Peter Mettler Returns to Visions du Réel with Bold Epic Film Series

Peter Mettler (“Gambling, Gods and LSD,” “The End of Time,” “Becoming Animal”) returns to international doc film fest Visions du Réel with an unusual proposition for this 54th edition: an epic seven-part series, featured both in competition and in the Work-in-Progress section.

The Swiss-Canadian filmmaker picked up the Grand Prix at Visions du Réel in 2002 for “Gambling, Gods and LSD,” and was a special guest at the 2020 edition, which presented a retrospective of his work that has deeply influenced documentary-making in the 21st century.

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“While the Green Grass Grows” is Mettler’s most personal project to date, a cinematic diary shot over the course of three years, from 2019 to 2021, running some 11 hours in total.

Parts 1 and 6, featuring his parents, were screened together in a world premiere on April 24 as part of the fest’s International Competition, with the aim of demonstrating the narrative and sensibility of the entire project.

The other parts were presented in the Work-in-Progress industry section where Mettler and his long-time producer Cornelia Seitler were seeking partners to help complete the editing and post-production process.

They shared their ambitious distribution goals for this project which lends itself both to television and streaming services – “This is our dream,” according to Seitler – as well as festivals and other curated cultural events.

“We need distributors to make movie theaters shine with special events,” said Seitler. “Museum curators are welcome as the series could also be adaptable as an installation in an interesting space.”

“Where the Green Grass Grows” is a bold cinematic proposal, which Mettler himself describes as “a cinematic blog for the 2020s, a filmmaker’s diary built on tradition.”

“This is filmmaking as a spiritual practice,” he said. “Like most other art-forms, revelation comes from the unpredictable processes: for filmmaking to move forward in its contribution to culture, I believe such processes deserve to be nurtured.”

Asked about the title at a Q&A following the screening, the director admitted that he hadn’t set out to make this film, but rather wanted to explore the expression “the grass is always greener on the other side”: how it related to his parents, who left Switzerland for Canada as young adults, and “how it seems our perpetual desire of other is actually an essential part of evolution itself,” he said.

Mettler’s loss of his parents and his own unexpected encounter with mortality following a COVID vaccine are central to the series, which takes viewers on a three-year journey across three continents.

These include following the Rhine river through the Swiss Alps where Mettler’s parents came from, a road trip across America ending in a town named after a game show, a stay in a Cuban film school experimenting with the documentation of dreams, and a renewed awareness of nature in Toronto gardens during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Mettler explained how lockdown led him, like many others, to rummage through his cellar, where he discovered footage of an old interview with the Dalai Lama, which also features in the series, underlying musings on the cycle of life and reincarnation.

At times tragic or comedic, philosophical or poetic, the diary is laced with psychedelic and experimental imagery that enhance its trance-like feel, underlined by an immersive, steady sound design, which Mettler said was mostly down to his editor and close collaborator, Jordan Kawai (“Bangla Surf Girls,” “Stage: The Culinary Internship,” “Shadow Girl”).

“A lot is to Jordan’s credit. The way I always like to approach editing is to work the sound and the picture at the same time. So, we’re constantly incorporating music, sound effects while we’re picture editing. That breeds an intact, complementary relationship between image and sound, and they become more holistic, more organic,” he said.

“While the Green Grass Grows” is produced by Zürich-based Maximage and Mettler’s Grimthorpe Film, with the support of private foundations and investors, and Switzerland’s Succès Passage and Succès Cinéma film funding.

It is one of 14 films running in the main International Competition at Visions du Réel, which wraps on April 30.

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