Filmgoers will be treated to a programme full of reality at Visions du Réel, a Swiss film festival beginning in Nyon on Thursday, according to director Jean Perret.
Press freedom in Russia, torture, immigration in Europe and rock icon Patti Smith are just some of the subjects broached by films competing for the top prizes at the festival on Lake Geneva.
This year, Visions du Réel sees filmmaker Jonathan Demme – director of The Silence of the Lambs - team up with former United States President Jimmy Carter, artist Julian Schnabel and singer Lou Reed. The festival will also showcase works by two Swiss filmmakers, Yves Scagiola (The Beast Within) and François Kohler (Dear Sir, Dear Father).
Festival director Perret tells swissinfo what else to expect from this year's festival.
swissinfo: What are the strong points of this 14th festival?
Jean Perret: Overall, the festival programme offers full-length films with a realistic bent. This festival has to demonstrate that these films are made for the widest possible audience.
The second axis of the festival is more thematic: there is a more marked presence this year of films with a political dimension. A more political cinema - not in the partisan or militant sense – exploring and deepening themes.
The third element is cinema's love of music. There are three films this year - one film devoted to Patti Smith, another to Lou Reed, while a third follows the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Asia in search of the perfect tone.
The fourth theme is a more autobiographical cinema, which is possible mainly thanks to small video cameras. Anyone can pick up a camera and tell a story. In Nyon there is this element of a more intimate cinema, one that explores the territory closest to filmmakers.
swissinfo: The international competition at the festival reads like a laundry list of violence and gloom. Does realism have to be heavy going?
J.P.: Yes and no. The films here address the realities of the world, past and present. They are interested in questions, problems, suffering, and injustice. There is a saying that happy people don't make a story. Realism needs stories and therefore, situations arising from contradictions or tensions.
But there are also films relying on realism that, in addressing this darkness, always try to shed light on human dignity, on why there is hope.
swissinfo: Are there films one would never see at Visions du Réel?
J.P.: In every film we look for a viewpoint, a vision that is the result of ethics, morals, values that are important to us - values such as respect for human rights, for human dignity, democracy in the larger sense.
All these values are based on the assumption that the viewer is not a consumer but a citizen. If these values are not embodied in a film, you won't see it at this festival.
swissinfo: What is your view of current productions depicting reality?
J.P.: Consciously or not, we all need more than ever to see films where the stories are believable and feel authentic. Films that tell us stories about ourselves. From this point of view there is an extraordinary potential for a cinema created by independent authors who are prepared to express their vision, their subjectivity.
But there is also room for pessimism because the essential partnership in terms of finance and distribution is television. Television enforces extremely simplistic and paralysing norms on realism.
That said, the technological revolution with its small portable cameras enables many people to express themselves. In China, there is no public support for independent documentary writers. But we are seeing films appear thanks to these new technologies.
swissinfo-interview: Pierre-François Besson
The 14th Visions du Réel festival runs from April 17 to April 23.
There are 155 films from 36 countries, including 22 films in the international categories (two are from Switzerland.)
Films are placed in ten categories, including the new First Steps section where first-time directors show off shorts.
Budget: SFr2.1 million ($2.09 million)
Visions du Réel
Visions du Réel is the most important film festival in French-speaking Switzerland, and one of three major film festivals in Switzerland along with Solothurn and Locarno.
The festival began in 1969 and became know for showing films that reflected struggles for independence, or the emancipation of women for example.
It was given a makeover in 1995 with a new strategy that included fictional and experimental films and was renamed Visions du Réel.
It is a focal point for European producers and distributors.
Born in 1952, Jean Perret has been director of the Visions du Réel festival since 1995.
Author of a book on Swiss cinema documentaries since the 1930s, he has also taught and worked as a journalist.
He founded the Critics' Week at the Locarno Film Festival in 1990.
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