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Thessaloniki Documentary 2024 – Agora

Industry Report: Produce - Co-Produce...

REPORT: Agora Pitching Forum @ Thessaloniki Documentary Festival 2024

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We take a closer look at three interesting projects being pitched at the 26th edition of the Greek documentary gathering

REPORT: Agora Pitching Forum @ Thessaloniki Documentary Festival 2024
The pitch for Mountain Cries by Lavinia Xausa

This year, the Thessaloniki Pitching Forum runs from 10-14 March and welcomes 12 new creative and TV documentary projects from South-Eastern Europe and the wider Mediterranean region, introducing them to buyers, funding bodies, co-producers, broadcasters and festival reps. The industry event is being held during the days of the Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival (7-17 March).

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Here, we take a closer look at three promising projects presented at the 26th edition of the Greek gathering.

The Secret Hand by Valerio Valente and Enrico Cannizzo

The Secret Hand - Valerio Valente, Enrico Cannizzo (Italy/Bulgaria/Germany/Poland)
Produced by Paolo Maria Spina for Revolver (Italy), and co-produced by Enrico Cannizzo himself for Filmine (Italy), Boris Despodov for Arthouse Blockbusters (Bulgaria), Polina Schlicht for Monumental Pictures (Germany) and Wojciech Karubin for Movie Mates (Poland), the project received development funding from the Film Commission Torino Piemonte and centres on the role of the Stasi, one of the most pervasive secret services in history, and how it infiltrated, controlled and repressed artists nonaligned with East German state doctrine between the 1970s and the 1980s.

“In the late 1990s,” says Cannizzo, “we would often joke and wonder whether any of us could have been a police informant. That would always have been true [at the time]. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, German citizens accessed their own Stasi files. Many of them found out that the story of their lives was a script, written and directed by the secret police.”

The three main stories featured in the doc revolve around a talented writer who was stopped from embarking on a successful literary career through the exertion of psychological pressure, a punk band that was subtly forced to play free jazz with “depoliticised lyrics”, and a theatre company disbanded after just three years of activity. “One of the co-founders later found out that its demise was the result of a secret operation, which triggered internal conflicts. [...] At least ten members of the group were Stasi agents, and among them were the co-founder’s best friend and girlfriend,” said Valente.

The team is looking for minority co-producers, sales agents, festival premieres and broadcasters. The project, which is being made under the patronage of the Stasi DDR Museum and the DDR Audiovisual Archive of Berlin’s Robert Havemann Foundation, is set to enter production by the end of this summer, with delivery set for 2025.

The author of the project’s initial concept is Italian DDR historian Gianluca Falanga, a consultant and researcher for several institutions in Berlin and Brandenburg.

Mountain Cries - Lavinia Xausa (Netherlands)
Xausa and her producer Sam Godfried, of Yalla Docs, shared their mission of working on “stories disclosing our identities”, aiming “to break away from polarising thinking and to open a conversation with more questions than answers”.

Introducing the film as being steeped in “intense, very fresh grief”, Xausa told the industry reps in attendance: “I usually make works focusing on others. For the first time, I’m working on a very personal, sensitive subject. […] I don’t have many memories of my grandfather, but I know I inherited from him a certain inability to be completely vulnerable. A few years ago, I found his wartime photos, [when he fought] for Mussolini on an Albanian mountain. It was a side of his past charged with shame and pain that he never shared with anyone in his family, a [type of] vulnerability that finally showed the ‘person’ behind his distant figure.”

During the search to find out more about his past, Xausa’s sister Elena fell seriously ill and passed away one year ago. After being diagnosed, she looked into her family history. “We’d spend hours analysing the way our family coped with emotions and past traumas, and how silence affected the present.” Therefore, the project evolved into “a personal quest” to resist the “suffocating silence” that haunted her family for generations.

“The Albanian mountain became a safe destination in which to reflect on the developments in my family history, from World War II until my sister’s illness. [It became] a place to search for new ways to acknowledge and express grief,” she summed up.

Godfried confirmed the project had received backing from the Netherlands Film Fund and the Mondriaan Fund. “We’d like to invite you all to share opinions, ideas, comments and advice on how to take this to the next phase,” he concluded.

Women of 1922 by Aris Kaplanidis and Elias Roumeliotis

Women of 1922 - Aris Kaplanidis, Elias Roumeliotis (Greece/Cyprus)
Produced by Ioanna Soultani, of Greece’s Soul Productions, and co-produced by Tonia Mishiali for Cyprus’s Bark Like A Cat, the animated documentary focuses on the testimonies of the women who survived the Greco-Turkish War and the female refugee experience. Their stories of the “displacement, violence and horror” that unfolded from 1908-1922 clearly remind us of today’s global approach to the handling of the refugee crisis.

“We were given unprecedented access to all of their unpublished oral accounts, manuscripts filled with words of true heroines, women who lived, fought, led and walked the most difficult path to freedom,” said the team. “In this 75-minute feature, you’ll witness an ensemble of incredible women, but two of them stand out.” Indeed, one of them, Sylvia, tells us about the three months she’s spent stuck in an abandoned house after the Turkish rebels set up a military base in front of it.

Partners include pubcaster ERT, the Greek Film Centre and SEKin Cyprus. The team is now looking for sales agents, distributors and broadcasters.

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