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10 Films to See at Visions du Réel 2020

As the global pandemic continues and brings much of the film industry to a grinding halt, festivals have taken to the internet to bring their catalogues for audience worldwide. One of these is Visions Du Réel, the Swiss documentary film festival now in its 51st year, which will be available online between 17.4 – 2.5.2020.

Toisto will be covering the festival remotely. In preparation for the festivities, here are the ten films we urge you not to miss in the weeks ahead.

Each of the films listed can be viewed from their linked page during the festival. The entire program — which spans a whopping 132 features and short films — can be viewed here.

A Class Story

https://www.visionsdureel.ch/en/2020/film/a-class-story

Who were you in high school? Are you the same now? What would you have said to the future you back then? This is the project that teacher Gianclaudio Lopez set for himself, allowing his students to film themselves during and outside of class over 15 years ago. Seeking them out as they approach their 30’s, Lopez and director Valerio Jalongo put together a touching — and often painful — reunion of past and present. A time capsule of the modern era, it promises to be as heartbreaking as it is life-affirming. 

An Ordinary Country

https://www.visionsdureel.ch/en/2020/film/an-ordinary-country

It’s wild to think that Poland, like many others like it, has only been free of Soviet rule since 1991. So much has happened in our recent history that we’re only just now fully uncovering. Put together from previously classified footage, AN ORDINARY COUNTRY is a deep dive into a world of total surveillance and espionage. A place where everything was monitored and catalogued under the guise of freedom. It looks absolutely fascinating. 

Davos

https://www.visionsdureel.ch/en/2020/film/davos

“What does the World Economic Forum actually do?” An incredulous audience member asks. The question proves both difficult and terrifying to answer, as Davos is at the heart of how the entire world operates. Taking place yearly in a remote Swiss village, the World Economic Forum essentially sets the course for our capitalist society, and does so at the hands of a group of old, privileged white men. Directed by Daniel Hoesl and Julia Niemann, DAVOS pulls back the curtain to reveal the machinations kept out of the public eye. It’s bound to horrify and anger in equal measure. 

El Father Plays Himself

https://www.visionsdureel.ch/en/2020/film/el-father-plays-himself

The new film from director Mo Scarpelli, whose previous picture, ANBESSA, played at DocPoint 2020 earlier this year. EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF promises to blend fiction with reality as a son returns to a complicated relationship between both his father and a place he barely recognizes. What is our bond with our parents really like in the end, and how much of that is colored by memory that cannot be fully trusted? Exploring complex relationships between family as well as our own emotional histories, Scarpelli’s latest looks like another thought provoking film not to be missed. 

Fish Eye

https://www.visionsdureel.ch/en/2020/film/fish-eye

As I’m writing this, the fishing vessel Parsian Shila is somewhere in the Oman Gulf on its way to Bandar Abbas. It has one purpose; to capture 2000 tons of tuna. The journeys aboard the ship are long and arduous, and the pay is never great. It’s crew, mainly young African men, call it their home for weeks at a time. Director Amin Behroozzadeh invites us to take part in the daily routines and reflect what ancient tradition has become under the grasp of capitalism. 

Heidi en Chine

https://www.visionsdureel.ch/en/2020/film/heidi-en-chine

In 1946, Heidi Yang’s father leaves her in the care of a Swiss family as he returns to China. 70 years later, Heidi’s son, Francois Yang, now a filmmaker, asks his mother about their past. What follows is a journey to a homeland Heidi has only known through stories, and an encounter with a distant family on the other side of the world. It asks what defines our own history? Who truly is family to us, and is it ever too late to seek closure?

Intimate Distances

https://www.visionsdureel.ch/en/2020/film/intimate-distances

Coming at a time of greater isolation than the modern world has known, INTIMATE DISTANCES feels like the panacea we needed. Casting director Martha Wollner searches for an actor for a feature film, and in doing so she takes to the streets of New York. What follows is a series of interactions between strangers, both fearful and compassionate, as the intimate direction of Phillip Warnell brings us up close with the kind of human connection we are currently unable to reach. 

Invisible Paradise

https://www.visionsdureel.ch/en/2020/film/invisible-paradise

The older I get, the more drawn I find myself to stories about life in places I didn’t know existed — or, more accurately, that existed in this way. Following the daily lives of Yulia, Alesia, and Olya, three Belarusian sisters growing up near the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, INVISIBLE PARADISE paints a startling picture of a world physically located right next door. But it might as well be on the moon. In just under an hour, director Daria Yurkevich immerses us into this ethereal plane, as we catch a glimpse of life in the shadow of human error that will never fade.

Jacques Rivette, le veilleur

https://www.visionsdureel.ch/en/2020/film/jacques-rivette-le-veilleur

Prolific filmmaker Claire Denis directed this wonderful portrait of film critic and director Jacques Rivette in 1990, yet time has not lessened its impact in the least. Lovingly charting Rivette’s life through the decades, Denis’ camera is as revealing as the questions from interviewer Serge Daney, opening up the French New Wave titan in unexpected ways. For fans of film and European art history, this is essential and vital viewing. For others, it’s a thrillingly intimate and humane discussion told in a way only Denis could. 

Non Western

Thaddeus and Nanci, a couple in Montana, are in love and looking to get married. She is caucasian, raised by a Lakota tribe. He is a Cheyenne raised by white Christians. As their wedding approaches, Thadeus seeks to return closer to the culture where his roots come from. But in that culture, Nanci’s place is one of subordination. At the same time, the endemic racism and oppression of modern American life looms over them. Can love sustain itself in a world like this, and beyond cultural divides? Directed by Laura Plancarte, NON WESTERN is a fascinating glimpse into tradition, culture, and love in the modern era.

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