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Chronology 1

1978 – 1987: The festival’s invention 

April 1978: On the initiative of Danielle Chantereau, head of audiovisual activities at the then-recent Bibliothèque Publique d’Information and of ethnologist filmmaker Jacques Willemont, the Centre Pompidou hosts the “Rencontres de Cinéma Direct”, with the title “L’homme regarde l’homme”. Their aim is to be able to “cross-reference traditional ethnographic cinema, a specialists’ domain, and a ‘different cinema’”. 

March 1979: Cinéma du réel is launched under the patronage of Jean Rouch, Joris Ivens and Frederick Wiseman, with the subtitle “ethnographic and sociological films”. It is now a competitive festival with a selection, jury, awards and guests, organized by the Bpi. in collaboration with the CNRS Audiovisuel and the Center of Ethnographic Film. 

1980: The jury, chaired by Edgar Morin, includes two historical figures of direct cinema, Canadian Michel Brault and American Richard Leacock. The Grand Prix is shared between an ethnological film (My Survival As An Aboriginal by Essie Coffey) and a “social documentation” film (Von wegen Schiksal (If this is destiny) by Helga Reidemeister). 

1983: Grand Prix for First Contact by Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson, and creation of new awards (Libraries Award, Best Short Film Award). Video makes its first major appearance at the festival : “Vidéo du Réel/Réel de la vidéo”, a retrospective of activist or experimental videos since 1970. 

1984: Creation of “Les Amis du Cinéma du réel” (Friends of Cinéma du réel), under the honorary chairmanship of Joris Ivens, to “develop the festival’s external activities in France and abroad”. Over time, the association will co-organize the festival and expand its financial base. 

1986: Cinéma du réel opens up to other cinematographic forms, under the influence of Dominique Noguez, an influential figure in underground cinema: Joseph Morder’s filmed diaries are programmed. Grand Prix for the film Eau, Ganga by the Indian artist Vishwanadan, co-produced by the National Museum of Modern Arts. 

1987: To quote its General Delegate, Marie-Christine de Navacelle, the festival “allows us to follow the work of established documentary filmmakers (Depardon, Van der Keuken, Wiseman, Perrault), discover the documentary side of fiction filmmakers (Louis Malle, Nagisa Oshima, Helma Sanders, etc.), and finally to witness the emergence of a new generation (Jorge Bodansky, Claudine Bories, Bob Connolly Connolly, Helga Reidemeister, etc.)”.