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Dutch film-maker takes honours at Nyon festival

The first prize at the Nyon documentary film festival has gone to a Dutch film, "De grote Vakantie" ("The Long Holiday"). The four Swiss entries failed to merit a mention.

The renowned Dutch film-maker, Johan van der Keuken, picked up the SFr15,000 prize at the 31st Nyon documentary film festival, for De grote Vakantie". The film is a meditation on life and death, and follows the film-maker's journey through four continents after he learned that he was suffering from terminal cancer in 1988.

Rather than dealing with the prospect of imminent death, the film "captures the breath of life with a camera that reflects different incarnations of life itself", in the words of the international jury.

Several other documentaries were awarded special mentions by the jury, but the four Swiss entries were not among them.

The festival, with its picturesque setting in a small town on the shores of Lake Geneva, has gained a reputation with documentary film buffs over the years.

"It's fantastic to show a film at a festival", said Molly Dineen, whose portrait of ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell ("Geri") was first shown on television in the UK last year. "You get in touch with the public, and what is special in Nyon is that as documentary film-makers we are not marginalised as we would be at other festivals that include feature films."

The "Visions du Réel" (Views of the Real) festival is Switzerland's third most important film festival after the International Film Festival in Locarno, and the annual show of Swiss films at the "Filmtage" in Solothurn.

It has always been an opportunity for Swiss documentary-makers to show their films. Whereas Swiss feature films are rarely successful internationally, there is a strong tradition of Swiss documentary film-making. This is evidenced by the presence of editors of specialised international television programmes, who turn up at Nyon every year.

"I think there is something like a common approach to documentary film-making in Switzerland, at least in my generation", said Hans-Ulrich Schlumpf, who made his first films in the 1970s. "We still like to indulge in a process of slow observation, and to stick to the 90-minute-format, which is the length of films shown in cinemas, and which, unfortunately, is increasingly coming under threat from television producers who prefer shorter, and 'faster', documentaries."

Schlumpf's own "The Swallows of Gold Rush", which got a first screening at the Nyon festival, explores the life of gold-diggers in the harsh conditions of Dawson City in the north-west of Canada. Using both gentle and harsh images, but without being patronising or intrusive, the film manages to convey the idea that modern gold-digging is not "just a pay-check", as the diggers would have it, but that it has as much to do with the fascination with gold as it had 100 years ago.

"Jour de Nuit" ("Day of Night"), which is partly experimental and partly documentary "on the essence of light" by Berne-based film-makers, Dieter Fahrer and Bernhard Nick, received mixed reviews at Nyon. At its centre are three characters, a mountain farmer who has taught himself landscape painting, and two blind actors in Paris.

The only Swiss documentary film that is both set in Switzerland and deals with a politically-relevant issue is "Helldorado" by Daniel Schweizer. The film, which was shown daily to groups of schoolchildren in addition to its official festival screening, follows a group of punk rebels in Geneva.

Schweizer uses the confidence he eventually gained from a group of teenagers to great effect. "Helldorado" is an intimate portrait of half a dozen self-styled rebels. Nothing is played down - their lives as hard-drinking squatters come across as being driven not only by anger, but also by doubt and tenderness towards each other.

"In a society which is becoming less and less tolerant it is important to see beyond the clichés", Schweizer said in an interview with Swissinfo. "Teenage rebels, inadequately described as 'punks' or in any other term, first appeared in the USA. Our societies should find new creative ways to deal with these modern tear-aways."

by Markus Haefliger

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