Swiss documentary film festival Visions du Réel (VdR), which revealed its industry program last week, has unveiled its full lineup as it prepares to welcome participants both in person and online. A total of 160 films will be screened throughout the fest, which runs from April 7 through to April 17 in half a dozen venues in and around the city of Nyon.
While the event is back in its physical form, organizers have learned from the past two editions and decided to keep a strong online presence. “We realized it’s a way of expanding the spectrum of people taking part. It’s not about replacing the theaters, but most of the films won’t be released so I feel it’s our job to go beyond and reach the people who cannot attend physically,” the festival’s artistic director Emilie Bujès told Variety.
A selection of around 50 films will be accessible online as part of a surprise program, along with the masterclasses of this year’s special guests – Marco Bellocchio, Hassen Ferhani and Kirsten Johnson.
Sixteen films are competing in the main International Competition including nine first features and 14 world premieres.
Among them are “Ma vie en papier” by Iranian director Vida Dena, a hybrid film, which follows the story of two young Syrian refugees in a Brussels apartment and includes drawings to illustrate the girls’ memories and dreams.
“5 Dreamers and a Horse,” a first film by Vahagn Khachatryan and Aren Malakyan, offers three very different portraits of Armenia through four protagonists, ranging from a lift operator who wants to travel into space, a farmer in search of the perfect wife, and a young queer couple who simply want to live out their love story.
Emelie Mahdavian is back at VdR with her feature “Bitterbrush” after winning multiple gongs on the festival circuit including the VdR audience award in 2019 with “Midnight Traveler” (co-directed with Hassan Fazili). Shot in remote Idaho, it follows two cow-girls as they embark on a long summer season. The film had its world premiere in Telluride and has been described as a masterful take on the western genre seen from the perspective of two young women.
Former VdR-Pitching entry “Dogwatch” (whose original 2019 title was “To Sail Close to the Wind”) by Greece’s Gregoris Rentis will be having its world premiere in the International Competition. Described by Bujès as “a very ambitious, visually striking film,” it tells the story of three mercenaries in the High Risk Area on the Somali coastline, who are running out of work and face the absurdity of daily training to face a non-existent enemy.
“We have a lot of films that have taken part in our industry activities before,” said Bujès. “We are very interested in following projects from the beginning and allowing them to enter the circuit through the festival after they have taken part.”
On her choice to include a majority of first films, she said: “We feel it is important to have first features as we see it as our main mission at VdR to work on submissions and help new people enter the circuit in a democratic understanding of the selection process.”
Fifteen films are competing in the more experimental Burning Lights section. Among the entries are “Luminum” by Argentina’s Maximiliano Schonfeld, who joyously adopts the sci-fi genre to paint a poetic portrait of a UFO research community, Maxime Martinot’s “Ohlo animal” from France, an animal comedy that includes hundreds of images of dogs in films throughout the history of cinema, and “Red Africa” by Russia’s Aleksander Markov, which portrays the USSR’s presence in African states between 1960 and 1990 using only archive material.
Thirteen films have been selected in the National Competition category – all but one will be having their world premiere at VdR (see list below).
The festival’s other sections are the Grand Angle Competition, which features films that have already toured other festivals or are expected to mark the coming year, the International Medium-length and Short Film Competition, Latitudes, a non-competitive section displaying a panorama of doc filmmaking practices, and Opening Scenes, dedicated to first films or student films.
Bujès is keen to underline the importance of the latter at a festival that aims to be a springboard for up-and-coming directors and practices. “This section is always very ambitious, convincing and exciting. It’s where you can see what’s happening tomorrow, they are very free in their approach. It is not a sidebar for kids, but the future of filmmaking,” she told Variety.
VdR will be paying homage this year to Italian director Marco Bellocchio with a retrospective and an honorary award, to festival veteran Iranian director Hassen Ferhani (“Dans ma tête un rond point,” 2016, “143 rue du Désert,” 2019), whose entire body of work will be showcased in a retrospective, and to U.S. cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. The multi-award winning filmmaker and DP will present a selection of films she has both directed and collaborated on, including Laura Poitras’ Academy Award winning doc “Citizenfour” (2014).
Opening with Sara Dosa’s critically acclaimed “Fire of Love,” the festival will close with “The Earth Is Blue as an Orange” by Ukraine’s Iryna Tsilyk in a show of solidarity with the people of Ukraine. The festival has expressed its support for Ukrainian artists and filmmakers.
“We strongly condemn the ongoing Russian invasion. At the same time, the festival wishes to convey its support for the Russian artists and citizens who are currently expressing their resistance,” read a statement published on its website.
Visions du Réel kicks off on April 7 and runs through April 17.
See the full list of entries for the International, Burning Lights and National Competitions below.
“5 Dreamers and a Horse” by Vahagn Khachatryan, Aren Malakyan (World Premiere)
Three Armenians are sketched out here, brilliantly and with delicacy, through four protagonists aspiring to fulfill their dream. There is the lift operator in a hospital who wants to travel into space, the farmer in search of a perfect wife, and the young queer couple who simply want to live out their love story… while awaiting the demonstrations and hopes of the revolution.
“A Holy Family” by Elvis A-Liang Lu (World Premiere)
The director gets a phone call from his aged mother. A stubborn woman, she worries about the future of the rest of the family. The father is a gambling addict in poor health; the brother is penniless yet sure of his talent as a medium. Looking back at the reasons he left 20 years earlier, Elvis A-Liang Lu creates a wonderful family portrait, touching and full of light.
“All of Our Heartbeats Are Connected Through Exploding Stars” by Jennifer Rainsford (International Premiere)
On March 11, 2011, a tsunami devastated the coasts of Japan, claiming thousands of lives. Today, the scars of this tragedy remain visible. Yet in spite of this, people, plants and animals alike continue to exist. Through striking images shot on land and in the sea, Jennifer Rainsford’s film celebrates human resilience and the endless beauty of our planet.
“Bitterbrush” by Emelie Mahdavian (International Premiere)
In remote Idaho, Colie and Hollyn embark on a long summer season working as range riders herding cattle. We follow them closely through the immensity of the landscapes and intimate moments of friendship. Emelie Mahdavian revisits the genre of the western and invites us to rethink the challenge of nomadism from the perspective of two young women.
“Chaylla” by Paul Pirritano, Clara Teper (World Premiere)
Chaylla is fighting to free herself from a violent conjugal relationship. Her determination comes up against a part of herself that still hopes it is possible to share her life with the father of her children. This first feature film sheds upsetting light on violence against women and the difficulties of finding a way to justice.
“Dogwatch” by Gregoris Rentis (World Premiere)
For a long time, vessels crossing the High Risk Area on the Somali coastline would hire private mercenaries in order to protect themselves from pirates. Nowadays, the attacks have dropped off and the mercenaries encounter a new problem: the lack of action. Daily training to face a non-existent enemy creates a sense of absurdity, captured by Gregoris Rentisʼ camera with great inspiration and precision.
“Éclaireuses” by Lydie Wisshaupt (World Premiere)
La Petite École in Brussels welcomes children who have never attended school, who are often from an immigrant background. Marie and Juliette have created a place outside of the classical structures of learning, where children can learn to be or become children again. But the price for this is the constant deconstruction of conventional education, and endless devotion.
“Foragers” by Jumana Manna (World Premiere)
“Foragers” interweaves documentary and fiction to report on a searing conflict between the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and Palestinian foragers. Through an elaborate and elegant composition, the film successfully captures the inherited love, resilience and knowledge of these traditions, against an eminently political backdrop.
“How to Save a Dead Friend” by Marusya Syroechkovskaya (World Premiere)
Marusya is 16 and, like many Russian teenagers, is determined to end her life. Then she meets her soulmate in another millennial, Kimi. They spend a decade filming the euphoria and anxiety, the happiness and misery of their youth, muzzled by a violent autocratic regime in the midst of a “depressed Russia.” This film is a cry from the heart, a tribute to an entire lost generation.
“Inner Lines” by Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd (World Premiere)
Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd continues his powerful political and poetic body of work with this new film, shot in 16mm, which travels through the regions around Ararat along its “inner lines,” to use the military terminology. These parallel routes are also used by messengers and their carrier pigeons to connect communities scattered by conflict.
“Lʼîlot” by Tizian Büchi (World Premiere)
For mysterious reasons, two watchmen are made to guard access to the river in an area of Lausanne where retirees and immigrant families live. Through the different people they encounter, a territory takes shape and a friendship is born. Tizian Büchi creates a fable—part documentary, part fiction and tinged with magical realism—to subtly question our surveillance society.
“Ma vie en papier” by Vida Dena (World Premiere)
In Brussels, the Iranian artist and film director Vida Dena meets Naseem, father of a Syrian family who fled from the war. Within the walls of their precarious home, she talks with Hala and Rima, his two eldest daughters, through drawings. The little bits of colored paper come to life on the screen to relate the memories, dreams and destiny of this family in exile.
“My Old Man” by Steven Vit (World Premiere)
Rudi Vit belongs to an endangered species: he is a senior executive who is due to retire after 43 years during which work was the center of his life. Steven, his son, follows this moment of transition with his camera. He paints a clinical and sensitive portrait of an ordinary 20th century man who reconnects with family life, from which he has long remained a distant figure.
“Rojek” by Zaynê Akyol (World Premiere)
After “Gulistan, Land of Roses” (VdR 2016), the Kurdish filmmaker Zaynê Akyol returns with these conversations with imprisoned members of the Islamic State, alternating their words with aerial views of the countryside. An unexpected look at a far-reaching current political issue and a film whose subject matter and rhythm create an impressive cinematic object.
“Steel Life” by Manuel Bauer (World Premiere)
Manuel Bauer offers us a fascinating journey across Peru aboard a freight train; an incredible descent from the Altiplano lead mines, at an altitude of 4,800 meters, to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Set amidst staggering scenery, Steel Life alternates between a road movie peppered with encounters and the social x-ray of a country victim of the neo-colonial system.
“Tara” by Francesca Bertin, Volker Sattel (World Premiere)
The Tara is a river on the outskirts of Taranto whose waters are believed to have healing properties; bathing there is a tradition for the inhabitants of the city. Starting from this bucolic place, Volker Sattel and Francesca Bettin take us on a journey through a territory where myths clash with reality and where so-called “progress” has taken a heavy toll on nature and society.
Burning Lights Competition
“A Long Journey Home” by Wenqian Zhang (World Premiere)
“Burial” by Emilija Škarnulytė (World Premiere)
“Eami” by Paz Encina (International Premiere)
“Europe” by Philip Scheffner (International Premiere)
“Far Away Eyes” by Wang Chun-Hong (International Premiere)
“Getting Old Stinks” by Peter Entell (World Premiere)
“Ghost Fair Trade” by Laurence Bonvin, Cheikh Ndiaye (World Premiere)
“H” by Carlos Pardo Ros (World Premiere)
“Herbaria” by Leandro Listorti (World Premiere)
“Kapr Code” by Lucie Králová (World Premiere)
“Luminum” by Maximiliano Schonfeld (World Premiere)
“Olho animal” by Maxime Martinot (World Premiere)
“Ollin Blood” by Elise Florenty, Marcel Türkowsky (World Premiere)
“Red Africa” by Alexander Markov (World Premiere)
“Remainders” by Raúl Capdevila Murillo (World Premiere)
“Ardente·x·s” by Patrick Muroni (World Premiere)
“Calvinia” by Rudi van der Merwe (World Premiere)
“Couvre-feu. Journal de Monique Saint-Hélier 1940-44” by Rachel Noël (World Premiere)
“Don’t Worry About India” by Nama Filmcollective (World Premiere)
“Dragon Women” by Frédérique de Montblanc (International Premiere)
“Fuku Nashi” by Julie Sando (World Premiere)
“Garçonnières” by Céline Pernet (World Premiere)
“La Cour des grands” by Louise Carrin (World Premiere)
“Le Film de mon père” by Jules Guarneri (World Premiere)
“Le Pénitencier” by Anne Theurillat (World Premiere)
“Périphérique nord” by Paulo Carneiro (World Premiere)
“Sons of the Wind” by Felipe Monroy (World Premiere)
“Supertempo” by Daniel Kemény (World Premiere)