“Like an Island” (“L’îlot”), a hybrid documentary fable tinged with magical realism by Swiss director Tizian Büchi, has won the Grand Jury Prize at international documentary film festival Visions du Réel in Nyon, Switzerland.

The debut feature had its world premiere at the festival, bearing testimony to the event’s reputation as a launchpad for new talent and its tradition for hybrid fiction-reality films. A total of seven first features are among the winners. It is the first time since 2013 that a Swiss film has picked up the festival’s top prize.

“A small urban island becomes the metaphor of contemporary Europe and lends itself to a deep reflection about the absurdity of borders, rules, fences and barriers. A brilliant observation, a surprising wondering, that rewrites the coordinates of geographical spaces in universal terms,” said the jury, composed of filmmaker Jessica Beshir, the winner of last year’s Grand Prix, Beatrice Fiorentino, general delegate of the Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week, and Jovan Marjanović, director of the Sarajevo Film Festival.

The runner-up Special Jury Award went to “Bitterbrush” by Emelie Mahdavian, a doc about two female range riders in the American West, which made a splash when it premiered in Telluride, “for its cinematically triumphant, raw, yet tender, portrayal of two women’s nomadic existence in this rewrite of the classic Western genre,” the jury said.

Russian director Marusya Syroechkovskaya’s debut feature, “How to Save a Dead Friend,” received a Special Mention, for its “punk rock attitude in skillfully piecing together a story of another lost generation in Russia,” according to the jury.

The festival’s more experimental Burning Lights section was judged by Chiara Marañón, director of content at MUBI, Switzerland’s Cyril Schäublin, who won best director for his debut feature “Unrest” in this year’s Berlinale Encounters section, and Argentinian producer Gema Juarez Allen (“Lina From Lima”).

They awarded their top prize to yet another first feature, “A Long Journey Home,” by Wenqian Zhang, a family portrait about cohabitation, emancipation and the search for one’s place within the family.

“With an equally tender and formally bare approach, the film humbly draws our attention to the intimacy of a household. With precise cinematic decisions, domestic situations unfold before the camera, weaving together a family portrait of strong emotional resonance, that raises important questions about the ties that bind us, as it bridges an intergenerational gap in contemporary China and beyond,” said the jury.

The Special Jury Award in the Burning Lights segment went to “Herbaria” by Argentina’s Leandro Listorti, who delicately combines archival and fresh images to chronicle the immense work that goes into plant classification and preservation.

“A film of extraordinary lucidity,” said the jury, “that brings together two universes – plants and cinema – in a revelatory game of analogies. Taking the time to explore the multi-layered nature of preservation, the film finds unsuspected warmth in scientific and methodical processes, rendered visible in an act of poetic justice.”

A Special Mention went to “Europe” by Philip Scheffner, “for dealing with the subject of immigration in a novel way and with a great sense of humanity while showing that silence and the “out of frame” are remarkable tools to discuss the fiction of borders.”

In the National Competition, Swiss-Japanese filmmaker Julie Sando picked up the Jury Prize for “Fuku Nashi,” a moving encounter between two lonely souls that tells the story of Yukiei who returns home to her grandmother’s house after years of absence. Sando also nabbed the Zonta Award for “a female filmmaker whose work reveals mastery and talent.”

The National Competition’s Special Jury Award went to “Le Film de mon père,” Jules Guarneri’s first feature, described by the jury as “an intimate portrait of a family whose members live close to each other and yet seem far apart. The filmmaker succeeds in making an honest and entertaining film that tells of house spirits and control freaks, of searching for and cutting one’s roots, and at the same time asks the question: what does family mean?”

Serbian filmmaker Luka Papić’s absurd comedy “Without,” about an eccentric artist who embarks on a journey to find his pet dog, won the International Medium Length and Short Film Competition Jury Prize.

Best Short Film went to “Aralkum” by Daniel Asadi Faezi and Mila Zhluktenko, the story of the last inhabitants on the shores of the Aral Sea, who have lost their way of life to desertification – “a film that opens a door on a landscape swept by human excess,” said the jury.

“Jaime” by Francisco Javier Rodriguez, the portrait of a young man affected by a mental disorder, received a Special Mention in the Short and Medium category.

The Interreligious Award went to Iranian artist and director Vida Dena for “Ma vie en papier,” in which drawings she shares with the daughters of a Syrian refugee come to life to relate the memories, dreams and destiny of the family in exile.

Peruvian director Manuel Bauer’s debut feature, “Steel Life,” a fascinating journey across Peru’s Altiplano to the shores of the Pacific Ocean, won the International Critics’ FIPRESCI Award.

The Audience Award went to Sara Dosa’s poetic archival montage “Fire of Love,” which has been blazing through the festival circuit since premiering at Sundance.

The festival’s artistic director Emilie Bujès welcomed the prizes, which she said reflect the wealth of diversity at Visions du Réel. “New voices rub shoulders with the films of established filmmakers and engage in a dialogue with the works of our guests Marco Bellocchio, Kirsten Johnson and Hassen Ferhani. We are particularly pleased that the diversity of film genres, generations, approaches and geographies that guide us have been rewarded and welcomed by the public and the juries,” she said.

The 53rd edition of Visions du Réel ran from April 7 through April 17. The festival’s first full physical edition in three years – the event was one of the first to go completely online in 2020 and held a limited on-site hybrid edition last year – drew an estimated 45.000 people, around the same number as 2019.

“We made the bet to reinvent the festival, and we won – thanks to a very strong return to face-to-face events and an increased virtual dimension acquired during the pandemic,” said festival president Raymond Loretan, for whom the Visions du Réel team “has transformed a crisis into an opportunity in an exemplary manner.”

See the full list of Visions du Réel’s 2022 awards below:

International Feature Film Competition
Grand Jury Prize
“L’Îlot” by Tizian Büchi

Special Jury Award
“Bitterbrush” by Emelie Mahdavian

Special Mention
“How to Save a Dead Friend” by Marusya Syroechkovskaya

Burning Lights Competition
Jury Prize
“A Long Journey Home” by Wenqian Zhang

Special Jury Award
“Herbaria” by Leandro Listorti

Special Mention
“Europe” by Philip Scheffner

National Competition
Jury Prize
“Fuku Nashi” by Julie Sando

Special Jury Award
“Le Film de mon père” by Jules Guarneri

International Medium Length and Short Film Competition
Jury Prize for the best Medium Length Film
“Without” by Luka Papić

Jury Prize for the best Short Film
“Aralkum” by Daniel Asadi Faezi & Mila Zhluktenko

Special Mention
“Jaime” by Francisco Javier Rodriguez

Special Youth Jury Award for a medium length film
“Churchill, Polar Bear Town” by Annabelle Amoros

Special Youth Jury Award for the best Short Film
“Marianne” by Rebecca Ressler & Lara Porzak

Interreligious Award
“Ma vie en papier” by Vida Dena

Zonta Award
“Fuku Nashi” by Julie Sando

International Critics’ Award – FIPRESCI Award
“Steel Life” by Manuel Bauer

Perception Change Award
“Children of the Mist” by Hà Lệ Diễm