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Cinéma du réel catalogue 2011

A man facing the void, hands in the air. What is he looking at ? Is he surrendering ? Is he being held at gunpoint ? Is he signaling to someone in the valley ? A mist is rising from the valley like a murmur of the world, but what is it announcing ? 

“Cinéma du réel”. Many people envy us this title. Sometimes it’s even borrowed without us knowing. Fortunately, “le réel” does not have a copyright yet, but over time, the name has become a sort of trademark for the festival. At times, this name resonates in an opaque way, since it can be read (or transformed) as a dogma, a label, a protected designation of origin, an identity… 

Giving full meaning to this name (as it was the case for the first 32 years) also means fertilizing it, festival after festival, and opening it up to the distinctive imagination of filmmakers. This word desperately needs the imagination of those who, beyond an image or the illusion of a world, offer us a genuine look at the world. “What can cinema still do ?”, we sometimes ask ourselves. What can documentary still do, when we are under the impression that everything has been said, that everything has been shown, that each film corresponds to a point wedged right between the abscissa and ordinate axes of a grid that claims to tell the story of the world ? As an initiative of mere monstration (well, one can hear the word monster in monstration…), documentary is wearing itself out. But not when it continues to be an act of creation. Not when it ventures into untouched territories of flowing speech. Then it remains sharp, rich, and a bearer of utopia and density. It helps us grasp the fertile complexity of the world we live in. A cinema that prevents us from going around in circles, a foundation that crosses fashions and so-called revolutions (revolutions that actually just come down to spinning round). “Documentary is real life”. A foolish expression that we heard again this year, as the introduction to the Documentary Award at the César ceremony. These words are further proof that the documentary’s specificity we defend is often neither understood nor recognized, even within our cinema family. The gap between the industry and documentary creation is wide, it is an abyss at the bottom of an ocean. 

We must not give in to the temptation to seek the refuge that language sometimes offers. We must question the very words we use, evoke them with care, refine their usage… And since we have to share their use with those who abuse them, we must increase the accuracy of their scope when we use them. “Ethics”, “Gesture”, “Documentary”, “Otherness”, “Cinema”, “Connection to the world”, “Point of view”, or “Right distance” are precious words. No one is immune from using them wrongly, but we can’t help but often feel deprived of a precious tool : our common vocabulary. 

We must reflect on the meaning of this whole enterprise. Why make documentaries ? Why watch them ? Why show them ? Who are they for ? How ? We must refine our practices, right down to the act of transmission. We must accept the limits of festivals, for they are places that welcome such varied desires nowadays. We must make sure that they don’t become just pipes that have to be filled, recipes that have to be followed to the letter. I think that the specificity of “Cinéma du réel” is salutary in today’s festival landscape. We base our choices far from any strategy, from any convenient opportunism that sometimes goes hand in hand with the world premiere’s diktat, which some festivals of our size confine themselves to applying. Far from any resigning stance, we offer a dense and open programme, generous in its unpretentious approach, with a strong editorial project aimed at the festival’s audiences. 

We must discuss documentary ethics. And if some people confuse morality with ethics, then it’s too bad. We must react to the flow of images around us, even when they are documentary images… In this society of media where social criticism is embodied in the figures of “columnists”, “experts” and “humorists”, where images become spaces of exhibition and conflict, large surfaces of reparations and discourse, it is urgent to assert something else through cinema. We must talk again about the ethical and political implications at work in the framing, sound recording and editing choices made in films. We must go back to basics. 

Once again, the programme is rich. The stitch is fine, dense, but the weaving reveals the resonances between the sections, between recent films and heritage, between films that seem to have nothing to do with each other at first glance. Because a festival is a wonderful place for audiences and filmmakers to come together, but also a wonderful place for very different films to come together. 

Enjoy the festival, and much pleasure to you all. 

Javier Packer-Comyn 

Cinéma du réel 2011 catalogue