News arrives that Marios Piperides’ Smuggling Hendrix – a film shot in Cyprus by a Cypriot director, albeit with a German star (Adam Bousdoukos) and German co-producers – is screening at the top-tier Tribeca Film Festival in New York, so congratulations for that major achievement. The bad news for Mr. Piperides (not really) is that Tribeca is this week, so he won’t be able to attend the 16th edition of Cyprus Film Days – our finest annual film festival and the only one that comes close to being world-class (at least for fiction; the Lemesos Documentary Festival does good work in the realm of non-fiction).
In other good news/bad news… um, news, this year’s CFD has the same frantic format as in previous years (that’s the good news). The festival, jointly organised by the Ministry of Education and Culture and Rialto Theatre, kicked off last Friday and ends next Saturday, those nine days being packed with screenings. Each of the 24 films shows exactly twice, once in Nicosia (at the Zena Palace) and once in Limassol (at the Rialto), with performances at 6, 8 and 10pm. All films come with Greek AND ENGLISH subtitles.
The bad news, alas – though it’s mostly my fault, for being a week late – is that not only is the fest already underway, but this year’s edition is unusually front-loaded. It’s no secret that CFD is a case of two rather unequal halves: ‘Glocal Images’, i.e. films in competition, and ‘Viewfinder’, big-name titles from the past few months. Inevitably, the former strand is a mixed bag – films by major directors don’t have much reason to compete in a small regional festival, even with a 16-year pedigree – while the latter is a medley of must-sees, or at least known quantities. Alas, this year there are only six films in Viewfinder (mostly because there are four Cypriot films, on which more later) and, if you live in Nicosia, three of them have already screened. Sorry about that.
More good news: this year’s jury is headed by Abel Ferrara – which, with all due respect to previous presidents, is a stunning coup by the festival organisers, Mr. Ferrara being one of the world’s great filmmakers. His body of work, with an emphasis on crime movies and abrasive dramas thick with guilt and punishment, ranges from the 1981 Ms .45 to the 1992 Bad Lieutenant to the 2014 Welcome to New York, his take on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair with Gerard Depardieu at his most force-of-Nature-est. The masterclass which Ferrara is due to give on Wednesday (4pm, at the Zena Palace), discussing “aspects of his creative process”, may be the highlight of the whole festival.
And what of the actual movies? Well, that’s not exactly bad news – but it does leave us slightly flummoxed, since most of the titles are unknown to me. Viewfinder, as already mentioned, is familiar, and I warmly recommend The Florida Project (six-year-old girl living semi-rough in the shadow of Walt Disney World), the superb Palestinian Duty (estranged father and son on the streets of Nazareth) and the deeply touching Lucky, Harry Dean Stanton’s swansong. I’m also looking forward to the Israeli drama Foxtrot, a prize-winner at Venice – though slightly more wary of the Australian Western Sweet Country, having not enjoyed the same director’s Samson & Delilah back in 2009.
So much for Viewfinder; what about the others? Well, we know a few things. For a start, Glocal is curated by a three-person artistic committee, so it’s not like they accept any old thing. Also, almost all films in competition have achieved some recognition at other (mostly medium-sized) festivals, the most notable being perhaps the Argentinian Alanis (“A young Buenos Aires mother finds employment as a sex worker”) which won Best Director and Actress at San Sebastian. We should also mention I Am Not a Witch, made in her native Zambia by British director Rungano Nyoni, whose many awards include a BAFTA for Outstanding Debut.
Then of course we have the four Cypriot titles, of which two are also in competition: Sunrise in Kimmeria by director Simon Farmakas, an epic ensemble semi-comedy in which a “strange object” crash-lands in a field in the buffer zone, and Happy Birthday, a father-daughter relationship drama set in Greece (directed by Christos Georgiou, who’s based there). Also in the mix are Clementine, a playful-sounding poetic drama by Longinos Panagi, and Aliki Danezi-Knutsen’s years-in-the-making Chinatown: The Three Shelters, a martial-arts film (!) about a Cypriot-Chinese girl avenging her father’s death at the hands of the Chinese Mafia.
What to see, what to prioritise? We don’t really know, at least when it comes to Glocal and local, which some may consider to be bad news – yet that also provides the opportunity to find out, dig in, and explore the hectic schedule of this annual movie carnival; which is surely the best news of all.
Full details of the 16th annual CFD – including plot synopses and screening times – may be found at the festival website, www.cyprusfilmdays.com, or call the Rialto Theatre on 7777-7745.