‘While the Green Grass Grows’ by Peter Mettler Wins the Grand Prix at Visions du Réel

While the Green Grass Grows” by Peter Mettler won the Grand Prix of the International Feature Film Competition at the 54th edition of Visions du Réel, in Nyon, Switzerland, on Friday.

The Swiss-Canadian director was competing with an unusual project: made in the form of a diary filmed from 2019 to 2021, “While the Green Grass Grows” is in fact a series of seven episodes with a total duration of about 11 hours. It was the finished parts one and six of the series, totalling 166 minutes, that were unveiled in world premiere at Visions du Réel and running for the Grand Prix.

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The whole project was also presented in the Work-in-Progress section in order to find other financing and distribution platforms to finalize the remaining parts, which have already been widely edited.

“We are kind of in the middle of this journey making this film. This is an incredible encouragement and I have a lot of gratitude of being here. The odd thing, I guess, is that my parents are featured in the film and they would normally be the people I would call after to say ‘Hey, I got an award!’ But the film is about their passing, so somehow I feel there is a closure, in that having spent time with them, and time editing, their passing and now saying goodbye to them I think,” said the director on stage, visibly moved while receiving his award.

After the award ceremony, Mettler explained to Variety what participating in Visions du Réel meant to him: “We started ‘While the Green Grass Grows’ without any commitment from a TV station, a distributor or funding. It was privately funded and at some point we had to involve other people. The reason we couldn’t get funding at the beginning is that it was an exploratory approach, and that’s something we really wanted to do, to discover things by working, combining step by step, and now we can show the result of this process. Visions du Réel was a great opportunity to test the waters and show something.”

This is the second time Mettler has won the Grand Prix at Visions du Réel, following his 2002 victory with “Gambling, Gods and LSD.” “It’s interesting to see the progression of cinema in general over 21 years. When I came to Nyon, I had the same feeling as when I made ‘Gambling, Gods and LSD,’ because both of these films are outside of the usual realm of filmmaking. I was happy to see the kind of projects that are being made now, shown and rewarded. I think it’s a step forward in terms of the risks that people take, the debts that they go into with their work.”

“A complex and moving work of assembly, a circular film that searches, annotates and remembers. An imposing virus, rivers and ashes that echo one another in a cycle of life and death, brought together in a long diary of great formal freedom,” said the jury, composed of Florence Almozini (U.S.), senior director of programming of film at Lincoln Center and member of the New York Film Festival and Rendez-Vous with French Cinema selection committees, David Epiney (Switzerland), co-founder of production company Alina Film, and filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho (Brazil).

It was a win that delighted the festival’s artistic director, Emilie Bujès, who was also very touched by the project: “For me, these two episodes are already essential, and I have no doubt that the seven episodes together will become a very important work in film history, so I am happy they have been unveiled and awarded at Visions du Réel. It’s a very personal project, probably more intimate than most of Peter Mettler’s other films, it addresses simple and at the same time universal themes, like the loss of a parent. It’s also a very solid work from a cinematic point of view.”

It is the second time in a row (and the fourth overall) that a Swiss production has won the trophy. Last year, Swiss director Tizian Büchi was awarded for his first film “The Island” (L’Ilôt), due to be released in Swiss cinemas next month. “At one point, Visions du Réel had been more an international festival, so, symbolically, these two prizes are emblematic of the fact that today we are both an international event as well as there to launch Swiss films, to give them the echo and the boost they deserve,” said the festival director.

The runner-up Special Jury Award went to “Defectors” by Hyun kyung Kim (South Korea, U.S.). ” Love, loss, guilt and mystery, merge and shift this family portrait into a complex reflection on migration and identity, explored through the prism of history and political issues,” the jury said. The Special Mention went to “In Ukraine” by Piotr Pawlus and Tomasz Wolski (Poland, Germany), which had its world premiere this year in Berlin. The jury decided to give its special mention to the film because “the current flow of video images on the global news feeds is bypassed here as this film builds its own collection of images. These are crime scene photographs, to be seen now and in the future.”

In the international competition Burning Lights, dedicated to new and adventurous perspectives in cinema, “Knit’s Island” by the French trio Ekiem Barbier, Guilhem Causse and Quentin L’helgoualc’h, shot entirely in the survival video game DayZ, was rewarded by the jury composed of Leonardo Bigazzi, Italian curator and producer, Michelle Carey, programmer (Germany/Australia), and Swiss-Spanish filmmaker Elena López Riera, who stated: “Lastly, a film distinguished by its visceral aesthetic adventure. It plunges us into a parallel universe that, despite being virtual, unbounded by geography and common law, addresses the violence of the present times. Where brutality, satiric humor and a sometimes tender sense of community comingle, often in the same frame.”

The jury added the film was awarded “for its committed interrogation into today’s visual language from an exciting new cinematic perspective.” The French directors were also awarded the International Critics’ Award – FIPRESCI Prize, given to a first feature film entered in the International Feature Film Competition or the Burning Lights Competition.

“We’ve seen films shot in video games before, but not in such a radical way,” Bujès commented. “It is a feature film and it really raises a lot of questions about cinema. How do you frame, cut, edit it? The directors spent 963 hours in the video game, it’s a spectacular job! Their win sends out a strong signal and shows that the jury really understood what we want to do with this section.”

The Special Jury Prize in the Burning Lights section went to “This Woman” by Chinese director Alan Zhang, questioning the role of women in contemporary Chinese society, “for its impressive boldness and provocation,” the jury said. It added: “It is a film that more than any other engaged us in deep and animated discussion. A debut work that impresses with its mastery of editing and the dispositive. A complex portrayal of a multilayered character that blurs the lines between performativity and vulnerability, with a brazen presentation of her contradictions and desires, spilling in from beyond the frame.”

Zhang told Variety: “This is our first feature film, first festival, and first prize so we were really excited to see the positive reactions to our film! We now feel motivated and encouraged, because we feel we were seen by the jury and the audience. And that encourages us to make another film.”

What’s their next step? “We have some ideas for a film about feminism, womenship. Alan Zhang has been working in a feminist group for five years already. She’s a feminist activist. ‘This Woman’ gave her a chance to express her values and thoughts on being a woman, a mother and about womenship,” festival liaison and post-producer Yasmin Wang told Variety, who accompanied Zhang and co-producer Hihi Lee.

In the Burning Lights section a Special Mention was also awarded to “Guián” by Nicole Chi Amén (Costa Rica).

The National Competition awarded “Chagrin Valley” by Nathalie Berger, a first feature recording the daily life of residents of a retirement home. Jurors, Swiss programmer Anne Delseth, Italian filmmaker Francesca Mazzoleni, and French producer Eugénie Michel-Vilette, were impressed “by the youthfulness of the director, her masterful direction, and by the modest and generous way she introduces us to memorable characters around the sensitive issue of care.”

In the national competition, all three prizes were awarded to women directors, with the Jury Prize going to “The Wonder Way” by Emmanuelle Antille and the special mention to “La Maison” by Sophie Ballmer.

“Eleven of the 18 films awarded this year are the work of female directors,” Bujès told Variety. “We don’t have quotas and are of course dependent on the films that are sent and their quality, but we have a strong desire to have the best possible balance between the genres. The 2023 edition was really marked by the presence of women, also with our guest of honor Lucrecia Martel and special guest Alice Rohrwacher, alongside special guest Jean-Stéphane Bron.”

The rest of the awards list included:

International Medium Length and Short Film Competition

Jury Prize for the best Medium Length Film
“Self-Portrait Along the Borderline” by Anna Dziapshipa (Georgia)

Jury Prize for the best Short Film
“Losing Ground” (Myanmar)

Special Mention
“Vampires, It’s Nothing to Laugh At” by Kinga Michalska (Canada)

Special Youth Jury Award for a medium length film
“La Ricerca” by Giuseppe Petruzzellis (Italy, U.S.)

Special Youth Jury Award for the best Short Film
“Voices of November” by Lam Can-zhao (China)

Interreligious Award
“Pure Unknown” by Valentina Cicogna and Mattia Colombo (Italy, Switzerland, Sweden)

Zonta Award
“This Woman” by Alan Zhang (China)

Perception Change Award
“Against the Tide” by Sarvnik Kaur (India, France)

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