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Andrea Picard • Artistic director, Cinéma du Réel Festival

"Imagination cannot be categorised"

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- We met up with Andrea Picard, the new artistic director of Cinéma du Réel Festival, the 40th edition of which is due to take place in Paris from 23 March to 1 April

Andrea Picard  • Artistic director, Cinéma du Réel Festival

Working since 1999 for the Toronto International Film Festival, where she directs the Wavelengths section, the Canadian-born Andrea Picard has also taken on the role of artistic director of Cinéma du Réel Festival (40th edition to be held in Paris from 23 March to 1 April - read the news here).

Cineuropa: What personal touch do you want to bring to the editorial line of Cinéma du Réel?
Andrea Picard:
 I have always had a lot of admiration for this film festival as it unites the history of cinema with contemporary content. The challenge was to find a way to celebrate its 40th anniversary, to pay homage to the festival's prestigious origins (under the aegis of Jean Rouch, with Joris Ivens on one of the first juries, etc.), but also to explore in a youthful way. There are many debut films this year that I wanted to mix in with the Cinéma du Réel regulars. There is a common thread running through the editorial line of the four competitions (international, French, debut films, short films), as well as a lot of medium-length films this year because it's a very popular form these days. It's important to find a place for films that transcend categories. We’ve also launched an anniversary publication, Qu'est-ce que le réel? (What is "real"?), in which more than 40 directors, thinkers and critics address the real world, not only in cinema, but also in modern society. We’ve programmed a section in connection with this publication and have asked filmmakers to present films that that have been screened at Réel that are very important to them. I’ve also organised an exhibition with an American artist, Lyle Ashton Harris, who works on the notion of personal and political archives.

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What criteria do you use to select films for the international competition?
I wanted to see strong aesthetic gestures. For me, these days the richness of documentary form lies in what can’t be categorised. And form and content must go hand-in-hand. All the films in competition this year offer cinematographic proposals, in addition to having political and personal proposals in terms of content. The themes that have come up this year include cycles of violence (such as in The Waldheim Waltz [+see also:
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interview: Ruth Beckermann
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 by Ruth Beckermann), environmental concerns (agriculture and forests, in particular), the instability of some governments, endangered traditions, family relationships as a place of comfort but also of alienation, and self representation.

What is your position on the battle that festivals engage in when premiering films?
We have a lot of world and international premieres, but I didn’t want to say no to films presented at Berlin a few weeks ago. They are very strong films and it’s important to show them at film festivals such as Réel, which has a very important local audience – audience members who don’t necessarily participate in the festival circuit. We need premieres in order to protect the festival’s status – and there is a lot at stake – but it's mostly a question of balance, and I don’t like to refuse strong films that will have an effect on the history of cinema because they’re not being premiered.

What do you think of the current discourse on the increasingly permeable border between documentary and fiction?
I think this “hybridity” has existed since the beginning of cinema. Some directors are in favour of direct cinema, while others insist on the need to observe reality with a journalistic point of view, especially in the "post-truth" era which has given rise to Trump, among others, with the complicity of the media. While other documentary filmmakers argue that these are only constructions once a framework is imposed or people are aware of cinema, even in Wiseman's films. This debate has been going on for 100 years. At Cinéma du Réel, we want to give priority to documentaries, but we also want to open ourselves up to the dialogue between fiction and reality. That’s why we’re screening the French premiere of Zama [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Lucrecia Martel
film profile
]
 by Lucrecia Martel and The Wandering Soap Opera by Raoul Ruiz and Valeria Sarmiento, which is due to open the festival. It’s a way of saying yes to hybrid films that speak about reality – about the "real" – but in a different way, because imagination cannot be categorised.

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