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“Taking stock of documentary filmmaking as a cinema of mise-en-scene”: this was the idea that gave shape to this edition of Cinéma du Réel, along with the decision to showcase the work of three filmmakers from different corners of the cinematic map. First, with the first French retrospective dedicated to Claudia von Alemann, a pivotal figure of German feminist cinema and one unafraid to mix different languages and narrative devices. Ultimately, these varied approaches coalesce into a body of work that sits at the crossroads of political, shared and personal experience. Second, with the pioneering figure of independent US cinema, James Benning, an avid explorer of America and a keen observer of its history, whose explorations of the country’s storied and eventful landscape create an experience of time and space. Third, with Jean-Charles Hue, whose films, standing halfway between documentary and fiction, plunge us into the heart of a troubled, dangerous and intense reality, in company of the Yenish community in France and with the social outcasts of Tijuana. Documentary filmmaking spans a vast territory whose porous and changing borders allow for formal as well as narrative experimentation. The competition explores these manifold experimentations through a line-up of French and international productions, short- and feature-length, made by emergent filmmakers and acclaimed directors. Experimentation is also the through-line of First Window, a category dedicated to outstanding debut films put forward by a new generation of filmmakers. Popular Front(s) and Special Screenings complete this line-up of contemporary documentary films which investigate and provide new readings of the world we live in. 

Cinéma du réel also invites viewers to set out on an alternate, more anarchic, and less definite path. Like parts of a rhizomatic process, films complete each other, look at each another: Marie-Pierre Duhamel spoke of films as “holding hands”. Films reframe the tensions that run through our present, bringing out its rugged complexity, its friction, as well as what is in plain sight: the obvious persistence of colonial power experienced by the inhabitants of overseas territories, as shown by the films of Martine Delumeau and Malaury Eloi Paisley in Guadeloupe, by the films of Cécile Laveissière and Jean-Marie Pernelle in Réunion, and by the films of Florence Lazar in Martinique; and the obvious persistence of colonial power which gradually emerges from Mati Diop’s Dahomey, this year’s opening film. Colonialism is again at issue in Soundtrack of a Coup d’Etat, which draws a connection between the American Civil Rights Movement and independence struggles in African countries. It looms large in Raphael Pillosio’s Les Mots qu’elles eurent un jour, which centres on the story of women combatants during the Algerian War, beautifully portrayed by Yann le Masson upon their release from prison. The portrait of these modern and deeply committed women who fought for freedom in 1962 is a reminder that the fight against the patriarchy is neither new nor over. Feminism, if we so choose to call it, will also be at issue in the retrospective dedicated to Claudia von Alemann, and in the films of Claudine Bories, Natacha Thiéry, Sabine Groenewegen, and Kumjana Novakova, among others. Each of these screenings will offer a chance to reflect on the political experience of women filmmakers, on their work, and on their trajectories. And then there is Gaza: not as the event suddenly bursting into our lives and leaving us stunned, as if by some suspension of time, but as something happening to us all and reshaping the way we consider the present, human relations, and our relation to the world. What is happening in Gaza, at this very moment, informs the way we watch films: not only those coming to us from Palestine, but those from Sarajevo and from the Nagorno-Karabakh as well.

Catherine Bizern

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