Visions du Réel 2021 : 11 Project Profiles

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No section at Visions du Réel is as fresh as its VdR-Pitching, which frames doc projects from both new and multi-prized filmmakers that hit the Swiss doc fest with very little or no media coverage at all.

Variety has just published articles on five of its titles: “Facing Darkness,” “King Coal,” “Life After Siham,” “The Vanishing” and “The Wolves Always Come at Night.” Following, profiles of the other 11 projects teased online by their makers over April 14-16 at Visions du Réel:

“Aana,” dir: Anna Eborn, Oscar Hedin, Åsa Ekman (Sweden)

Produced by Oscar Hedin, Marina-Evelina Cracana (Film and Tell)

Director-producer Hedlin contracted bone marrow cancer as an adult. “I’ve been thinking how this affects a child. And, if they survive, what does life become like?” he muses in a teaser. Based on interviews with about 50 child cancer survivors but centering on Aana, living in a snowy Northern Sweden, the observational doc feature draws a complex answer. Facing the delayed consequences of cancer, Aana can’t get a job or play sports, suffers the sorrow of her own lost possibilities, combats fear of relapse with camping trips into the high mountain and wants to be “normal” and have the possibility of having children. Filmed in long hand-held takes, often in nature – an Eborn hallmark – over the natural cycle of the seasons. Now in early development and just started shooting.

“But Dear Lord Why?,” dir: Rati Tsiteladze (Georgia)

Produced by Nino Varsimashvili, Olga Slusareva (ArtWay Film)

Dea, 31, the director’s sister, battles to have a child – attending ancient rituals and fertility pilgrimages and attempting in-vitro fertilization – in a country, Georgia, where a woman is considered incomplete until she becomes a mother. “The film explores society’s attitude towards gender roles and expectations and how culture defines our identity,” says Tsiteladze, whose short doc, “Prisoner of Society,” was nominated for a European Film Academy Award.

“Egypt, a Love Song,” dir: Iris Zaki (Israel, U.S.)

Produced by Asaf Galay (Galay Productions)

Fresh off her first feature, “The Unsettling,” Israeli filmmaker Iris Zaki dedicates her hallmark doc technique – shooting conversations with no crew and just letting cameras run – to the remarkable life odyssey of her grandmother, Souad Zaki, a popular Jewish singer in ‘40s Egypt. The life story is told by the journey of the director and father Moshe to the key places in Souad Zaki’s life, in Egypt, the U.S. and Israel.

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Egypt, a Love Song
Courtesy of Visions du Reel

“The Last Year of Darkness,” dir: Ben Mullinkosson (China, U.S.)

Produced by Sol Ye (Mutual Friends Films)

“Growing up, throwing up, love, loss and finding freedom in China,” says director Mullinkosson about his doc feature. This follows over 2020 three of his 20-something friends’ personal stories on Chengdu China’s extraordinarily liberated underground party scene. That unspools as Chengdu grows into a first-tier city and China’s government threatens to close the scene down. An insider’s chronicle by Mullinkosson of a city which bucked the system. For a while.

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The Last Year of Darkness
Courtesy of Visions du Reel

“Looking for the Words,” dir: Joel Stängle (Colombia)

Produced by Carolina Campos (mnemo.cinema.lab)

Living deep in Colombia’s Amazon, the last of the Nonuyas embark on a journey, accompanied by Stängle, to find someone who still speaks their language. If they do, they say, they will be able to return to their sacred lands. Meanwhile, Stängle attempts to shoot their myths as cinema. The latest from the U.S.-born filmmaker whose 2020 feature, “La Niebla de La Paz,” won best documentary at the Rome Independent Film Festival.

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Looking for the Words
Courtesy of Visions du Reel

“Malqueridas,” dir: Tana Gilbert (Chile)

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Courtesy of Visions du Reel

Produced by Paola Castillo (Errante)

A harrowing reconstruction of motherhood as experienced by five women serving prison sentences, Malqueridas” mixes own video footage, shot by the mothers with forbidden cell phones, accompanied by voiceover testimony of their experiences, composed for their children. The predominant narrative arc is one of repeated separation, first physical, as children are taken away from their mothers when aged two; then the emotional toil of physical distance as mother gradually lose an affective bond with their children. “We want to highlight the political power that self-registry has for us, giving these women their own voice and freedom to express what they feel,” says Gilbert.

“Our Money,” dir: Hercli Bundi (Switzerland)

Produced by Susanne Guggenberger (Mira Film)

Via conversation with money people – candidates include a former bank robber, a representative of the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements, a prostitute and a philosopher – “Our Money,” from director-producer Bundi (“Eisenberger”), will explore the “myth” of money, how it orders people’s lives. Set up at Bundi’s prestigious Mira Films label, the company behind Sundance 2021 hit “Taming the Garden.”

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Our Money
Courtesy of Visions du Reel

“The Prince of Nanawa,” dir: Clarisa Navas (Argentina, Paraguay)

Produced by Eugenia Campos Guevara (Gentil)

Few young filmmakers sum up the new energies coursing Argentine cinema than Clarisa Navas: a woman, based outside Buenos Aires, shooting movies set on Argentina’s margins that are heavily grounded in reality. Here, she moves into non-fiction. “The Prince of Nanawa” is shaping up as an intimate diary and self-portrait of Angel, a child, growing up in Argentina’s Nanawa, a footbridge away from Paraguay, and a town devastated by security force and gang violence, floods and a lack of public services. A vignette of resilience as well as the close bond between subject and filmmaker.

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The Prince of Nanawa
Courtesy of Visions du Reel

“Science Fiction,” dir: Ezequiel Yanco (Argentina)

Produced by Ana Godoy, Ezequiel Yanco (Isoi Cine)

“Rear Window” during COVID-19, and a film that channels Argentina’s marvelous tradition of fantasy fiction (think Jorge Luis Borges). Part One has director Yanco (“La Vida en Común”) holed up during lockdown in his apartment, watching movies and spying in his neighbors. When one disappears – the Pop Girl, aged 13 who dances to music – and then returns a much muted figure, he imagines she’s been body snatched by aliens. In Part Two he stages a casting call for an actress to play her altered self. “‘Science Fiction’ turns on the sensation of living in a dystopic world where fiction and reality mix constantly and how fantasy has become part of daily life,” Yanco said at a VdR Pitch on Friday.

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Science Fiction
Courtesy of Visions du Reel

“#TimesUp Kyrgyzstan,” dir: Leigh Labobucci (Switzerland)

Produced by Veronique Vergari, Agnès Boutruche (Framevox Sàrl)

Following on Leigh Labobucci’s African funkumentary, “Take Me Away Fast,” the Swiss filmmaker portrays the attempt of 21-year-old Kyrgyz pop star and activist Zere Asylbek to launch a women’s rights movement in her country. That comes as she launches her second album, and despite Kyrgyzstan’s deeply conservative values. One of the songs, focusing on women’s sexuality, is sure to provoke a backlash, Labobucci predicts. Shot in a verity style, the portrait will also serve to humanize Zere, she adds.

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#TimesUp Kyrgyzstan
Courtesy of Visions du Reel

“Yoga Village,” Rongfei Guo (China)

Produced by Wenxin Zhong (Shanghai Jiemian CLS Technologies Co.)

Ealing comedy meets China’s 2016 13th Five-Year Plan in the first feature project from Rongfei Guo, a New York U. graduate and Student Academy Award winner.  The charismatic Lu Wenzhen arrives at Yugouliang, a remote village in China’s Hebei province, as part of the central government’s drive to eliminate rural poverty. He conceives the maybe madcap scheme of turning its inhabitants, hardened land laborers with an average age of 65, into expert yoga experts, converting the village into a tourist hub. But Lu’s highly gymnastic form of yoga is a challenge for the villagers. Just how the government will react, or whether the scheme will work, remain questions. A hilarious, irony-layered and politically-pointed portrait of the villagers’ plight, if a VdR  teaser is anything to go by.

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