Science Films at Visions du Réel

The 55th edition of Visions du Réel, Switzerland’s international film festival dedicated to non-fiction filmmaking, is currently under way. Through April 21, the festival will screen 165 films from 50 different countries across cinemas in Nyon. We have identified the 32 science or technology-related films in this year’s lineup, with descriptions quoted and excerpted from the festival program below.

Among the selection’s 22 world premieres, we are particularly intrigued by Tobias Nölle’s PREPARATIONS FOR A MIRACLE, which festival programmers praise as “a political journey of reflection on the environment and technology.

Fans of Gerard Ortín Castellví, whose AGRILOGISTICS screened at MoMI’s First Look Festival last year, will be pleased to see his new film BLISS POINT counted among the five international premieres below.

We also recommend Virpi Suutari’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN A FOREST, making its Swiss Premiere. Check out Nic Rapold’s interview with Suutari here.


APPLE CIDER VINEGAR. Dir. Sofie Benoot. World Premiere. “What do a kidney stone, a volcano in Cape Verde and an English geologist have in common? . . . Somewhere between a nature documentary and philosophical fable, this puzzle-like film invites us to examine the link between the human body and the planet.”

FAR WEST. Dir. Pierre-François Sauter. World Premiere. “Angela and Jair trawl the volcanic coast . . . They must learn to coexist with the visiting big-game fishermen looking for blue marlin. In adeptly composed frames, Pierre-François Sauter shows the effects of coastal international tourism on Cape Verde.”

RISING UP AT NIGHT. Dir. Nelson Makengo. International Premiere. “As the Congo prepares to build Africa’s largest power station, the people of Kinshasa are engulfed in darkness. As the population struggles to receive access to electricity, they rely on makeshift lights. . .”

Still from RISING UP AT NIGHT. Courtesy of Visions du Réel.

THE LANDSCAPE AND THE FURY. Dir. Nicole Vögele. World Premiere. “Along the Bosnian-Croatian border near Velika Kladuša, the paths of mine disposal experts, migrating families and locals cross . . . A deeply telluric film, a kaleidoscope of landscapes haunted by the fury of past and present.”

WHERE THE TREES BEAR MEAT. Alexis Franco. World Premiere. “In the Argentine Pampas, life seems to be on hold. A prolonged drought is killing off the livestock and threatening the existence of Omar, a farmer. . . Alexis Franco confronts the harshness and fragility of a condition in this western in the age of the Anthropocene.”


BILLY. Dir. Lawrence Côté-Collins. World Premiere. “Billy is diagnosed with schizophrenia. With the help of the filmmaker, his only remaining relationship apart from his family, his personal archives become an invaluable resource for understanding his illness. A formal deconstruction of schizophrenia through a remarkably open-minded gaze.”

CAMBIUM. Dir. Maddi Barber, Marina Lameiro. World Premiere. “In an attempt to reclaim pasture for their cattle, the inhabitants of an ecovillage in Navarre decide to cut down a pine grove planted as part of a state-funded reforesting initiative . . .”

Still from CAMBIUM. Courtesy of Visions du Réel.

PREPARATIONS FOR A MIRACLE. Dir. Tobias Nölle. World Premiere. “A friendly android travels back in time to our present day and observes its human customs. Its wanderings spark some delightful conversations with its fellow machines. In search of a king from whom to extract valuable data, its system runs up against repression . . .”

TAMINA – WILL THERE EVER BE WHAT USED TO BE? Dir. Beat Oswald, Lena Hatebur, Samuel Weniger. World Premiere. “Wolves are returning to the Swiss Alps, and Beat Oswald, in this co-directed project, is determined to see one. Arriving in the idyllic Tamina valley, his encounters with the inhabitants and tourists force him to start questioning our place in nature . . .”

THE DIARY OF A SKY. Dir. Lawrence Abu Hamdan. World Premiere. “In 2020, as the pandemic brings the world to a standstill and silence sets in, artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan sets out to document Beirut’s noise levels– which are increasing dramatically, particularly in the airspace. An investigation, in the form of an essayistic collage, on the militarization of the skies.”


SAUVE QUI PEUT. Dir. Alexe Poukine. International Premiere. “At the hospital, the nursing staff appraise their methods through role-play with actors. The empathy required to tell a patient that they have cancer, or care for their loved ones, requires practice . . . Alexe Poukine probes the hospital milieu and the symptoms of a structural crisis.”

VALENTINA AND THE MUOSTERS. Dir. Francesca Scalisi. World Premiere. “Niscemi, Sicily. A landscape shaped by intensive farming, wildfires, and MUOS: imposing military antennae that disfigure the territory. . . A delicate tale of emancipation rooted in a ravaged yet beloved land.”


ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE FOREST. Dir. Virpi Suutari. Swiss Premiere. “Ida, Minka, Ville, Otto and Eerik are just some of the young activists working to protect Finland’s forests. Through sensual images, we follow these heroines and heroes as they confront the giants of the forestry industry and share their moments of osmosis with nature . . .”


GRAND THEFT HAMLET. Dir. Pinny Grylls, Sam Crane. Swiss Premiere. “As the UK enters another lockdown, the future is looking bleak for actors Sam and Mark. As they dive into Grand Theft Auto with their avatars, inspiration strikes: isn’t this the perfect 'setting’ for a play about revenge? . . .”


IRON BUTTERFLIES. Dir. Roman Liubyi. Swiss Premiere. “. . . In this investigation combining images taken from the Internet and court documents, the filmmaker shows how the Russian regime, denying any involvement in the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, unleashed a form of digital propaganda that has since been widely employed in the invasion war.”


AS THE TIDE COMES IN. Dir. Juan Palacios and Sofie Husum Johannesen. Swiss Premiere. “The 27 inhabitants of the marshy island of Mandø live separated from the mainland by tides, dreaded tourist visits and migrating birds. Among them is the farmer Gregers, on a quest to find a woman willing to live there with him . . .”

THE HUMAN SURGE 3. Dir. Eduardo Williams. “Different groups of friends wander the four corners of the world, trying to escape their depressing jobs. In the process, they explore new possibilities, while different dimensions seem to overlap. A constantly surprising visual trip shot entirely with a 360° camera . . .”


A TERRIBLE BEAUTY. Dir. Iram Ghufran. World Premiere. “What makes a body human? This science-fiction fable shot in China foreshows the rise of AI. Time behaves fluidly as we travel into the near future in the company of an unusual pair: Blue and her friend, a mannequin named Lucy . . .”

BLISS POINT. Dir. Gerard Ortín Castellví. International Premiere. “Gerard Ortín Castellví concludes his trilogy on the food we eat . . . By delving into the gleaming workings of the distribution chain, Bliss Point elegantly eviscerates the well-oiled machinery of an industry for which nothing matters more than optimization – certainly not human beings.”

CYBORG GENERATION. Dir. Miguel Morilla Vega. World Premiere. “An encounter with several cyborg artists persuades 18-year-old Kai to acquire a new sense. He develops a cybernetic organ which allows him to hear cosmic rays from space as sounds. A tender and extraordinary transition then unfolds, a quest to be one’s best self, far from the standards of normativity.”

Still from CYBORG GENERATION. Courtesy of Visions du Réel.

DE GALLO QUI OVAVIT. Dir. Nina Forsman. International Premiere. “Which came first... the rooster or the egg? It’s a question that has perplexed the human mind since ancient times. On 4th August 1474, an egg-laying rooster was publicly executed on the town square in Basel. Nina Forsman takes this bizarre historical fact and uses it to create an arresting if slightly absurd investigation . . .”

GOING SOUTH. Dir. Alan Sahin. World Premiere. “April 2023, the Gotthard Road Tunnel. Glued to the asphalt at the entrance to the pride of Swiss engineering, climate activists are causing horrendous traffic jams on the holiday route to Italy . . . a social laboratory which wryly juxtaposes the climate emergency with our mundane everyday interactions.”

HYDROELECTRIC JOY. Dir. Alexander Markov. World Premiere. “Vadim Rudenko, a young hydraulic engineer and amateur filmmaker, is working on the construction of the Aswan Dam in Egypt, at the cost of his burgeoning relationship with Vera, who has stayed behind in the USSR . . .”

IN PRAISE OF DARKNESS. Dir. Adrián Balseca. World Premiere. “Deep in Ecuador’s Mullumica Valley, figures are busy extracting obsidian, an opaque volcanic rock. The rock then begins its metamorphosis, transported from the quarry to the pristine confines of a laboratory where it takes on its ultimate role – as a replacement for the director’s artificial eye . . .”

INTO THE MAGNETIC FIELDS. Dir. Sandra Schäfer. World Premiere. “Machines work the countryside, birds fly over the fields and robots imitate human movements. Ornithologists and cutting-edge robotics make for an unlikely yet fruitful encounter, as the artist Sandra Schäfer questions post-humanist modes of production. What will the relationship between nature and culture look like in the future?”

IT WILL BE BETTER BEFORE. Dir. Keto Kipiani. World Premiere. “In 2018, two filmmakers meet up at the Abastumani Astrophysical Observatory in the mountains of Georgia, in an effort to capture the beauty of the place . . . Could their shared fascination with the stars and this timeless place have concealed unexpressed romantic feelings?”

Still from IT WILL BE BETTER BEFORE. Courtesy of Visions du Réel.

JIZAI. Dir. Endo Maiko. World Premiere. “In a laboratory, a child is the object of a mysterious experiment. Aided by a robotic prosthesis – or is it the other way round? – the child receives sense data from our world: the sound of water, the feeling of the sun, courage, dreams. What does an AI need to feed on to push the limits of human abilities?”

THE ANALOGUE TRACKS. Dir. Florent Meng. World Premiere. “A crystal hunter finds a quartz crystal on the Mont Blanc massif. The mineral passes through the hands of geophysicists, acoustic engineers and gemmologists, exploring our potential for communication with the inanimate world . . .”

TIME SENSITIVE CHARACTERS. Dir. Coralie Hina Gourdon. World Premiere. “Online, sleep has become an art form. While a game creator attempts to teach the concept of time to his AI, online gamers fall asleep during seemingly never-ending quests, some livestream their own sleep, and AMSR artists create soundscapes for peaceful slumber. A fascinating observation of the world of cyber-sleep.”

TOMORROW, THE BURNING HEAVENS. Dir Max Bloching. World Premiere. “The Alps, 1560. A rare meteorological phenomenon causes the sky to ‘catch fire’. People fear the Apocalypse, which then manifests as a cold snap that dramatically affects the harvests. This narrative, interwoven with images depicting the technical management of the Alpine landscape, creates a fascinating dialogue between the ancestral apocalyptic imagination and the unfolding climate collapse.”


512 X 512. Dir. Arthur Chopin. International Premiere. “Using images already available on the internet, text-to-image programs can sometimes create monsters. 512 × 512 explores the biases of Artificial Intelligence through the shocking images it can produce by synthesizing ‘the entire memory of the world’: high-tech nightmare visions that reveal what we have repressed.”

GENE:SIS. Dir. Kia Krebs. World Premiere. “Laboratory rats are born under neon lights, in endlessly stacked plastic trays. Here, the relationship between man and animal is ambivalent: tenderness comes gloved in latex, and the violence of experiments looms on the horizon. With remarkable framing and sound design, GENE:SIS takes us right into the animal’s point of view.”

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