The Virtues of Virtual Festivals
Put together in just a few weeks, the online edition of Visions du Reel is perhaps the first festival which really moves the dial on the virtues of virtual festivals, suggesting that, at least when it comes to festivals or markets whose titles are most commonly seen in a broadcast space – drama series, doc features – the onus is now on events to justify doing nothing at all. 95 out of the 97 films selected for Visions du Reel accepted screening online, with one of the Remainers unable to finish postproduction post-lockdown. “There was a real readiness on the audience and filmmaker and producer side,” said Visions du Réel artistic director Émilie Bujès. Though she is fascinating in person, the Claire Denis masterclass was watched by 1,400 viewers around the world who might not have time to attend a three-hour talk at a physical event or fly to Switzerland in the first place. Accompanied in 25 cases by cash prizes or free-of-charge services, the festivals 35 festival and industry awards are like manna from heaven for producers awaiting incentives or pick-ups in a cash-strapped COVID-10 world. Fiction may be another matter. As things currently stand, no big festival – not Cannes, nor Venice nor San Sebastian – is contemplating world premiering their biggest movies online. They still need the big screen experience. Bujes insisted throughout the festival that next year’s event will revert to screenings in cinema theaters. Whether the movies will be shown online later is another question.
Great Documentaries Can Come from Anywhere
Western Europe and North America’s drama series production is distinguished by its large number of documentaries, suggested a Feb. 2020 Ampere Analysis study. Good doc features can come from anywhere, Produced by Trice Films in Skopje, Macedonia, “Honeyland” won two Academy Award nominations last year. Though a bastion of upscale European documentary, only five of the 13 prizes on offer in in Industry Awards went to European titles. Latin America scooped five, Asia three, the Middle East two, acknowledging co-productions. “I believe in the power of films to make us realize we are a big community that needs to stay together and share love,” said José Permar when his Baja California-set “Off the Road” won the Interreligious Award. Nick Brandestini’s “Sapelo,” awarded best medium length or feature film, unspools on the eponymously named island and follows one of the last Geechee African Americans holding onto her endangered traditions. And perhaps the most remote example at this year’s festival, “Anerca, Breath of Life” from Markku and Johannes Lehmuskallio examines daily life in the arctic circle and took the prestigious Nyon Region Jury Prize for most innovative feature film.
Capitalism and Its Discontents
What did Visions du Réel documentaries talk about? Many, and many of the best, about the ravages of contemporary capitalism, the attempt to build or hang onto a life and the affirmation of identity in a world of vertiginous change. Set to the elegiac strains of Lorenzo Tomio’s score, “Puntasacra” captures this in its portrait of a favela-like community of makeshift, ramshackle houses whose womenfolk fight eviction and demand basic social services, “asserting proudly who they are, post romantic fighters in a forgotten outpost,” said jury member Ursula Meier, announcing “Puntasacra’s” top festival prize.
Eugenio and Mara Polgovsky’s “Malentzin 17,” the only title to win two industry awards, notes with quiet horror scenes seen from Eugenio’s own window, suggesting a world of rampant consumerism, gaping social gulfs, and an encroachment on nature which drives an Incan dove to nest on an intersection of electricity cables. An undercurrent of precariousness courses through the film.
Ursula Meier doesn’t wax lyrical about any old film. So her enthusiasm for “Puntasacra” was a head-turner. France’s Louise Mootz accepted her the prize online with a winning insouciance. Her medium-feature, “Jungle,” from France’s Silex, a company forging strong production lines in teen/YA (“Stalk”) and female-centric content (the project “Witch!”), looks pretty confident as well, lifting the lid on her gaggle of brash, sexually assertive BFFs in a poor Northern Paris banlieu. From a brief viewing, Francisco Bermejo’s “The Other One,” the Burning Lights section winner, mixes extraordinary wildlife images and a sympathetic study of derangement as it enters the crazed mind of Oscar, a weather-beaten hermit, picturing the imaginary doppelganger he claims is living with him in his beach-side shack.
Italian sales agent True Colours took world sales rights on the festival’s top winner “Puntasacra,” while New York’s Zero Chill boarded Signis Interreligious Award victor “Off the Road.” Italy’s Kino Produzioni, in competition with Sicily-set “Il Mio Corpo,” teamed with Sweden’s Fasad on “About the End,” a timely apocalypse-themed doc. Switzerland’s Close Up Films, producers of Michele Pennetta’s competition player “Il Mio Corpo,” announced development on its next project, “The Gift” (“Faiseuse de Secret”).
Heino Deckert initiated talks with producers from two projects participating in Pitching du Réel, while Cat&Docs’ Maelle Guenegues told Variety that Dea Gjinovci’s “Wake up on Mars” received many requests for screeners. Grasshopper Films Ryan Krivoshey said it was considering “a number” of Visions du Réel films but hadn’t finalized any deals just yet.
“These Industry programs are so useful, especially when they are as well curated as this year’s edition of Visions du Réel. I crossed projects I would never have been able to otherwise,” said Rasha Salti, commissioning editor at ArteFrance for La Lucarne, noting that three participating projects are now firmly in her crosshairs.