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Cinema

Train Tragedy Turns Thessaloniki Film Festival Closing Somber

THESSALONIKI – The tragic train accident that claimed the lives of 57 people was commemorated at the Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival, the second-largest city in Greece, where many of the victims, who were university students, were headed when their passenger train collided with a cargo train on the same track.

The Athens-Thessaloniki route is a familiar one for artists and event organizers, which made the incident even more somber and concerning, given recent revelations that the trains had been running unsafely for decades.

According to a report in Variety, the premier magazine for Hollywood filmmaking, the festival organizers canceled the official award ceremony out of respect for the victims and the ongoing mourning in the country. An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the accident, with critics already pointing to negligence.

The awards for this year’s festival — including the Golden Alexander, which went to Heba Khaled, Talal Derki and Ali Wajeeh’s Under the Sky of Damascus — were handed out behind closed doors.

Artistic director Orestis Andreadakis told Variety prior to the festival’s conclusion that all ceremonies and festive events were canceled from the start, and in the same spirit, the closing ceremony was called off.

Despite the somber mood, many of the awarded filmmakers attended the world premiere of My Pet and Me, a Dutch documentary by filmmaker Johan Kramer, at the Olympion cinema.

Andreadakis and festival General Director Elise Jalladeau acknowledged the tragedy that loomed over the festival, saying that the event was “under the shadow of the tragic accident at Tempe, which has filled us with sadness.” They thanked the filmmakers for participating and emphasized that “in the darkness of the past ten days, art, film, documentaries have offered us the best refuge.”

At the award ceremony for the festival’s Agora industry arm on March 8, industry head Angeliki Vergou expressed her “shock, sadness, and anger” over the loss of life in the fatal head-on collision that injured dozens and coincided with protests in the city.

The recent tragedy has reignited public anger not seen since the 2010-18 economic and austerity crisis, which sparked numerous protests against pay cuts, tax hikes, and reduced pensions.

This time, the outrage is directed towards the New Democracy government, the railway company, and previous administrations who received 800 million euros ($856.84 million) in European Union aid to repair the railways but failed to do so, with no accountability for the funds.

The younger generation is particularly incensed by the incident, viewing it as yet another example of how they have been ignored by governments that operate on a system of patronage and cronyism.

TOO MUCH TO TAKE

Film director Maria Louka, who co-directed the documentary Grief — Those Who Remain with Myrto Patsalidou and premiered it at the festival, noted that the six-hour rail journey from Athens to Thessaloniki is well-known to many of the filmmakers and festival-goers, according to the report.

“We have done it many times and had it in our minds as a safe and pleasant experience. If I didn’t have a very young baby, I would have gone to the festival by train, as I did last year,” Louka told Variety. “So to lose so many people like that caused incredible sadness and anger. That feeling was pervasive.”

The grief was compounded by the words of Magda Fyssa, whose son Pavlos, an anti-Fascist hip-hop artist, was murdered in 2013 by a member of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and sentenced to life plus 10 years.

After the premiere of her film, director Maria Louka, who co-directed the documentary Grief — Those Who Remain with Myrto Patsalidou, gave an emotional speech describing the impact of the tragedy: “All of Greece is mourning again from criminal acts. We have lost our children, we have lost a generation, we have lost our future.”

Speaking to a hushed audience, Fyssa described the painful and solitary journey of a mother mourning the sudden loss of her son. “It’s those moments when you’re alone, with the thoughts of your child who never leaves your mind all day long. You can do a thousand and two things, but half your thoughts are with the child you can’t see, who’s left you. And the other half is with the family who remains. I’m thinking of the other parents at this moment, who are suddenly in the same position that we are. And how much pain — how unbearable is the burden they carry.”

After the screening, many audience members were overcome with emotion. As the mourning families took to the stage, they were met with a standing ovation. “They spoke with tenderness and solidarity for the parents who are now grieving their own children,” said Louka. “There was raw and honest emotion.”

The director expressed that, despite the tragedy, it was “liberating” to share the pain with an audience who were also dealing with their collective sorrow. “The awareness of the fragility of our lives, the traumas, and the pain can be alleviated when they become a matter of community, when people do not feel alone. This is what our film shows to a certain extent, this is what I felt at its premiere,” she said.

Andreadakis stated to Variety, “Our country was affected by a terrible accident, and our lives were changed. However, in such moments, art, films, and documentaries are always the best refuge.”

 

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