Nyon’s International Documentary Film festival – Visions du Réel begins this Thursday 12th April and continues until the 21st. This festival is for both film professionals and the general public, with hundreds of films on offer screened throughout the day and evening. Many films are in English or are subtitled in English. During the festival, there are other events taking place alongside the film screenings, from film masterclasses to debates with film directors and more. There’s even a temporary bar at the festival, a great meeting point right in the heart of town!
Two documentaries in English are coming up this weekend Barstow, California directed by Rainer Komers and Sisters, directed by Peter Entell. They are set in different countries and continents, yet both feature individuals whose lives have taken a sad turn due to events from their childhood.
Barstow, California – screening Saturday 14th April at 14:00, Sunday 15th at 10:00 at the Salle Communale
“Mama and Papa tried 15 times to have a girl baby, but they ended up with 15 boys”, narrates the rich voice of Spoon Jackson near the start of this film. Spoon is a poet but he is also an inmate, he began serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in 1977. As he reads excerpts from his autobiography By Heart you immediately sense that life in the town was hard and tough for him growing up poor in a big family in a two-roomed shack in the town.
Many years ago, a previous director of Visions du Réel quoted this film festival as bringing the world to Nyon’s doorstep and with this film we are indeed transported into a place far removed from the 1260 postcode. Although Nyon and Barstow are similarly sized in population therein lies the only similarity. Present-day Barstow in the Mojave desert is barren, arid and dust-ridden. Tumbleweed abounds, summer temperatures can rise to 38°C, and the U.S Armed Forces National Training Centre in nearby Fort Irwin brings the noise of military helicopters, jeeps driving through the desert, and bombs exploding in military exercises.
This film is a fascinating portrait of the town and includes reminiscences of growing up in it by two of “Spoon’s” brothers and more narration by the author and poet from inside his cell. “I used to think a rainbow was made up of different coloured sidewalks, each one leading to its own mystery”.
The visual aspect of this film leaves the viewer with a deep impression of the town and landscape but the soundtrack is truly superb. The constant high pitched squeal of freight trains, the locking and unlocking of the prison doors, the soft easy going voices of the presenters on the local radio, the wind blowing through the desert scrubland all add to the image of this fascinating documentary.
Sisters – Saturday 14th 20:30 and Sunday 15th 10:30 at the Capital Leone cinema
Whilst Spoon Jackson’s life came to a halt when he was sent to prison as a young man as the result of his own actions, the lives of two sisters growing up in Australia were decided upon by other adults. Adults who kept secrets, and chose not to tell each sister that each other existed. The sisters only discovered each other later in life.
The film “Sisters” by local filmmaker Peter Entell focusses on three women, two of them biological sisters and the other, Sian, a childhood friend from Switzerland. Throughout the years Sian has become like a sister to Shelly when she came to live in St-Cergue as a young child from Australia. The opening scene begins at a birthday party in Switzerland which is being held for Shelly. Here she is visiting as an adult, blowing out candles, opening presents, surrounded by old friends and all seems well. We see the two girls reminiscing about their childhood which seemed a happy one. They played in the snow, they wander around the village, visiting their old school, pointing out where they hung their coats in the hallway, how they had to take their shoes off before entering their Swiss classrooms, it all seems idyllic until we hear the voice of Sian saying “I never realised. I thought she (Shelly) was a happy clown, at least that’s the way she presented herself. She didn’t talk about it, she didn’t complain about it until a lot, lot later”.
Then it’s revealed that the happy childhood wasn’t all that it seemed. There is a darker side to it all and here, Linda, her biological sister takes up the story. The laughter and happiness in the scenes before suddenly turn into a sad, intimate moment in the film.
The destinies of the brothers in Barstow and the sisters in St-Cergue and Australia were shaped by events and circumstances that changed their lives forever. These have been poignantly observed in these two films which will be screened this weekend.