Visions du Réel Prizes ‘Faya Dayi,’ ‘1970,’ ‘Les Enfants Terribles’

John Hopewell
·4 min read

Jessica Beshir’s mesmeric Sundance hit “Faya Dayi” won big at Visions du Réel on Saturday, scooping both its top Grand Jury Prize as well as a Fipresci International Critics Award.

The prize – and Beshir’s surprised but ecstatic acceptance via Zoom from New York – brought to a climax a festival which, as director Emile Bujes pointed out at the closing ceremony, was one of the first to go completely online in 2020. This year, she noted, it became one of the first to open up an on-site component after third-wave COVID-19 launching second-half-of-the festival cinema screenings and welcoming 200 industry members. The initiative came after the Swiss government announced, one day before the festival began, that theaters could re-open in Switzerland.

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Tomasz Wolski’s “1970” and Ahmet Necdet Cupur’s “Les Enfants terribles” shared the prestige Swiss doc fest’s Special Jury Prize, an effective runner’s up plaudit.

The prize split captures the essence of Visions du Réel. Two of the three films are feature debuts at a doc festival which functions as a new talent platform. All three films expand on traditional doc formats – in line with Visions du Réel’s hallmark tradition for hybrid fiction-reality works.

Described by Variety as a “stylish documentary” which “eschews anthropological detail for enveloping clouds of atmosphere,” Mexican-Ethiopian docmaker Beshir’s “Faya Dayi” portrays an Ethiopia whose older generation are caught up in the lucrative business and physical effects of khat, Ethiopia’s biggest cash crop and a mellow stimulant, while its youngest generation dream of emigration.

“An arresting arrival for its solo director-writer-producer-DP,” “Faya Dayi” is, however, “predominantly a mood piece that seeks to evoke the leaf’s own perception altering properties,” the Variety review runs.

The latest film from Polish documentarist Wolski (“Palace,” “An Ordinary Country”), “1970” is a full-on hybrid, mixing black and white news reel footage of Poland’s 1970 street protests at food price rises with historic recordings of conversations between Poland’s security force high command, six of whose members are portrayed via stop-motion puppets.

The stop-motion figures’ immobility – sometime the only in-frame movement is the whorl of their cigarettes – captures the mental stasis of a regime, incapable of moving forward, talking itself into a brutal repression of popular protests in which 41 protestors died.

World premiering at Visions du Réel, “Les Enfants terribles” delivers a telling portrait of modern Turkey as a younger generation, embodied in the director’s own siblings, rebels against traditional family values and child marriage. In the director’s case, his brother Mahmut wants to divorce his newly-wed wife and his sister, Zeynep, decides to end her engagement and get a factory job.

In Burning Lights, the festival sidebar dedicated to new documentary expression, the top award went to “Looking for Horses” from Stefan Pavlovic, a work that jettisons pretensions to objectivity in its story of a building friendship between the filmmaker and a Bosnian fisherman.

“Splinters,” from Natalia Garayalde, nabbed a Special Jury Award for its analysis, using archive footage, of the 1995 explosion of an Argentine munitions factory whose legacy lives till this day.

Directed by Fisnik Maxville, “Nostromo” won Visions du Réel’s National Competition for Swiss films. The films chronicles the relations, past and present, between Canada’s indigenous populations and European settlers.

The National Competition’s Special Jury Award went to “Chronicles of That Time,” a portrait of the Mediterranean as shared myth rather than shared space.

Winner of the festival’s Inter-Religious Award, Abdallah Al-Khatib’s harrowing “Little Palestine: Diary of a Siege” depicts life in a Palestine refugee camp whose inhabitants are slowly dying from starvation after war breaks out in Syria.

VISIONS DU RÉEL 2021 FESTIVAL AWARDS

International Feature Film Competition

La Mobilière Grand Jury Prize

“Faya Dayi,” (Jessica Beshir, U.S., Ethiopia, Qatar)

Région de Nyon Special Jury Award

“Les Enfants terribles,” (Ahmet Necdet Cupur, France, Germany, Turkey)

Burning Lights Competition

Canton de Vaud Burning Lights Prize

“Looking for Horses,” (Stefan Pavlović, Netherlands, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France)

Special Jury Award – La Société des Hôteliers de la Côte

“Splinters,” (Natalia Garayalde, Argentine)

Special Mention

“The Great Void,” (Sebastian Mez, Germany)

National Competition

SRG SSR Prize

“Nostromo,” (Fisnik Maxville, Switzerland)

SSA/Suissimage Special Jury Award

“Chronicles of That Time,” (Maria Iorio and Raphaël Cuomo, Switzerland)

International Medium Length & Short Film Competition

Clinique de Genolier Prize

“Strict Regime,” (Nikita Yefimov, Russia)

Special Mention

“My Quarantine Bear,” (Weijia Ma, China, France)

Fondation Goblet Prize

“The Communion of My Cousin Andrea,” (Brandán Cerviño, Spain)

Mémoire Vive Prize

“If You See Her, Say Hello,” (Hee Young Pyun and Jiajun Oscar Zhang, China)

Special Mention Short Film

“The City of the Sun,” (Maria Semenova, Russia)

International Medium Length & Short Film Competition

Ecole Moser Youth Jury Award

“Trees in Summer,” (Suyu Lee, South Korea)

International Critics Award – FIPRESCI Award

“Faya Dayi,” (Jessica Beshir, U.S., Ethiopia, Qatar)

Inter-Religious Award

“Little Palestine (Diary of a Siege),” (Abdallah Al-Khatib, Lebanon, France, Qatar)

Zonta Award

“Pushing Boundaries,” (Lesia Kordonets, Switzerland)

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