Some of the highlights at the 16th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (March 14 – 23) have just been announced and they blur the boundaries between fact and fiction, often creating a fascinating cinematic hybrid.
With an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film The Missing Picture (L’image manquante, Cambodia/France, 2013) by Rithy Panh, showing in the Recordings of Memory strand, is a haunting account of the director’s experiences during the Pol Pot dictatorship. The director said, “For many years, I have been looking for the missing picture: a photograph taken between 1975 and 1979 by the Khmer Rouge when they ruled over Cambodia… On its own, of course, an image cannot prove mass murder, but it gives us cause for thought, prompts us to meditate, to record history”. Rithy Panh’s autobiographical chronicle employs clay figurines and archival footage, creating an affecting hybrid that touches upon issues of memory, history and representation.
Human Geography (Geographie Humaine, France, 2013), part of the Habitat strand, is Claire Simon’s documentary about the Gare du Nord station in Paris. With Simon handling the camera, and Simon Mérabet, a friend of Algerian origin from southern France, initiating the encounters with passengers and passers-by, the station emerges like a living entity, which the people provide with oxygen. Shot on location, the film stands as an anthropological collage that comes as an ideal companion to Simon’s fiction film Gare du Nord.
The true story behind Ben Affleck’s award-winning Argo is told in Our Man in Tehran (Canada, 2013) by Drew Taylor and Larry Weinstein – in Recordings of Memory strand – keeps a cool head while presenting the events that took place before and during the Iranian Hostage Crisis, focusing on the operation to save the six American diplomats that were hidden at the Canadian embassy in Tehran. The film centres mostly on the story of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor and the co-ordinated strategies of the Canadian and USA governments.
Even if John Wojtowicz were to never rob a bank to give his transsexual lover the money he needed for a sex-change operation, becoming the inspiration for Sidney Lumet’s classic Dog Day Afternoon and a celebrity in his own right, he’d still be a larger-than-life character. In The Dog (USA, 2013), Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren listen to John Wojtowicz, his family and friends, narrate the his life before, during and, more interestingly, after the infamous heist. The stories paint a picture both of an eccentric character and of the evolution of the American gay culture.
And speaking of larger-than-life characters, there are few greater than Muhammad Ali. Whenever he wasn’t fighting with his fists, he was raising his voice to speak against racism and prejudice. The film Trials of Muhammad Ali (USA, 2013) by Bill Siegel does not trace the athletic achievements for which Ali became famous, but the battles he fought outside the ring: the criticism of his conversion to Islam, the five years of prison he was sentenced to for refusing to serve in Vietnam, and, ultimately, against Parkinson’s disease.
More films and details of Market and Industry events will be released in the lead up to the festival.