Visions du réel in Nyon focuses less on films from the English speaking world and more on French, German and Swiss films and films with a philosophic approach. The festival insists on focusing on artistic approaches rather than issue-borne films. This includes both traditional observational films, like Frederick Wiseman’s 3½-hour “State Legislature”, and films with a more experimental approach, like the 46-minute “Scènes de chasse au sanglier” by Claudio Pazienza.

Of the various sections, Regard Neuf was particularly brimming with pleasant surprises. It often happens that the ‘director’s first film’ section at a festival shows films of uneven quality, but the VdR team had made a good effort to find first films of high cinematic quality with coherent style and idea, featuring new filmmakers with a talent for storytelling. Here are a few examples.

Squeegee Bandit

Sándor Lau from New Zealand has committed an innovatively styled portrait of Kevin, a Maori living a nomadic life, earning money by washing car windows, and living in temporary abodes. He used to be the father of a family with two kids, but doesn’t see them anymore. He is manic, a speedy talker and always on the move. He is aggressive but at the same time moving and charming. The style is refreshing, adopting a street-life feeling and Kevin’s personality in its cinematic mode. It is filmed in black and white, occasionally colouring single objects in the picture, as when Kevin stretches his hand towards the camera showing the money he has earned, which is coloured in gold.

When the camera follows Kevin at his ‘work’ and driving cars, it moves hectically with him, the editing is fast and passages with rap music are inserted. This alternates with calmer passages where Kevin reveals his life story as a boy in the Maori community, raised by a bullying foster mother. A few other people are interviewed like someone telling about the social problems for the Maori population, and a family he stays with for a while talks about Kevin’s good points. Also intercut are archive films, racist propagandistic films produced by the government. Music is quite dominant throughout, altering between rap music and sad lonesome guitar music during the parts about his past.

The film raises the issue of how the Maori population has been treated by colonists. Kevin goes to the library and finds history books showing pictures of wild Maoris slaughtering defenceless whites. He hates the colonists, the way they destroyed Maori lives for their own benefit. The filmmaker handles his many artistic elements in a masterly way and creates a great viewing experience and moving film.

The Operating Theatre

On the one hand, this Swiss/French film is highly voyeuristic in the sense that it films people under anaesthesia on the operating table, entering their stomachs and exposing their intestines. Yet on the other, the film-which was obviously made with the subjects’ consent and is ethically in order -does not look into their lives in any other sense. The explicit operating scenes and the voyeuristic feeling imposed on the viewer are discomforting, as is the feeling of peering into something holy, taboo-the operating theatre itself. But it helps to be guided by the filmmaker, Benoît Rossel, who reveals in a voiceover that he made this film to confront his fear of operations, to demystify the mysterious operating theatre, to humanize the surgeons and their qualifications.

Part of the film follows a young doctor pursuing a career as surgeon, as the filmmakers tries to understand the motivation of why someone would want to become a surgeon. Another part is an interview with an experienced surgeon, who on the one hand demystifies the craft by telling that everyone can learn it, as it is a craft. On the other, he reveals that he has never been on the table himself and doesn’t want to because he knows the risks and knows there are bad surgeons.

During the several operations we witnesses, some focus on the surgical technique as the director is obviously fascinated with the process and how the surgeons regard our insides. Some scenes focus on the hierarchical interrelations of surgeons, nurses and assistant nurses, and he records their discussions about what to do (right in the middle of the operation, sometimes amid great disagreement!), and the jokes they tell. It’s interesting to be confronted with one’s fears and taboos in a well-crafted film with highly unusual imagery.

Life is a Long Lasting Day

leben_ist_ein_langer_tag_01Svenja Klüh (Germany) shot her film in black and white, underlining the grey existence of an unemployed couple with a small child living in a worn-down, one-room flat in a Warsaw suburb. The director has created an intimate portrait of this small family, their troubles and fights and how their hopeless circumstances depress them. The mother screams at her child when she won’t sleep, the couple scream at each other when the husband sleeps in instead of going to work. Klüh has an incredible closeness to the characters that empathetically and deeply discloses how this way of life affects human nature. A new baby soon to be born represents a ray of hope to the parents, but to the viewer, the baby’s chances for happiness are obviously slim.

There is claustrophobic feeling throughout the film that was mostly shot inside the small apartment. Feelings are conveyed in the many close-ups of the depression and sadness in their faces. The filmmaker films the little daughter sucking her bottle for comfort while her parents are fighting or ignoring her. Shots of rainy, stormy weather through the window express the mood, and the constantly drying water dripping in through the leaky windows emphasizes their difficult situation.

A raw slice of reality, devoid of romance. Its harshness is filmed with intensity and closeness – uncommented.

Akhmeteli 4

20080419akhmeteli4wohnungfriseurinHow do you describe the lives of ordinary people in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia? Who should you pick? Director Artchil Khetagouri decided to portray the lives of the people living in the building where he grew up. They represent typical people, living typical lives-old, young, female and male alike. As he films them, ordinary events, like childbirth, occur; the subjects talk to him and to each other. We understand how they get by: an elderly man works as a car park guard; a young woman has a small shop selling food she makes herself, another woman talks about her different husbands, and we follow the childbirth and subsequent celebrations. The film has no particular storyline, but encircles the characters and Khetagouri’s relationship to them. The tone is warm and friendly, making their lives interesting to watch-a glimpse of reality in modern-day Tbisili.

Pitching du réel

Visions du réel has joined forces with EDN to create a new kind of pitching event to strengthen author-driven feature-length docs. Only a few strands on Finnish, German, French and Swiss TV welcome this genre, while film funds play a larger role in financing as do distributors. The event was created to gather these specific financiers, and ten projects were handpicked-among them projects from esteemed directors such as Michael Glawogger, Peter Mettler and Alexander Solomon and of young talents like Jeppe Rønde and Pernille Rose Grønkjær. Each director had thirty minutes to present and discuss, and the forum was small with few observers. The projects were high quality and many projects instigated interesting discussions early on about form and ethics, so it wasn’t only an ‘are you in or not’ session. The directors could explain their project’s underlying philosophy and not only clarify the storyline and the characters. Spectators got a brief glimpse into their artistic outlook.

Presenting their way of working, i.e. of being open to where the process could take them – and thus making it difficult to write a finished script-was a clear demonstration of why this type of film clashes with TV’s funding structure. Television wants a precise idea of what a film will be like in order to commit, somehow making the creative process incompatible with the workings of modern TV, apart from the few strands on European TV that trust filmmakers (if they have already proven their talent).

It was an interesting start for a new format, and hopefully other stakeholders, such as cinema/DVD distributors, will find their way to a similar event in the future that could be interesting to them as well.