Greece's Thessaloniki Fest Forced to Abandon Cash Prizes, May Face More Cuts

The 53-year-old event already halved awards two years ago as sponsorship money dries up. But organizers said the festival will persevere.

ROME – The European debt crisis has forced Greece’s 53-year-old Thessaloniki Film Festival to abandon cash prizes all together for this year’s edition, while Greek industry insiders say further changes could be in the works after the country’s June 17 elections.

The festival has seen backing from sponsors dry up in recent years, and it had already at least halved the cash awards for the festival’s prestigious Golden Alexander honors to €20,000 ($25,000) for first and €10,000 ($12,500) for second in 2010. And this year they will be eliminated completely, as the festival struggles to stay afloat amid Greece’s dramatic economic woes.

Despite the elimination of the cash awards, the festival vowed to survive the crisis, which has pushed Greece to the edge of defaulting on its debt and has seen the crisis spread across Europe. In a statement, the festival said the move was “necessary and temporary,” while a festival spokesman said organizers were “proud to be able to at least hold the festival under these conditions.”

The situation in Greece could get worse before it gets better. A second round of national elections on June 17 featuring a populist party that wants to abandon painful European Union-mandated austerity reforms will likely determine whether Greece will be able to stay in the 17-nation euro zone -- something industry insiders said will have clear implications on the storied Thessaloniki festival.

“Better to wait after June 17 because the real budget for the festival will for sure depend on whether Greece stays in the euro zone or makes the big jump back to the drachma,” said one veteran Greek producer with ties to Thessaloniki and who asked not to be named.

The festival is scheduled to take place Nov. 2-11.