Using Cinema to ‘Open Minds’ on a Greek Island Ravaged by Wildfires

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Though the devastating wildfires that swept across Greece’s second-largest island last summer were the impetus for the Evia Film Project, an environmentally focused event organized by the Thessaloniki Film Festival, it’s with the future squarely in mind that festival leadership launched the inaugural edition, which ran June 15 – 19.

To that end, a series of workshops throughout the five-day event were designed to educate children of all ages about both cinema and our relationship to the environment. “Through the medium of cinema, we are going to try to sensitize the kids to environmental issues,” said Elise Jalladeau, general director of the Thessaloniki Film Festival.

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Among the sessions held last week was a workshop hosted by Rancheros, an animal-rescue farm in the village of Agia Anna that rescued hundreds of animals during last year’s wildfires. Young participants visiting the farm collaborated to shoot a short documentary film about the rescue work being done there. Another workshop, presented in partnership with the educational association Cinemathesis, taught kids about environmental conservation and sustainability and culminated in the creation of a stop-motion animated short.

In Limni, a picturesque seaside village, the festival partnered with the Museum of Cycladic Art and WWF Greece to create “Cycladoupolis,” a Monopoly-style educational board game that Jalladeau described with a laugh as “dedicated to the environment, instead of promoting capitalism.” Presenting players with a range of challenges and riddles, the game teaches kids about the value of nature while educating them about sustainable growth and biodiversity in the Cycladic Islands.

Through a partnership with the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, which has a satellite campus for the department of digital arts and cinema on the island, the Evia Film Project also invited film school students to take part in the festival, volunteering at events, participating in a series of seminars and masterclasses, and documenting the proceedings on film.

Masterclasses were held by specialists including Katerina Christofilidou, a journalist dealing with environmental issues, and journalist and environmental documentary filmmaker Yorgos Avgeropoulos, during events organized by the non-governmental organization iMEdD; Greek cinematographer George Frentzos (pictured), who discussed how technological changes have impacted filmmaking; and Thessaloniki Film Festival director Orestis Andreadakis, who led a session on how contemporary film narratives reveal new modes of connecting with nature. The acclaimed nature photographer Gideon Mendel also presented a series of images of last year’s Evia fires as part of his Burning World Project on climate change.

The program was in keeping with what Jalladeau described as a “long tradition” of educational initiatives at Thessaloniki, which hosts year-round workshops, screenings and online tools in film studies. Though a core part of the festival’s mission is to educate young Greeks about the history and craft of cinema, another goal is “using cinema as a tool to learn, to grow, to open minds,” said Jalladeau. “That’s what we want to do in Evia.”

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