International Film Festival Visions du Réel Nyon Welcomes 1st Interreligious Jury

Festival Report by Robin Gurney, Jury President

The first Interreligious Film jury appointed by INTERFILM, SIGNIS and the John Templeton Foundation made its presence felt at the international film festival “Visions du Réel” in Nyon, Switzerland, 18 - 24 April, 2005.

The four members of the jury came from Germany, Switzerland, India and the UK and were commissioned to award two prizes: an interreligious prize valued at CHF5,000, jointly sponsored by the Swiss Catholic Church for SIGNIS and the John Templeton Foundation for INTERFILM, and a prize which featured a film highlighting science and religion, sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, also to the value of CHF5,000.

In a private meeting with the director of the festival, Jean Perret, the jury were made to feel welcome, wanted and at home. This was the 11th year in a row that the festival in its present guise had continued, in the words of Jean Perret, “its search for ways of expressing the spirit of creation, of disobedience, of resistance and of solidarity that are capable of creating bonds between us, of keeping us constantly on our toes, willingly and unremittingly unsettled”. Although small in comparison to some of the better known international festivals, Nyon, in a privileged geographical position, just down from Geneva and overlooking Lac Leman, this year registered a three per cent increase in attendance, 26,000 entries with 18 films in competition and another 143 screened.

The competition films covered literally, all subjects from birth to death. Birth being in the controversy over human reproduction using frozen embryos,( “Frozen Angels”) to death, highlighting the Swiss organisation “Exit” which advocates the right to die in dignity using a self-administered poison.

In between there was plenty to contemplate, from the fascination with old American cars in Cuba, or the vibrant music scene in Brazil, to what could be seen as an exploitation of EU farming subsidies in a part of Poland.

The Interreligious Jury however chose as its winner the film “Fata Morgana” by the Finnish film directors Anastasia Lapsui and Markku Lehmuskallio.  This hour long film cleverly mixes historic footage, puppets and contemporary conversations to tell the story of the Chuchkis, Eskimos from Asia, conquered and then gradually absorbed by Russia. This was not a forced absorption but rather commercial colonisation using tobacco, axes, knives, sugar and alcohol, plus what is described as a “systematic policy of “de-identification” –  abolishing the language and giving each child a Russian name.

The jury, which was assisted in the selection of the John Templeton Prize by INTERFILM Jurycoordinator and President Hans Hodel, chose a remarkably contemporary and scintillating story of life in a Georgian village where the intrusion of the outside world is testing and changing peoples attitudes to life in general and to the west in particular. “The pipeline next door” by the young French director Nino Kirtadzé, tells the story of how villagers react to the news that an oil pipeline is coming down their valley and the compensation that they expect to receive as it encroaches on their land. Coming to terms with post-Communist life, learning to deal with changing government laws and facing up to an international oil giant are aspects of the story which could be replicated many times over throughout the world but especially where large deposits of oil are transited. It was a great joy to the interreligious jury that the festival’s international jury also awarded this film the Grand Prix. 

The meetings of this first interreligious jury were a lesson for those engaged in interreligious dialogue – straightforward, but harmonious, understanding and consensual in decision making. The festival, in what for those of us with previous jury experience found somewhat unusual and perhaps unsettling, appoints a staff member to “assist” in the jury’s work, in the end this proved to be a positive rather than an adverse experience.

Of the festival as a whole the jury were impressed by the range of films on display, although would have welcomed more from non-European directors; and by the organisation of the festival and the facilities provided. Comments from the festival director at the close of the event revealed that he too was extremely positive about the participation of the interreligious jury feeling that they had fully entered into the ethos of the festival.