For 60 years, Thessaloniki has been hosting an event that welcomes the world of cinema. It ranges from directors to actors and distributors, with its eyes always set on the public. But if there’s one thing that makes this festival even greater, it’s the work of its volunteers. This is my experience from the inside during the days 1st to 10th of November.
The Volunteer Experience
About 280 volunteers have participated in this edition. What is surprising, and what shows the importance of the festival, is that more than 835 applications have been received. No wonder. The volunteers are distributed among the different venues and cinemas in the city. From the four screening halls located in the port’s warehouses, to the Makedonikon cinema and the beautiful old Olympion theatre.
Their functions range from the management department, to the Agora, the press office or help with screenings. I had the pleasure to assist the Audience Award section. At the entrance and exit of the cinemas, I handed out a card to the spectators so that they could evaluate from one to five how much they liked the film. In addition, a professional jury awards the Golden Alexander to the best film as well as the best director, cast and other categories. This year the prize went to the Spanish film Fire Will Come by Oliver Laxe.
Most of the volunteers are from Thessaloniki itself or from other Greek cities. When you do your EVS you usually work only with people from other countries like you. TIFF instead gives you the opportunity to get to know locals, which will give you another vision of the city. You have the chance to know them beyond working hours, sharing together your passion for cinema.
In the words of Stella Karagiannidou, coordinator of the volunteer department: “The volunteers watch films (for free), they gain experience that will help them in their professional lives, they become part of a global network with guests from all around the world, they get a certificate of participation that is useful for job/studying applications and they have fun during the Festival days.”
A cinephile’s dream
Yes, volunteers get free tickets to the screenings. And this scores another point to the importance of this festival to me. As a cinema lover, is like a dream to have access to movies that are almost impossible to find elsewhere. Either because they don’t make it to the halls, or because they come from amateur authors. Every night, I studied carefully the TIFF program to get ready for the next day. It’s the only way to be able to see as many films as you can from morning to night (as long as they didn’t overlap with my working hours). Although it was sometimes exhausting to run against time through the city, it was wonderful to be surprised by a film of which you knew nothing.
During 10 days I travelled around the globe with exciting movies. A ludicrous love in France, young people desperate to survive in Angola, wild parties in Greece, philosophers against fascism in Spain, cults in Denmark, slaves in Mexico or frustrated artists in China. Stories that speak different languages but the same ideas. Independent, but thrown out with much love.
But cinema has not only been on screen. I was also able to enjoy the talks that the authors and the cast of the film held after the screenings, showing how they bring their ideas to life. Here, I was lucky enough to meet this year’s guest of honour, the revolutionary American director John Waters (author of the transgressive Pink Flamingos).
The city ends up becoming one more cinema set. Wandering around as part of it is a very enriching adventure which I hope to live again in March at the International Documentary Film Festival. Soaking up cinema, making new friends and acquiring knowledge in the sector make this a highly recommendable experience.