Visions du Réel Artistic Director Emilie Bujès reflects on the leading Swiss doc event, held online in 2020 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Emilie Bujès admits that she was very worried before Nyon 2020. She felt she was leading both her team and filmmakers into a situation whose outcome she couldn’t be in any way sure of. Yes, the producers and directors had agreed to her creative online vision for the festival but they were, nevertheless, investing a whole lot of faith, especially as so many of their films were world-premieres.
“You feel responsible,” Bujès says. “And you want to make sure that you can offer something that reflects the respect you have for the work that has been made and for the value that you place in those films. For me it was a really big deal.”
“There are audiences everywhere for these films and we have to somehow fight to reach as many as possible, because that is part our mission,” she adds.
In the end, the event “exceeded all our expectations,” Bujès points out, from both festival and industry perspectives. “That is the thing that we are most happy about, that the films have been watched. They have been discussed. They have been embraced and they have been appreciated.”
The 134 films that were placed online for public consumption were viewed 60,500 times, the majority reaching the limit of 500 spectators per film. The festival screened these films in collaboration with Festival Scope (in partnership with Shift 72), Tënk and Doc Alliance. The discussions with the filmmakers, debates and Masterclasses (Claire Denis, Petra Costa and Peter Mettler) garnered audiences of in excess of 4,500 people and remain available on the website. Click here for winning films.
“On the industry side, something amazing happened,” Bujès comments. “For Pitching du Réel, for instance, it was all very complicated technically with its three-stage structure [public pitch, then the ‘round-tables’ and then the one-on-one meetings, all conducted online]. There were time differences and people found themselves in the wrong room, but then at the end you have two hundred people attending the Industry closing ceremony. They are there, they are paying attention and they are moved.”
“The geographic dimension is so obviously magical,” she adds. “The fact that you can have people from everywhere without any kind of constraint, people spending nights having one-on-one meetings because of the time difference. Having this kind of ephemeral community that is geared around projects was inspiring.”
“And the fact that everybody is at home, there is something that is much more intimate, very fast, you are not in this professional one-on-one meeting sitting on this white chair in a white space, you are much more at home talking to people in a different space and time, and I think we really benefited from that.”
Understandably, Bujès doesn’t want to muse so much on the 2021 event, and is relieved that she won’t have to grapple with such uncertainties again for a little while. She nevertheless offers an analysis.
“I try to imagine, will it be a physical event? If so, how physical? Which restrictions? And again I am back to how I was a few weeks ago kind of not knowing. Uncertainty is not an easy thing to deal with….The lack of information is huge and makes your work a lot more complicated,” she says. “But realistically I have the feeling that 2021 won’t be a regular edition yet, and so we will have to be creative and invent again something else. Maybe it will be a hybrid event, which may be a reasonable solution, like some Autumn festivals are currently considering.”
But at least she will have time to prepare a programme with all options in mind, and can pre-determine those films that will perform better online and “those films that will really require, or would benefit most from, a launch in a theatre.”
And from an industry perspective, there is no doubt that the wider online reach can be of benefit to projects in the future. (Bujès points out how a number of international commissioning editors who had rarely attended Nyon in the past were regular online participants in 2020.)
“We learned to do things in 2020 that we didn’t know how to do before, so for us that is very precious, and we now know that there is a way to involve [participants] that [doesn’t have to be] physical, both for the programme and for the industry,” Bujès says. “That is something we cannot forget, because it is our mission to make sure that projects get access to top industry professionals they wouldn’t usually have access to, [professionals] who cannot attend all the platforms, but who are very interested in what is on offer.”