Visions du Réel Artistic Director Emilie Bujès
“The festival is also going to take place in a human way, not just in a click-on-a-link way,” says Emilie Bujès of the online edition of Visions du Réel 2020. “It will still be an exchange among people.”
Visions du Réel Artistic Director Emilie Bujès freely admits that she was “in denial” about the physical festival not happening in 2020. Despite seeing other fests such as CPH:DOX and Thessaloniki having to readjust their formats, for a long time Bujès refused to accept that this fate could also befall the Nyon-based event.
“But then there was this official announcement by the Swiss authorities that cinemas would close and that gatherings of over 50 people would be forbidden, so then we thought ‘ok, now we are going to have to be very pragmatic about all this’.”
The feeling of anxiety across the industry was palpable, so Bujès felt it would make sense to offer a virtual solution first to the rights holders of the 84 films selected for the international competitions, many of which were world premieres. The great unknown was whether they would respond positively to her online proposal.
“The night before we sent the email I thought that they might all say ‘no’ and that we would be stuck with this online idea and nothing [to screen],” Bujès comments. “But 82 out of the 84 happily accepted.”
Of course, the situation still wasn’t ideal. Docmakers may crave selections at major doc events, but they also feed off smart and lively interaction with a real and present audience. What’s more, many of the directors selected at Visions are first timers who could never have imagined that their first works would world-premiere in the virtual space.
Which is why Bujès was determined to replicate the festival experience as much as possible and look to generate genuine emotional connections between the filmmakers and their audience.
“We asked all the directors to create small films or videos to introduce their films. We said it is a ‘carte blanche’, that they could do whatever they want, and of course I was expecting some of these films would be of them at home in the same situation as us all, [fellow examples of] humanity going through something that is very strange and that relates us all to each other, even if the situations are all different and [sometimes] more privileged.
“This is something that is really revealed in these short films, and we are spreading them [online] in order for people to say ‘that is so cool, inspired, touching or sad. I am going to watch these films.’”
The 2020 online Visions du Réel consists of a public-facing festival and a professional programme.
The selection comprises 170 films from 58 countries, 89 of which are world premieres. Approximately 45% of films in selection are directed by women and 24 are Swiss majority or minority productions.
Most of these productions will be viewable from April 17 on the Festival’s website (via partners Festival Scope, dafilms.com, Tënk, Play RTS, with Shift72 as technical partner). Access is open to everybody (with restrictions on territories) and free of charge, but limited to 500 viewers within a one-week window per film.
The International Feature Film Competition presents 14 films from 15 countries, including 13 world premieres, described as “singular and audacious works that freely interpret the very definition of cinema of the real and its making.”
The Burning Lights International Competition is dedicated to new vocabularies and expressions, to research and to narrative and formal experimentation. It features 15 films from 16 countries, including 13 world premieres.
All films selected for the 2020 National Competition will be available online, via the Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS) website. These free broadcasts will be available for 24 hours per film, in Switzerland.
Works by the special guests of the festival will be visible on these platforms as well. The 2020 Maître du Réel, Claire Denis, will deliver her Masterclass as planned, but online, and some of her films will be available via Tenk.fr.
Filmmakers Petra Costa and Peter Mettler, guests of Ateliers 2020, will also give masterclasses online, while it will be possible to view a selection of their films on the Doc Alliance platform (dafilms.com).
The Industry programme comprises the co-production forum Pitching du Réel (15 projects), Docs in Progress (for films close to finishing and in need of a final financial boost, 9 projects) and the Rough Cut Lab programme (4 projects). This year, the 400-title Media Library will be open to professionals from April 25.
“What I think is singular about Visions du Réel is our selection process,” comments Bujès who, together with five programming colleagues, watched 3000 submissions in 2020.
“The aim is to look for new people and for new films. We are heavily discovery-oriented, while of course also following and being faithful to directors whose work we admire. For this reason, we are very carefully watching and monitoring submissions, waiting to suddenly step on something and think ‘oh, this is fantastic, and we never heard of that person.’ It’s amazing that one can still find films that way, while there are so many pitching, training and networking platforms to research new works and directors.”
Bujès is reluctant to highlight any particular film from the 2020 programme over any of the others, and instead cites selections from recent festivals to illustrate her point, such as When the Persimmons Grew by Hilal Baydarov’s (whose subsequent films Mother and Son and Nails in my Brain were selected for IDFA 2019 and Cinéma du Réel 2020 respectively).
“If the film turns up for selection we watch it, and if it is convincing in regard to its ambitions it may get selected. It is really like that, and it is why half of the presented films are generally first features. We are very often really interested in discovering new directors and helping them entering the circuit.”
“We were the ones who launched Homeland: Iraq Year Zero in 2015, a 6-hour film by Iraqi director Abbas Fahdel who filmed 3 hours before and 3 hours after the US invasion,” adds Bujès. “He told us how he had been sending this film to many, many festivals for two years.”
So, is Bujès nervous, apprehensive or excited at the prospect of a 2020 Visions du Réel which will be quite like no previous edition?
“Things are changing very fast in this world, and it is the same at the festival. Day after day something is happening and you don’t exactly know what. You are very unsure about everything because it is the first time you are doing it, and is it right or is it wrong?” she both asks and answers philosophically.
“We will of course know at the end, but somehow, intuitively, the reaction of the rights holders told us that this was the right thing to do.”