June 21, 2024

When the Thessaloniki International Film Festival’s industry arm, Agora, kicks off this week in Greece’s second city, organizers will be looking to expand upon recent additions to a time-tested formula that’s served the event across nearly two decades as a launching pad and incubator for Greek and regional talent.

“We’ve been doing the Agora since 2005, and we have slowly but steadily established it as one of the markets where you can find new talents and emerging directors from this region,” says industry head Angeliki Vergou, who took over from longtime Agora topper Yianna Sarri last year. “I think we are maintaining the essence of Agora that we have developed all these years, but just tweaking it a little bit to make it more available and more open to bring in new opportunities.”

In her second year in charge of the Agora, Vergou is looking to build on the foundation laid in the previous edition, when Thessaloniki introduced a new TV strand, Agora Series, to its industry program, while also launching a Think Tank series — in partnership with the Cannes Film Festival’s Marché du Film and the Berlinale’s European Film Market — tasked with looking at how film markets can adapt to meet the needs of a rapidly changing industry. Both initiatives are key components of this year’s event.

The Think Tank’s findings, says Vergou, played a fundamental role in shaping the 2023 Agora, with organizers stressing the need to make the market more diverse and inclusive, particularly by giving a boost to younger participants and “trying to have a more open market for industry professionals that need guidance or need to put their foot into a market and start connecting with people.”

Agora industry head Angeliki Vergou
Courtesy of Thessaloniki International Film Festival

One new wrinkle will be the first edition of Launchpad, a collaboration between the Thessaloniki, Locarno, Rotterdam, Karlovy Vary and Tallinn Black Nights festivals. The initiative was designed to give a leg up to young professionals entering the film industry by facilitating their access to the five partner festivals through both on-site and online events over the course of the year. The program is similar in spirit to the nearly decade-old Thessaloniki Locarno Industry Academy, a partnership between the long-running European festivals that runs Nov. 4-9 in Thessaloniki, which Vergou credits with creating a network of emerging film professionals who are learning to “navigate [the industry] together.”

Also new this year is Bridge to the North, which aims to boost collaboration between northern and southern Europe by hosting a different guest country from either Scandinavia or the Baltic region each year. Vergou cites it as an example of the Agora responding to feedback from Greek film professionals who wanted to “have some new blood in the market, some new people experiencing it, new connections.” The inaugural edition will welcome Lithuania, with a host of Lithuanian industry professionals traveling to Thessaloniki and a panel on Nov. 6 exploring opportunities to work with the Baltic nation.

Perhaps the biggest change in Thessaloniki this year, however, is the expanded Agora Series program, which after 2022’s pilot edition has evolved into a four-day event that includes two days of panels and masterclasses, as well series premieres including episodes of Nima Javidi’s “The Actor” (pictured above), which won the Grand Prize at Series Mania this year, Oscar nominee Jasmila Žbanič’s Venice-premiering series “I Know Your Soul,” and Greek director Vasilis Kekatos’ “Milky Way,” the first show from the Mediterranean nation to compete at Series Mania. 

Vasilis Kekatos’ “Milky Way” was the first Greek TV show to compete at Series Mania.
Courtesy of Foss Productions

Industry professionals taking part in panels and masterclasses include Iranian director Javidi; “Game of Thrones” alum Jeremy Podeswa, recently tapped to direct the pilot of Amazon Prime Video’s upcoming limited series “Blade Runner 2099”; Beta Film producer Ferdinand Dohna; and Paper Entertainment CEO Julien Leroux, executive producer of Apple TV+’s spy drama “Tehran,” which is filmed in the Greek capital, Athens. Leroux is also serving as the Agora Series program consultant. 

The event underscores how the Greek TV industry, bolstered by series like “Milky Way” and Beta-repped primetime sensation “The Beach,” is gradually finding its footing on the international stage. It also reflects a desire by the organizers to put “more focus on creativity and the connection between cinema and series,” says Vergou. This year’s edition of Meet the Future, the Thessaloniki festival’s talent incubator, spotlights five screenwriters from the host nation making the transition from the big to the small screen. “The point is to have the creators who are developing series to make the right connections [and] to present them to the international industry that this is what’s going on right now in Greece,” Vergou adds.

Meanwhile, Thessaloniki stays true to its cinematic roots with the Crossroads Co-Production Forum, which spotlights 15 projects in development from Southeastern and Central Europe, the Mediterranean and the wider Black Sea region. Highlights include the latest feature from Poland’s Anna Jadowska, in Tribeca last year with acting prize winner “Woman on the Roof,” as well as sophomore features from Lithuanian director Marat Sargsyan, whose 2020 debut “The Flood Won’t Come” premiered at Venice’s Critics’ Week, and Lebanon’s George Peter Barbari, whose first feature, “Death of a Virgin, and the Sin of Not Living,” bowed in Berlin two years ago. Ten Works in Progress will also be presented to industry guests.

After last year’s edition was marked by an outpouring of grief and solidarity sparked by Russia’s war in Ukraine, this year’s Agora again unfolds against the backdrop of another devastating conflict, amid Israel’s ongoing military response in Gaza to the deadly terrorist attacks launched by Hamas on Oct. 7.

In recent years the Agora has expanded its reach to encompass more filmmakers from the Eastern Mediterranean region, reflecting the host city’s traditional role as a cultural melting pot at the crossroads of East and West. Two Israeli projects are among this year’s Works in Progress, while Vergou points to a long tradition of participation by filmmakers from the Arab world, including Ameen Nayfe’s Palestinian drama “200 Meters,” which was awarded at the Agora in 2017 and premiered in the Venice Film Festival’s Venice Days section three years later.

Ameen Nayfe’s Palestinian drama “200 Meters” was awarded at the Agora in 2017.
Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

“It’s horrifying and terrible what is happening,” Vergou says. “Cinema is this art form that, through stories, can connect so many people. The film festivals are there to celebrate this medium and bring people together. Agora started in 2005, just after the war in Yugoslavia had just ended, and everybody was still numb from it. And still we had projects from Bosnia, from Serbia, from everywhere. And they were coming to Thessaloniki to present their projects.”

She adds: “I do feel that Thessaloniki is a place that brings all of these ideas and these voices together.”

The Thessaloniki International Film Festival runs Nov. 2 – 12.

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