What is the focus of this year’s edition? Do you have a theme for the films selected in the festival this year?
Each year we have a Focus program and this year the country in focus is Serbia. For the program we selected eighteen films covering the last decade, and as part of our industry activities five projects will be pitched during the festival.
Besides this, Claire Simon is our Maître du Réel this year. This is a homage section dedicated to a filmmaker working both in fiction and documentary. Each year we also have two Ateliers, which combine retrospectives and master classes with two directors. This year we invited Robert Green from the United States and Philip Scheffner from Germany.
How did you choose these three guests? And why Serbia?
The three of them create a spectrum of approaches and these three homages are meant to offer a certain span of practices and subjects. In the case of Robert Green, he is working on the tension between documentary and fiction in each film he makes, while Philip Scheffner has a very political interest that takes various forms. For me it is important to follow how his work evolves, getting sometimes more radical. Claire Simon on the other hand has a more classical approach, based on direct cinema but with a very personal style, and her fictions always have a remote relation to documentary.
Regarding the Focus program, which is a specific part of the Festival supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, I felt like Serbia was the obvious choice, since we have a strong relationship with the country, and happen to always have had interesting films coming from there. The structure of the Focus relies upon countries that have a consistent cinematography over the last 10-20 years, as well as producers and directors currently developing new projects. In Serbia there are many interesting people working in film at the moment and in the past few years. I am sure it will be very relevant to share and exchange ideas with them.
If you would have to describe the festival in five keywords that would describe what the festival is and what it means to you, what would those keywords be?
One keyword: cinema. It’s really all about the cinema. I will never just be looking for topics or for subjects. I am interested in some subjects, of course, and I want us to have many subjects, topics and protagonists, but what I am truly interested in is the way one is looking at them and trying to translate them into a cinematic language. Sometimes you find films that make you let go of everything you know because the film is so overwhelming it somehow embraces you, and in the end you feel that you have experienced something you didn’t expect. That’s what I am mostly looking for. But again, beyond this, the spectrum should be wide and open.
What does the term “movie that matters” mean to you?
A movie that matters is a film that is going to stay with you. There are, of course, movies that matter for different reasons. Some movies are important for what they are saying. For some others, you cannot summarize and easily describe them or their effect because you have to experience them.
What are for you three documentary films everyone should see and why?
The first film would be Taste of Cement (Ziad Kalthoum). It world premiered last year at Visions du Réel, and it’s a film that succeeds in being both very strong and politically relevant and successful in terms of aesthetics–adventurous in its form and artistic proposition. Sometimes when directors are trying to make strong artistic statements there is the risk of creating a distance between the film and its subject and even more so if the subject is political. But that is not the case with this film. And I am also convinced that it is a film that can reach quite a large audience, which is very interesting for me as well.
The second film is Day of the Sparrow by Philip Scheffner (who is having a retrospective at Visions du Réel this year), a film that is again quite political but very delicate in its construction. While you watch it, things are somehow adding up without you noticing it, until you reach a turning point–at which nothing special even happens–when you suddenly understand how the film works and realise everything has been wrapping itself around you the whole time. For me that is something quite “magical.”
And last I’d choose Pietro Marcello’s Bella e perduta, which is very elaborate in its structure. It deals with both history and current political matters, and at the same time goes back to the Italian commedia dell’arte. That makes it for me a wonderful film because it succeeds in having a very sophisticated narrative without losing its poetical dimension.
What is the standing of documentary films, compared to ten years ago, and also regarding your festival?
On one side big festivals are more and more interested in documentaries, and that is something that makes me really happy and is ultimately very positive–even if we lose a few films. Large awards have been introduced both in Cannes and in Berlin. Docs end up winning big competitions–I am of course thinking of Gianfranco Rosi’s film, but it is not the only one. And I think that this is great and very relevant in the way one regards documentaries. I also find it interesting that the separation between documentary and fiction is becoming less relevant; there are many people and films that evolve in a hybrid area.
In our case, we have doubled our audience in the last seven years–from 20,000 to 40,000–so that is a really good sign. And we do collaborate with independent cinemas that work like distributors for some films. There are new ways today to show films. And festivals still have an essential role to play.