There’s nothing more exciting than debuting a film at its official world premiere—and we were honored to first give The Starfish Throwers to the world at the 16th Annual Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in Thessaloniki, Greece in March 2014.
Coming out of a seemingly endless Minnesota winter, the gentle Aegean Sea air was a relief. Yet it was also charged with excitement as we arrived in the central Artistotelous Square and saw the world-renowned festival’s banners draping the impressive Olympion Theater. At that moment, it all became real—the film was finally coming off of the cameras, hard drives and editing screens—and into real theaters, filled with real viewers.
We also didn’t know then what a crazy whirlwind the festival experience would be—filled not only with the screenings and events we expected, but also many things we didn’t: Dozens of introductions to new people everywhere we went; conversations with many more who were interested in or touched by the film; planned and impromptu meetings; making connections with people who wanted to connect you to other people who wanted to connect you to still more people; speaking on panels; giving interviews; promoting the screenings to boost attendance; picture-taking and posting; and so much more. Not to mention trying to keep up with our jobs and work that goes on no matter where we are in the world! While the word “festival” may have a leisurely ring to it, they really are incredibly busy events where you’re working hard (and almost running from place to place) almost every minute, to make the most impact possible for your film and its subjects during the short period of time you’re there.
Joining us in Thessaloniki was Producer Melody Gilbert and her husband Mark Wollerman, professors at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG), and their energetic group of documentary film and writing students. It was great to have our own booster club of #StarfishThrowers there at the premiere!
The screening venues were beautiful, super-modern theaters in renovated buildings on cobblestone piers extending out into the sea. As we walked to the first screening—the very first time we’d see the film on a big screen—we wondered…had people actually bought tickets to see it? Would we screen to an empty theater? There was no way to know. Which is why when I walked into the crowded theater lobby (Jesse had arrived early for a tech and sound check) I first assumed that all of the people there must be lining up for another movie. It didn’t fully register that all of them were here to see our film until I looked up at the ticket availability board above the box office—and saw “SOLD OUT” in big, bold letters following The Starfish Throwers title. Sold out? Sold out! It was almost unbelievable.
As the lights went down, the first frames of the film flickered to life. The orange and blue cooking fire under Krishnan’s pot ignited, as the film’s title appeared on the big screen for the very first time. Jesse and I sat in two seats in the very back of the theater, almost unable to breathe. We felt so grateful at that moment for every single person, every hour of shooting, every Kickstarter supporter, every family member and friend, who has been part of this journey so far.
It was interesting to see how the story played out with a foreign audience. As the Greek subtitles rolled, we saw audience members sigh, laugh and even wipe away tears. However, other moments our American previewers had found funny (such as one aside about mowing a lawn) lacked context for the international audience. Above all, the overwhelmingly positive response and many moments of shared understanding showed that the film’s themes are truly universal and it is a film that many find very deeply moving.
Following every screening when the Director, Editor, Producer or someone who worked on the film is present, there’s a Q&A session. We’ll be sure to share more about these in future posts; the comments and questions people share are fascinating. There are lots of introductions, usually a few business cards exchanged, and also many hugs!
During the Q&A, we’re also asking people to fill out a #ThrowStarfish sign if they’ve been inspired by the film, to send the characters in the film a message or share how they plan to continue the “ripple effect” of good deeds shown in the film. You can see a gallery of all of these to date here.
There’s so much more to tell about the Thessaloniki festival, from Jesse’s awesome radio interview with Rock Radio Greece; to the panel discussion he was a presenter on; to the five interviews for TV, print and other media that he gave; plus meeting Jan Rofekamp of Films Transit, the sales agent who will help bring The Starfish Throwers to international audiences through film, broadcast and other distribution channels.
Whew! Hope that gives you all at least a snapshot of what the Thessaloniki festival was like. Before we knew it, the world premiere was wrapped and we were headed north to Bulgaria. Stay tuned for the next post to hear about our fast few days in Blagoevgrad and Sofia (including how to say “thank you “ and “cheers” in Bulgarian!)
We’ll leave you with this short video put together by talented AUBG student Igor Myakotin that captures beautifully the energy and spirit of the sold out World Premiere.
– Jen Larson Roesler