Thessaloniki’s Agora Gives a Boost to Docmakers From Southeast Europe and the Mediterranean — and Filmmakers Can’t Help But ‘Fall in Love’
As the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival closes its quarter century this year, the industrial arm of the festival, Agora, will host a series of events and initiatives aimed at strengthening the production and distribution of documentaries both in the host country and in the wider region.
Headlining the industry program is the Market’s co-production and co-financing forum, which will take place on 6 March and will showcase 14 projects in development by documentary filmmakers from South East Europe, the Middle East and the Black Sea region. Another highlight, Agora Docs in Progress, showcases 11 films nearing completion and ready to hit the festival this year.
The success of these two programs is evident in the selection at this year’s festival: Fifteen documentaries that have been supported in previous editions of Agora will celebrate world, international or European premieres in the competition sections or in the Open Horizons section, including Agora Docs in Progress graduates ‘Narrow Path to Happiness’ (photo), by Kata Oláh, and ‘Queen of the Deuce’, by Valerie Kontakos, and Pitching Forum participant and Docs in Progress ‘Mighty Afrin: In the Time of Floods’, by Angelos Rally, all this plays in the main competition of the festival.
Agora Doc Market, meanwhile, offers more than 400 documentaries for accredited visitors through its online library, presented in partnership with Cinando.
This year, the festival is working closely with the Documentary Assn. of Europe (DAE), hosting a series of conversations on the Agora Talks platform that “are very much on point with what’s happening right now and what issues we need to talk about,” according to Aggeliki Vergou, head of the Agora industry program.
In a masterclass, former BBC Storyville editor and Academy Award-winning producer Philippa Kowarsky (‘The Act of Killing’, ‘A House Made of Splinters’) will outline the current framework for documentary filmmaking and discuss how the industry is changing — from the theatrical potential of documentary features to streaming platforms’ insatiable appetite for non-fiction content — “they’re changing the way we make documentaries and the way we watch them,” says Vergo.
Among the Agora Talks, a discussion will examine the ethical issues faced by filmmakers from the Global North making stories about communities other than their own, exploring how producers, co-production forums and funding bodies can demonstrate a conscious and consistent commitment to fairness and accountability. Another session aims to unpack different funding models available to documentary filmmakers today, offering a blueprint for how they can access funding sources from public funds to private equity.
Meanwhile, the festival will convene the second of a trio of think tanks aimed at redefining and redefining the role of the film market in the European industry, a series conceived by Thessaloniki organizers last year. It follows a successful first edition held in collaboration with the European Film Market last month, attended by representatives of leading European festivals and markets such as Rotterdam, Locarno, Karlovy Vary and Rome’s MIA Market.
“We are very proud of it. It started in Thessaloniki and now we have these strong partners” says Vergou. A third event will take place in May in Cannes, in collaboration with the Marché du Film.
Other events taking place as part of the Market include Meet the Future, an ongoing initiative to highlight emerging documentary filmmakers from the region, which this year will feature five filmmakers from Moldova. and the Agora Lab, which will pair six projects in development with documentary experts who will offer guidance to filmmakers.
The collaboration with the Documentary Assn. of Europe, meanwhile, is helping Thessaloniki expand its horizons, allowing Greece’s second city – a cross-cultural melting pot for centuries – to once again open its arms to the world. More than 200 guests from 40 countries are expected to take part in the hybrid version of the festival and the Market.
“[DAE] they helped us introduce Thessaloniki and Agora to a new group of industry professionals,” says Vergou. “New people are coming in, which is always exciting. So they can discover Thessaloniki and fall in love with it — like everyone else.”
The Thessaloniki Documentary Festival takes place from March 2 to 12.