From Thomas Imbach’s “Nemesis” and Michele Pennetta’s “Il Mio Corpo” to a 13-title National Competition – featuring Nick Brandestini’s section winner “Sapelo,” celebrated French screenwriter Antoine Jaccoud’s directorial debut “Back to Visegrad” and Tribeca world premiere “Wake Up on Mars – ” this year’s Visions du Réel festival proved, as ever, a notable launchpad for Swiss documentaries.
Held online by Zoom conference on May 4, a Swiss Films Previews presentation made by the promotion agency of five soon -to-launch doc features added to this impact, as well as suggesting some current directions of Switzerland documentary scene.
A power in movie production – with 118 features in 2018, only Europe’s “big five” territories and Russia produced more features – Switzerland is also a European doc talent hub. The five docs presented Monday, soon to launch on the festival circuit and for worldwide distribution, were all produced by Swiss companies. Only one, Rolando Colla’s “W. – What Remains of the Lie” was directed by a totally Swiss director. For years the power of Hollywood has been based on its status as a talent hub. Now in Switzerland, at least three of the other helmers whose films were showcased in the Previews, tiugh bin abroad, have either studied in Switzerland or are actively based there.
Colombia’s Felipe Monroy, for example, has a B.A. from Geneva School of Art and Design (HEAD-Genève). Produced by José Michel Buhler at Geneva’s Adok Films, Monroy’s “Children of the Wind” rolls off Colombia’s scandal of “false positives”: the kidnapping, torture and murder of thousands of young people from its slums whose corpses were passed off as fallen FARC-EP guerrilla insurgents – in order to suggest Álvaro Uribe’s government was winning the war. Monroy tells the story from the POV of three mothers of victims, still fighting for justice a decade after the murders.
The still-unsolved army killings are “probably the most striking example of cruel injustice in Colombia,” says Monroy. Allowing the mothers a public voice, he adds, is “an intimate and universal way to talk about violence,” distinct from TV reportage on the subject.
German-born, but co-founder of Geneva-based production house Les Films du Chalet, director Marion Neumann’s “The Mushroom Speaks” is a film essay which comes in at fungi from a myriad angles, and is intended as part of a larger franchise, including a book and exhibition, she said at Monday’s online presentation.
Three of the five features talk about identity, a theme which runs through many doc-features at this year’s Visions du Réel as their protagonists cling to a sense of belonging to a world in danger of extinction (Visions du Réel winner “Puntasacra”) or attempt to build new lives (“Reas,” a Pitching du Réel winner). In the Swiss Films’ Previews, this cut three ways.
Directed by Mexico’s Laura Elena Cordero, a Swiss resident, “Shaping Dancers in the Manner of Béjart” follows young dancers’ transformation during the demanding two-year apprenticeship at revered Swiss-French choreographer Maurice Béart’s Lausanne ballet troupe.
From excerpts shown at Visions du Réel, it features stunning dance stage performance, where Cordero attempts to capture mesmeric body movement and the numbers’ rich warm colors. But its essence is an attempt to nail what Cordero calls Béjart’s “ADN,” through the legacy of his teaching.
The third doc feature from Austrian-Swiss filmmaker Valerie Blankenbyl, “The Bubble” depicts the world’s largest retirement community, “The Villages,” in Florida. As in other Swiss Films titles, the doc feature keys in on the extraordinary: With over 135,000 residents, it is the fastest-growing town in the U.S., Dario Schoch at Cognito Films said in a presentation.
Living in an all-senior community allows its members to not feel their age, the extrovert Tony, a 17-year resident explains in the film. But as The Villages residents forge a new sense of self, the ever increasingly encroachment of The Villages on neighboring villageships threatens to displace local communities in Sumter County. and their identity is shaped by where they live. “This to me really is home, this earth, this greenery, you cannot replace it,” one local says.
Identity also lies at the heart of “W. – What Remains of the Lie,” produced by Elena Pedrazzoli at Peacock Film, and an update to the arresting case of Bruno Wilkomirski.
In 1995, Wilkomirski published his autobiography, as the youngest inmate of the Maidanek concentration camp victim. It was hailed as a milestone description of Nazi hell, telling in its authenticity. Three years later, Jewish journalist Daniel Ganzfried exposes it as fraud: Wilkomirski had in fact been adopted and brought up by a well-to-do Swiss family. With which the author disappeared from the scene.
Director Rolando Colla, a successful live action director (Swiss Academy Award entry “Summer Games”), spent seven years attempting to catch up with the writer, who was understandably nervous about being filmed. Early filming was “like shooting a lion,” Colla recalled at the Swiss Films Previews. But he merely wanted to understand how Wilkomirski could write such an extraordinary memoir. The explanation bears testimony, if Colla’s reasoning is anything to go by, to the extraordinary complexity of the human heart.