Documentary Film Award

France's international Fipadoc film festival finds place in the sun at last

FIPADOC Documentary filmmaking festival, held in Biarritz, France, June 2021.
FIPADOC Documentary filmmaking festival, held in Biarritz, France, June 2021. © Fipadoc

Chilean film The Mole Agent (El Agente Topo) directed by Maite Aberdi has walked away with the Grand Prix Ciné+ at the Fipadoc International Documentary Festival. A treat for the audience in Biarritz, able to enjoy an event long-delayed due to the Covid pandemic. Among the 150 documentaries shot in places as diverse as DRC, Norway and Romania, many films chose to walk a fine line between real-life and fiction.

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Usually a cool January fixture, the Biarritz-based French documentary festival took place under the scorching June sun, pushed back due to Covid lockdowns.

Determined the festival should go ahead, the organisers cast care to the ocean wind, to the delight of the local film buffs who kept their social distance and wore masks throughout.

In the face of pandemic adversity, the festival organised screenings for some 150 films from the world over. Some filmmakers from abroad even made it to exchange with audiences.

One of the main prize winners, The Mole Agent follows an eighty-year-old man who has been employed by a private detective to check out a retirement home where the detective’s clients’ mother lives.

The naive would-be spy, hired to find out if residents are being mistreated, finds himself the centre of much attention from the ladies, created numerous comic encounters and twists.

First screened at the Sundance Festival in 2020, it was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards (Oscars).

The festival's opening opus looked at divisions in society in Indes Galantes by French director Philippe Béziat who says he likes to pick out the “political in performing art”. This central theme is played out in his documentary about Clement Cogitore’s 2019 urban version of the Baroque opera by Rameau, Les Indes Galantes, performed at the Paris Opera House at Bastille.

Béziat follows the work in progress through the eyes, bodies and minds of dancers whom Cogitore brings together in a rare fusion of hip-hop, voguing, krump, break-dance and others.

In almost two hours of the artists’ high-energy, commitment and beauty, Béziat shows how artists manage to break barriers among themselves, between so-called high-brow and street, but a gulf remains between the most of regular opera audiences and artists who do not hail from the elite.

The Fipadoc documentary film festival 2021 opened with ‘Indes Galantes’ by French director Philippe Béziat who captures the “political in performing art” in Clement Cogitore’s 2019 urban version of the Baroque opera by Rameau.
The Fipadoc documentary film festival 2021 opened with ‘Indes Galantes’ by French director Philippe Béziat who captures the “political in performing art” in Clement Cogitore’s 2019 urban version of the Baroque opera by Rameau. © les-films-pelleas

The young Europeans jury, picked Collective, a Romanian and Luxembourg co-production. As the film unfolds, the tension increases and the documentary directed by Alexandre Nanau reaches a peak of suspense beyond that of some fictional thrillers. In the background, from start to finish, is the tragedy at the Colectiv Club in Bucharest in 2015, where a huge fire killed 64 people and injured 146.

On an entirely different note, the festival devotes an entire section to films with the music theme, and also works on art and artists.

In the The Painter and the Thief, Benjamin Ree explores the edgy relationship between an artist and the drug addict who has stolen one of her works from an exhibition. Neither of them seem to know or care where it will lead them. Quite a see-saw projection which won the Mitrani Award for best first or second film.

The Painter and the Thief, a film by Benjamin Ree (Norway). It won the Mitrani Award at the 2021 Fipadoc documentary film festival. Courtesy of Neon
The Painter and the Thief, a film by Benjamin Ree (Norway). It won the Mitrani Award at the 2021 Fipadoc documentary film festival. Courtesy of Neon © Neon

Bringing TV and cinema documentaries to their big screens in Biarritz, and beyond, the Fipadoc is aiming for its usual winter slot in January 2022.

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