After deciding to launch their 2020 edition online, the organizers of Visions du Réel had one month to create a new paradigm.
They weren’t starting from scratch, of course; the selection was already locked, and the necessary steps were clear enough. But all the while, the organizers seized the opportunity to rethink a few elements.
Without a printed catalogue or the logistical constraints of fixed screening times, the organizers thought of different ways to present the selected titles. “Every year, you hear from the public that they open the program and don’t know where to start,” says artistic director Emilie Bujès. “This year we thought we could create thematic groupings to offer a new way in.”
And so the festival site will offer a series tabs called Pathways, regrouping films from the festivals various competitions and sections under headers such “State of the World,” “Revolt & Resistance,” and most tellingly, “Parallel Worlds & Confinement.”
“We had time to ask new questions,” says Bujès. “To see the films [that we had already selected] in new lights.” And, in some cases, reflect on how the films might be received at this particular point in time.
To that end, Bujès points to director Maija Blåfield’s “The Fantastic” and director Kamal Aljafari’s “Unusual Summer,” both of which are listed under the “Parallel Worlds & Confinement” section.
Initially, the films seem wholly different: While the former mixes interviews with North Korean escapees alongside digitally altered images taken from the country’s Chinese border, the latter culls from surveillance camera perched in a Palestinian neighborhood in Ramla.
Linking the two are the responses they could impart. “’Unusual Summer’ is very closed in,” says Bujès. “Both in the images and politics behind them. They create this sensation of being cloistered, being ghettoized in a country, and being stuck in an apartment.”
“Next to it you have ‘The Fantastic,’ which is about North Korea,” she adds. “That country is the ultimate example of confinement!”
Dea Gjinovci’s “Wake Up on Mars” also runs in the “Confinement” section. It centers on a Kosovan family in Sweden, whose request for asylum meets with rejection. What ensues is trauma for the two daughters, victims of “resignation syndrome,” which results in a long coma. In the face of this atrocity, Furkan, the youngest in the family, demonstrates uncanny resilience and starts building a space craft as a horizon looking towards all possible futures.
Of course, Visions du Réel will also the address the current state of affairs via the festival’s industry component, which runs from April 25-30. Organizers have put together three panel discussions addressing the recent upheavals from the perspectives of filmmakers, distributors and festival directors.
“One discussion will be festival-centric, with directors and programmers of festivals that have been cancelled, that are still up in the air, and that are thinking about going online,” says Bujès.
“We’ll also have a discussion with distributors, support funds, and institutions, and one with filmmakers, seeing how they live this on a personal level, and how this affects shoots, production timelines and resources.”
“We need to talk about this, to see where everybody is,” she adds. “There will be a lot of big changes that will require new solutions, [and we want to help that conversation].”