Strong characters dominate Swiss Doc projects at Visions du Reel

A miner in Germany’s last coal mine undergoing a gender reassignment, a prima ballerina fighting for her status after becoming a mother, a repentant hooligan turned kickboxing champion, a father fleeing the former Uruguayan dictatorship, Rejected refugees waiting to be deported and stunt women being beaten after a hit for the film industry: to say that the 5th Swiss Films Previews at the doc film fest Visions du Réel presented us with strong characters is an understatement.

Six promising films that will soon be launched on the festival site and on the international market have been selected for the event and pitched to the VdR industry. Five of them were directed by women (co-directed for “Red”). Four of them are first features. The quality of the excerpts and the contemporary originality of the themes make them all beg to be seen as finished films.

Here is an overview of what we can expect from the Swiss high-end documentary film market.

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“Stunt Women” (“Cascadeuses”)
“Today I was shot,” Petra sums up when her mother asks her about her everyday work: everyday life for the Swiss stunt woman, who has been working in Los Angeles with the biggest stars in the world for over 20 years. She is one of the three characters in “Stuntwomen”, the first feature film by director Elena Avdija.

Tired of getting hurt at work and living in the shadows, Petra is now trying to become an actress in Hollywood. Meanwhile, in France, Virginie is also in transition: After dying on screen for two decades, she wants to become the first female stunt coordinator in Europe. In one of the excerpts presented in Nyon, we see her being thrown out of a moving carriage and impressively standing up as if nothing had happened, ready to repeat the scene.

How much pain can a body endure? Young Estelle, who is training to be a stunt woman, still has no answer and dreams of powerful women’s roles. But she will soon find that the reality could be very different. “As viewers, we are used to seeing women being kidnapped, raped, murdered and beaten up in the cinema from an early age. It is the heart of our industry,” says Elena Avdija. “My documentary questions the uneasiness about this topic.”

Produced by Bande à Part Films and Alter Ego Production and due out this fall, Stuntwomen puts these women in the spotlight for once and looks like a future highlight.

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Courtesy of Visions du Reel

“Based on a True Story”
As a member of a solidarity group that visited deportation refugees at Zurich Airport, director Lisa Gerig was able to gather information for her first feature film for years. She chose to untold the story for too long: what are the criteria, not just in Switzerland but across Europe, to be granted asylum? “Every refugee has to tell their life story to the authorities. With my film, I want to shed light on this process based on storytelling,” she said in her pitch.

To stand a higher chance, candidates must be good at speaking as persuasively as possible, as emotionally as possible, and without ever contradicting themselves.

Lisa Gerig’s film portrays three rejected asylum seekers who re-enact their asylum hearing and once again talk about their trauma. The interviews are reproduced under the exact conditions of the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration, with three real interviewers conducting the interviews according to official rules. It gives the viewer a glimpse into what used to be a complete black box.

Producer Eva Vitija (Ensemble Film) and Lisa Gerig hope to make real impact with the film and create dialogue around the subject. That bodes well for the future: Lawyers and migrant organizations have already expressed great interest in the film, which is expected to premiere in early 2023.

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Courtesy of Visions du Reel

“Become Julia”
Former dancer at the Zurich Opera House, director Laura Kaehr makes no secret of having suffered in the highly competitive and male-dominated world of pointe dancing, where, as she puts it, “you’re finished at 25”. Still, she didn’t hesitate to return there for three years of filming to make her first feature film, Becoming Giulia, a subtle critique of the inequality suffered by women in the ballet world.

“When Giulia Tonelli, prima ballerina, confided in me that she was pregnant and scared, I knew immediately that I had to tell her story,” Kaehr recalled at the previews.

Shot in a very cinematic way, without interviews, her film offers an unprecedented immersion into the backstage of a large opera house and follows the protagonist in her greatest challenge: not to be pushed aside after returning from maternity leave.

“Every day is intense for dancers at this level, and so was it for me,” Kaehr tells Variety. “Every day I had to find the courage to return to this place where I had had some not so nice experiences, although it could have been so nice if women had been treated differently. Perhaps the most difficult thing for a documentary filmmaker who comes from the same background as the protagonist is never to intervene and let reality unfold. Sometimes I filmed while crying.”

The film, produced by Point Prod, is scheduled for completion this summer. Due to the fame of its protagonists, the strong themes it deals with, the beauty of its sets, dance scenes and the director’s mastery of the subject, it seems to be heading for strong international interest. “I want to find a distributor who loves film as much as we do and who understands this type of filmmaking that doesn’t start from something intellectual, but from a visceral need to tell a story with tremendous passion,” Kaehr tells Variety.

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Courtesy of Visions du Reel

“I could remember” (“Para no olvidar”)
When director Laura Gabay’s father died three years ago, she found dozens of Super 8 reels and audio recordings he had exchanged with his sister, who lives in Brazil. Footage showing and telling the story of her father and aunt after they fled Uruguay after the 1973 military coup. Missing bits of her family history that Geneva-born Gabay never discussed with her father. “Finding these shots was the starting point of my film,” she explained at Visions du Réel.

“Viewing brought back so many memories and so many questions that will remain unanswered. Through this work, I wanted to rebuild my family’s history and question the silence caused by exile. This silence can grip entire families and be passed from one generation to the next.”

Very touching excerpts revealed the extensive writing and editing work Gabay went through to give her father his voice back, combining his still imagery with his independent audio recordings and her voiceover in Spanish.

This first feature also shows how political issues affect families, their identities and their legacy.

Produced by Ecran Mobile and Les Sœurs Jaouen, it is expected in spring 2023.

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Courtesy of Visions du Reel

The sport saved his life, says former European kickboxing champion Francesco Laquale. Somehow the training allowed him to control his violent inner being. But his past as a hooligan still haunts him and is reflected in everything he does.

London-based director Mara Manzolini came up with the idea for a documentary about him: “I knew Francesco from Lugano, where we grew up,” she told the audience. “I hadn’t seen him in years. When I found out about his past, I was shocked. How could our life become so different?”

In a constant quest for self-control, with the constant support of his girlfriend, Francesco’s story is one of redemption. We see him grow through the film, becoming a trainer, an inspiration to a group of young people and to a little girl who dreams of becoming a kickboxer herself.

To talk about his past, which Laquale still finds difficult to put into words, Manzolini and co-directors Andrea Pellerani and Elodie Dermange decided on three animated parts in black, white and blood red. “The animation also allows us to push the boundaries of reality, get inside his head and confront him with his fears in a fictional way,” they explain.

Produced by Amka Films Productions and Nadasdy Film, the ani-doc is expected in fall 2022.

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Courtesy of Visions du Reel

“We were buddies”
A man’s world in the Ruhr area made of dust, heavy physical work and civil engineering. A world that no longer exists: In December 2018, the country’s last underground mine closed its doors. Before that, the Swiss director Christian Johannes Koch and the German director Jonas Matauschek spent two years researching and filming the everyday life of the miners.

“Six years ago I read an article about this mine closure and wanted to see for myself. It felt like a museum of industrialization, time seemed to stand still, and I found it odd to see a professional environment that was still exclusively male, Koch tells Variety. “As closure neared, we began filming before we had completed the research.”

As a result, the script evolved over the months of immersion and as they discovered the personal stories of the five main protagonists. Directors followed them through late 2021 as they attempted to reinvent themselves after their profession simply disappeared.

Based on different timelines, the film addresses change on several levels: ecological change, the loss of identity due to the collapse of the professional environment, but also the gender change caused by the protagonist Martina.

“She’s been very interesting to follow because she struggled on her own for 40 years to be who she really is and finally changed while working at this coal mine. Today she is the only one among the protagonists who still works in a mine, but this time in a salt mine.”
Presented at the Venice Gap-Financing Market 2020 and winner of the Kompagnon Fellowship of Berlinale Talents in 2021, “Once We Were Pitmen” has already attracted great international interest. Produced by Catpics and elemag pictures, it will be ready to premiere in late 2022-early 2023. Strong characters dominate Swiss Doc projects at Visions du Reel

Charles Jones

Charles Jones is a 24ssports U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Charles Jones joined 24ssports in 2021 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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