by Mary Ignatidi
The Cycladic island of Syros is offering fans of film, artisanal beer and the salty sea breeze a little piece of paradise this summer, as the Syros International Film Festival returns for a sixth year, with another cracking program. With events taking place across the island – venues include a quarry and a shipyard – the festival invites audiences and filmmakers on a new type of cinematic adventure.
This year’s SIFF will present a wide selection of genres, ranging from archival footage to documentaries. The festival will also offer master classes, discussions and live shows, all centered on the question: “Is it real?” – an investigation into the construction of reality.
Highlights include the screening of Betrogen by German filmmaker Harun Farocki, which is being shown outside of Germany for the first time. The organizers have also put together a tribute to the late Greek filmmaker Nikos Panayotopoulos. Directors Angelos Frantzis and Eva Stefani, who were both close to Panayotopoulos, will be presenting his 1974 work The Color of Iris, along with Frantzis’s short film Nineteen.
Those attending the festival will also have the opportunity to participate in master classes with award-winning Portuguese director Miguel Gomes and German experimental filmmaker Jurgen Reble, who will open the 2018 festival on July 17 with a live cinema-performance at central Miaouli Square in the island capital, Ermoupoli.
This year the festival will also be catering to younger viewers with a screening series aimed at children and teenagers made in collaboration with production company Anemos. In an interview with Kathimerini English Edition, the festival founders, Jacob Moe and Cassandra Celestin, discussed this year’s SIFF highlights, their hopes for the festival and its relationship with Greece:
What are this year’s must-see events and screenings?
Cassandra Celestin: I would say come to the whole festival, but definitely the last weekend – it is always jam-packed and really fun. We have Komito Beach on Friday, the drive-in screening on Saturday and our closing event at the Tarsanas Shipyards on Sunday, where we will screen a silent film called People on Sunday with live music by Nadah El Shazly and Mike Cooper. We’re going to go out with a bang – if you can’t make it during the week, the weekend is a sweet spot.
Six years in, what is SIFF’s objective as a festival?
Jacob Moe: I think one of the reasons for us pushing forward is that right now there are very specific ways in which your work will be seen in Greece. We want to be a reason for work being made that doesn’t have an avenue in the current landscape of exhibition. The festival is this temporary, utopian community. For a week, you know that if you’re a filmmaker who’s making independent, experimental, alternative films in Greece, you can come and meet people who are making that work. That week becomes very generative for seeing work and talking about work: It is a completely focused and concentrated moment. We’ve seen a lot of great collaborative work come out of that, both through residencies and because of conversations that have happened at the festival.
CC: We also want to have a festive atmosphere, have some “kefi.” You come with your kids, buy your tickets, have some free beer, sit under the stars and watch a film.
Live performances are a big part of SIFF. What do they add to the festival?
CC: I think performances make an audience experience film viewing in a very different way. You feel that actually being at festival is an experience which cannot be reproduced. You’re there and you’re watching. Whether it be [British guitarist] Mike Cooper, Egyptian singer Nadah El Shazly or other artists performing one-time live scores, we’re interested in having an energy of immediacy, of being there and enjoying it together. I think it’s a very special experience.
We associate most film festivals with a competition element, which SIFF does not have. How did you arrive at this format?
JM: I think it’s part of our annual reinvention. We realized that it was so antithetical to the spirit of what we have found cinema to be at this festival.
CC: The hope is, if you’re a young filmmaker, by showing your film at SIFF you’re going to have your film enter a dialogue with a lot of different genres of film, both from the past and the present. You will be at a festival that has a lot of guests – whether it be producers, filmmakers or artists – and seeing all these films on the same level. A lot of good conversation and life can be brought to those short films in that way.
How does Greece figure in the festival program?
JM: If you isolate any program, there will be a story behind it. Even more so seeing the festival emerging in these past five years, which have been very tumultuous but also very artistically productive for Greece. I am always very interested in scouting works being made in this context and trying to present them. I think we are also interested in moving the conversation about cultural production beyond Athens. A lot of interesting things are happening in these tiny, isolated, insular island communities which are on the periphery: culturally, but materially too. There are so many opportunities for discovering, thinking and making connections about these communities.
This article was first published by ekathimerini.com.