DOC Quarantine Nyon

Report of the Online Edition of Visions du Réel Nyon 2020. By Annet Betsalel

For the last ten days of April my horizons have widened enormously during the forced corona-quarantine weeks. Yes, you can communicate with the whole world on-line, you can binge-watch film series, but nothing gets you so out of your comfort zone as diving deeply into the world of documentaries. And luckily the Nyon based festival Visions du Réel, although the physical festival was canceled, provided an on-line version, so we could watch a very diverse selection of documentaries from all around the world.

As members of the Interreligious Jury we couldn’t meet in person, but I have a feeling that we really got close to each other. We formed an interesting and diverse group, each with his or her professional, cultural, religious and personal background. What we all had in common was our interest in the human family - and of course documentary films, and it’s been wonderful to have met people with whom you could exchange thoughts at such level. So, even if it was a somewhat tiring experiment of watching hours of documentaries at home and discussing them every morning, I’m really grateful to have met my virtual fellow jury members André Joly, Blanca Steinmann and Ali Biçer. Hopefully we’ll all soon meet in real life, maybe even shake hands by that time…

But first of all, a word of thanks and appreciation for all the women and men who made these films, who explored the world around them or dove deep into worlds that interested them. Long, often arduous projects, generally made with very little financial support into which they threw themselves with passion – with amazing results. A big applause for the creators!

Now I’d like to share my feelings about some of the Nyon selection of long documentaries, hopefully they can soon be watched during other festivals, in the cinema, on-line – or maybe on television. The diversity of the films made it very difficult for us as a jury to compare, after all, we had to hand out an award in the end, but let me draw a (very limited) picture of that diversity.

The film Davos, directed by Daniel Hoesl and Julia Niemann (Austria 2020), balled up all the worries of the world into one filmic kaleidoscope: from the stables of a small, struggling dairy farm to the stages of the world leaders, from the Portuguese migrants cleaning the posh hotels to the confident regional politicians in their suits, from the hunters in the mountains to youngsters fearing their deportation in an asylum center. And all this in the small town of Davos with hardly 11.000 inhabitants and with the World Economic Forum as central scope. From big political issues, to the day to day problems of everyday people.

Another Switzerland located film addressed again political and personal issues: NEMESIS, by Thomas Imbach (Switzerland 2020). For many years he followed the tearing down of the old freight train station in the center of Zurich and the building of an immense police station and detention center for asylum seekers. With these images he created a ballet with a rhythmic symphony of the builders, the giant machines and the lone visitors such as young pranksters climbing the remains, and a lone and curious fox. Beneath these hypnotizing images we hear Imbachs very personal voice over and besides him, we hear the testimonies of detained refugees, seeking asylum in Switzerland, hearing of their plights in jail – which is also the ultimate usage of this inhumanely massive pile of concrete.

A film where the esthetics didn’t lead was Punta Sacra by Francesca Mazzoleni (Italy 2020) in which we (almost literally) were immersed in a small community living between the Tyrrhenian Sea, the river Tiber and the threat of the authorities who want to demolish the small town. A very intimate portrait of several strong women trying to survive, and transfer their values to the next generation. The film received the main award of Visions du Réel, the Golden Sesterce, for best long documentary.

Then there were very poetic films like Amor Fati by Cláudia Varejão (Portugal, Switzerland, France 2020), highly personal and intimate films as Non Western by Laura Plancarte (Grand-Britain, USA, Mexico 2020) , almost abstract films that brought reality even closer than if it would have the real world in it, Purple Sea by Amel Alzakout& Khaled Abdulwahed (Germany 2020). Absolutely all the different ‘Visions du Réel’, visions of reality, that you can imagine. Still, we had to make a tough choice, and the award of the Interreligious Jury went to Fuera del camino (Off the Road, Mexico, USA 2020) by José Permar. You can read elsewhere in the website our report of this delightful film, which left us with a joyful mood and hope for the future. (*)

Well, it would take too much to describe the many films that have touched us, so find a way to watch them yourselves and share our experience. Hopefully we can all go and see new films next year, together, instead of behind our computers, now comfortably seated in the cinemas of Nyon.

(*) See also the interview of Luciano Barisone, former director of Visions du Réel, with José Permar: