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New French Fipadoc festival marks swing to non-fiction film

Poster of 2019 Fipadoc, Biarritz, using photo from a series called Autour by Olivier Culmann, taken on 10 September 2001,USA
Poster of 2019 Fipadoc, Biarritz, using photo from a series called Autour by Olivier Culmann, taken on 10 September 2001,USA credit: Olivier Culmann/Fipadoc

For years, one of the out-of-season professional events held in Biarritz, a resort on the French Atlantic coast, was centred around television production and called FipaTV. This year it has been renamed Fipadoc and is 100 percent given over to documentaries. There are several reasons for the swing to non-fiction.


One of them is as an attempt to counter the effects of widespread disinformation. Fabrice Puchault, director of the Culture and Society unit at public-funded multilingual European channel Arte points out that this change in direction come as credible factual audiovisual matter is confronted with mushrooming fake-news or disinformation.

"You cannot make a 60-minute film without a lot of work in thinking about the context, the social issues, your characters in the film of course, have to be placed in the middle of their society. Fake news is short, fake news is a statement, it is just an image."

Documentary film make is about image too. He added: "You don’t just show a picture, just an image. You build a narration, build a story. To build a story is to make links, to give context, to organise."

No matter what the subject. Be it an animal film, like France Télévisions preview screening at Fipadocs called L'Odyssée du Loup, The Wolf's Odyssey, about a wolf which has been chased out of his pack and crosses 3500 kilometres from Romania to the Pyrénées, very near Biarritz, or Human Smugglers, directed by Poul-Erik Heilbuth and Georg Larsen, Puchault says that complexity is key.

"We know that images can cheat or be fake. In docs we try to say ‘no’! Images are something you have to look at carefully. So we will not use images as proof,  but as a kind of testimony of the complexity of reality."

Catching all kinds of reality

The choice of films is very broad.Thierry Lestrade and Sylvie Gilman’s work, Algérie la Guerre des Appelés (Algeria, the War of the Conscripts) is an historical film about the moral dilemma felt by soldiers called up by France to quell the unrest in Algeria in the 1950s.

Diego Governatori’s What Madness, tackles Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. Vitaly Mansky, in a Latvian, Czech and Swiss co-production called Putin’s Witnesses gathers testimonies from Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and Vladmir Putin himself, to grasp how Putin came to power in 1999, and no doubt, shed some light on how, 20 years later, he’s still running the show.

Totems and Taboos, directed by Belgian Daniel Cattier, is one of the many art films.

Cattier enters the Africa Museum in his country, a vestige of colonial power, which has been returning works to the places of origin. One of Arte's documentaries  is Chabrol, the Anti-Conformist, about the French New Wave film-maker Claude Chabrol, where he talks about himself, itself a complex and creative task.

Maurice Béjart, the dancer and choreographer who marked more than one generation of contemporary performers, is a Franco-Belgian tribute to The Soul of Dance.

On the pulse

New technology, virtual reality, interactive, new talent, a range of forms as well as a focus on films from Germany, a retrospective of French film maker Serge Viallet's work and and a one-off screening of US director Michael Moore’s anti-Trump documentary Farenheit 11/19 are part of the dense programme.

Impact is a yet another section, one of this year add-ons, and defines to some degree the festival's social and political colour

Christine Camdessus, the executive and artistic director of Fipadoc explain:, "These films are selected because they would be promoting social justice, human rights, protection of the environment. The idea is that some films can help us to see the world or the other in a different way and can promote a better way to live together on this planet."

Fipadoc kicks off with Michael Epstein’s musical history called John and Yoko: Above us only sky on Tuesday 22 January.

Camdessus says this film should please allcomers, general public and professionals alike, and sets the tone for the festival, "It sort of gives a message that we like. The idea that you could write a film 50 years ago and imagine a better world. Well, let’s bet that this is going to give luck to this festival, to give people the chance to imagine new things just by watching good films.

The other 90 or so films continue screening in Biarritz, till 10 prizes are awarded on 27 January.


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