Agora, the industry section of Greece’s Thessaloniki International Film Festival, kicks into gear this weekend with an eye on expansion as industry head Angeliki Vergou and her team introduce a series of changes to the established event.
Agora Series, the fest’s hybrid film-series industry strand, returns for its sophomore outing, now running over an extended two days, starting November 4 with a focus on the creative process of series screenwriting. Paper Entertainment CEO and Tehran executive producer Julien Leroux will serve as program consultant. The two-day schedule features a range of masterclass sessions from local and international series professionals. Canadian filmmaker Jeremy Podeswa, best known for his work on shows like Game Of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale, will host a masterclass on the future of storytelling.
The festival will also launch Bridge to the North, a new collaborative strand aimed at fostering connections between professionals from the local region and Northern Europe. Each year, the strand will platform a guest country from the Baltic and Scandinavian regions. This year, the guest country is Lithuania. In partnership with the Lithuanian Film Centre, a Lithuanian delegation of producers, directors, distributors, and film programmers will attend all AGORA activities and participate with their projects.
Elsewhere in new additions, AGORA and the Thessaloniki Film Festival have set a new competition prize, the Greener Screen Consultancy Award. The prize comes with a €7,000 cash prize alongside a tailored green production plan for the winning project, virtual training for the eco-manager on this plan, continuous support for the eco-manager during production alongside optional “greener script” consultancy sessions for the writer, director, and producer.
Below, AGORA head Angeliki Vergou discusses this year’s industry lineup, her overall vision for Thessaloniki’s industry programs, and why she believes “medium-sized festivals” like Thessaloniki offer more opportunities for industry professionals than bigger film events.
DEADLINE: How are you feeling about this year’s AGORA series?
ANGELIKI VERGOU: I’m feeling good about it. This year, we have expanded to two days. Strategically, we have moved to the festival’s first weekend so broadcasters could attend and overlap with our other industry guests. So there will be a mixture of professionals coming for the series, but also for the fiction part of AGORA. We also have our Meet The Future segment of AGORA, which highlights emerging talent from Greece. The section previously highlighted editors and cinematographers. This year, Meet The Future is focusing on writer-directors from Greece who have completed a short or first feature and are now developing a series.
DEADLINE: What was the response to the inaugural AGORA series last year? I know some people still believe highlighting series at film festivals is provocative.
VERGOU: It was positive. Of course, there are still voices who say: what are series doing at film festivals? But that’s all over the world. It’s not only in Greece. However, it is important to understand that series have become a part of our audiovisual sector. We aren’t watching soap operas. We are watching series that hold very high aesthetic and cinematic qualities. People understand that we need to support our audiovisual sectors. That is why the reaction was positive. That’s why we decided to continue this year, and there is much interest. People are now coming to Thessaloniki specifically for AGORA series, especially screenwriters.
DEADLINE: Who are you usually welcoming at AGORA?
VERGOU: We have a focus on southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean region. This includes the Czech Republic, down to the ex-Yugoslavia, and up to the Black Sea, including Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, and Armenia. We also have the Mediterranean side, which includes Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. So we are gathering professionals from all these countries. We also have a new collaboration called Launchpad with Locarno, Karlovy Vary, Rotterdam, and Tallinn, aimed at supporting the work of young professionals working in film promotion. We all came together after the think tank about the future of film markets, the results of which were announced at Cannes. We decided to create this to open a window for young professionals who are still navigating how markets work. We offer them the possibility to attend either online or physically. They have free accreditation and a custom-made program.
DEADLINE: During my travels this year, an increasing number of industry professionals have been discussing Thessaloniki and their plans to visit. How do you feel about the festival’s growing profile?
VERGOU: We have always had our faithful groupies in Thessaloniki coming every year. But I think this wider change has happened because people are realizing that at festivals and markets that aren’t so big, where you’re unlikely to get overwhelmed or lost, you can get much more work done than at the bigger festivals. Bigger festivals and markets are very important. Don’t get me wrong, we go there to make new connections and understand new trends. But to have a meaningful conversation that lasts more than 15 minutes and be able to make connections, medium-sized festivals and markets like ours offer more opportunities.
DEADLINE: Thessaloniki has been a real leader when it comes to sustainability. This year you even have a green tax for visitors. What has the response been to your efforts from the industry?
VERGOU: Industry people are more cautious about the environment than you might think. We have had guests, for example, who decided not to attend physically this year because they’re trying to lower their carbon footprint. So, we offer the opportunity to participate online. But in Greece, with recent fires and floods, the environment is very much on our minds. The European Council also encourages sustainability, which is very much welcome because it pushes us to take steps that we may have taken more slowly. But the climate crisis is very urgent, so we’re trying our best to accommodate as much as we can.
DEADLINE: Do you have a set tenure as Head of AGORA?
VERGOU: I became the head of AGORA last year, but I’ve been working for the festival since 2001. I started as an intern and have worked in all areas of the festival. Right now, I’m figuring out my five-year plan to see what we should do and what change is needed. We have spoken with the local industry and asked what’s working and what needs to change. We have our new bridge to the north initiative, which invites a delegation from northern Europe that usually doesn’t come to Thessaloniki for one reason or another. So, we’re taking them by the hand and telling them to come and check it out. This year is in collaboration with the Lithuanian Film Centre. A delegation of Lithuanian producers, distributors, and film critics will be joining us. They also have the opportunity to participate in our events.
DEADLINE: In five years, what would be your perfect version of AGORA?
VERGOU: One thing I really want to stay the same is our size. I don’t want to get bigger, but we also want to offer possibilities and educational tools so everyone who leaves AGORA and Thessaloniki has learned something and made new connections. We are also always working on becoming more inclusive. We believe our location provides a unique opportunity for professionals from diverse regions to be heard.