in different sectors of the film industry, which this year will spotlight the work of eight up-and-coming Greek cinematographers.
Accredited international guests will also have access to the digital market that not only features all of the films in this year’s TIFF program, but virtually every domestic movie produced in Greece in the past year, which Sarri said “gives those films an opportunity to find their international path.”
“The market for us is the most valuable tool for our festival, because through the market, we can support the Greek community and continue the ritual of filmmaking,” added Thessaloniki Film Festival director Orestis Andreadakis.
One prime example of the market’s success is Christos Nikou’s “Apples,” an Agora alum which took part in the Thessaloniki Goes to Cannes pix-in-post showcase last year. This summer Nikou’s debut opened the Horizons section of the Venice Film Festival. “What we try to do every year is to help not only the established film directors from Greece, but also the newcomers to get into…this film industry,” said Sarri.
Agora’s efforts extend beyond Greece’s borders, offering a leading showcase for films in development from across the Balkans and the wider Mediterranean region, such as Ameen Nayfeh and May Odeh’s “200 Meters” (pictured), the People’s Choice Award winner at the Venice Film Festival’s Venice Days sidebar this summer. This year’s Crossroads Co-Production Forum features 17 projects, which will be presented during the online pitching forum from Nov. 10-13. Eleven features from Agora Works in Progress, open to films in the editing or post-production stage, will take place on Nov. 10.