Thessaloniki Awards gold to “Bitter Dream” from Iran

The 45th Thessaloniki International Film Festival wrapped up on Sunday 28 November, with its awards ceremony dishing out its main prize of the Golden Alexander to Mohsen Amiryousefi’s Bitter Dream from Iran. The competition is restricted to the first three features of directors, and the festival has shunned the so-called Class A festival status, which imposes restrictions on competitive events to give it more flexibility in its selection, part of a philosophy that makes the event popular with visiting film-makers and local audiences in this port city with a heavy student population.

The festival (which only went international in 1992 after being a showcase for national product) celebrated the tenth year of its Balkan Survey section, started while war was raging in Yugoslavia to raise the profile of a region that was otherwise only patchily covered on the festival circuit, at best. At a round-table discussion to mark the anniversary, the mood was chiefly optimistic, with Balkan producers and festival organizers determined to break down international barriers in a region that through the 1990s was synonymous with ethnic division and mutual distrust.

Meanwhile, the most highly regarded Balkan films at Thessaloniki were both Bosnian: Pjer Zalica’s Days and Hours (playing in the international competition) and Srdjan Velutic’s Summer in the Golden Valley (in the Balkan Survey), although the Bulgarian Mila from Mars, the digitally shot debut by Sophia Zornitsa in the Balkan Survey, is proving something of a regional hit since it won at the Sarajevo Film Festival earlier in the year.