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Visions du Réel 2024: ‘Kamay,’ ‘A Move,’ ‘We Are Inside,’ and ‘Diaries From Lebanon’

By Carol Nahra

A young woman wearing a red headscarf gazes at the camera.

Kamay (dir. Ilyas Yourish and Shahrokh Bikaran). Courtesy of Visions du Réel

In the midst of what seems to be endless global turmoil, it’s not surprising that the film program for this year’s Visions du Réel’s was on the sober side. The prelaunch press release for the 55th edition of the festival, with its headline “The Eye of the Storm,” stated as much. In a year in which I have all too often turned to fleeting entertainment for distraction, I felt driven to return to Nyon for the second year running. I wanted to immerse myself in global stories, in corners of the world I know nothing about and will likely never visit. I wanted to go to places where the challenges of day-to-day living are completely different from my own. I wasn’t disappointed. 

Curated from 3,300 submitted films, Visions du Réel’s program of 165 films from 50 countries achieved gender parity for the second year running. Featured special guests included Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke, American author-director John Wilson of How To With John Wilson fame, and French director Alice Diop, each taking part in a master class in addition to slots in the film program. 

As usual, there are very few talking heads to be found in any of the program, which continues to emphasize creativity and authorship. Themes that stood out to me were the number of deeply personal films here, telling global stories through hyperlocal points of view. Many of the films were visceral, eyewitness accounts of the filmmakers’ neighborhoods. One example is No Other Land, which received the audience award at Visions du Réel after its Berlinale premiere, where it scooped up both the major documentary award and the audience award for its often-harrowing, ground-level eyewitness account of a yearslong campaign to push Palestinians from their West Bank villages. 


In the breathtakingly beautiful Kamay, which won the festival’s Interreligieux (Interfaith) Jury Award, Ilyas Yourish and co-director Shahrokh Bikaran take us to rural Afghanistan and the painful world of a Hazara family, whose lives are in limbo as they pursue answers surrounding the suicide of their daughter, Zahra, a Kabul University student. Yourish, himself a Hazara and a graduate of the same university, said in an interview with Documentary that it was a story that he felt compelled to tell, after seeing how thousands of people were writing on social media in the wake of her death about the toxic atmosphere of the university, particularly for women students. Yourish said, “When the news of her committing suicide [came out], suddenly it was in social media everywhere and people were reacting. And I felt that something needed to be done, and I just couldn’t stay indifferent, as if nothing had ever happened. You can’t even imagine how difficult it is to be a Hazara woman, because a layer of ethnic discrimination is being added to gender-based discrimination.”

The film tells the story through the point of view of Freshta, Zahra’s younger sister, who, while largely silent on screen, voices a poetic meditation of grief. The script, developed in collaboration with Freshta, stems from Yourish’s initial research interview with her. “The idea was to find a language that could really go deep, because this film was not about the events happening. This film was not about putting something in the center and telling, okay, this is the truth, this is the answer. It was about making an atmosphere to delve deep into the soul and into the inner life of the characters who are the Hazara soul, as I believe. And I’m a part of that soul.”

A Move

Many of the films featured here had filmmakers returning home, questioning their own past and family, using the camera to prod and as an excuse to ask questions. In A Move, which won the Youth Jury Award for best short film, London-based director Elahe Esmaili politely refuses to wear a hijab to an annual garden party of her extended family on a visit back to her native Iran. Her mother, determined not to be shamed in front of their host, is distraught. This film is astonishing in how natural and well-covered the observational scenes are, and how quietly revelatory the act of going bareheaded is in this time and place. It’s the only film I saw at the festival that I wish ran longer. The tone is warm, depicting a loving family trying to accommodate generational differences, and shifting cultural mores. 

I spoke to Esmaili after the second screening of The Move in Nyon, asking how she prepared for the big scene of the family picnic. “I usually choose people who I think have the potential in them to get on really well with the family,” said Esmaili. “I knew that our cinematographer and our sound recordist are lovely people. And I could see that my mum would love them. So, the first day that they came on set, we just spent a few hours just talking, having fun. They bonded really well.”

We Are Inside

Farah Kassem also faces generational disconnect when she returns home to Lebanon, after more than a decade living abroad, to help care for her elderly father in her hometown of Tripoli. We Are Inside takes place over a period of several years as Kassem’s father comes to the end of a long life as a celebrated poet. Much of the film is within the confines of their apartment. On the streets outside, and peered at through the window, the country is constantly changing, and unrest is evident.

As she explained in a post-screening interview, Kassem at first struggled to find a way to connect with her father, some 52 years her senior. “We had some sort of friendship, especially after the death of my mom. But whenever we talk about politics, about how I feel about the city, how I place myself, and Tripoli, we always get into disputes. And then we don’t talk to each other for hours. But then he would come to my room and knock on my door with a piece of paper in his hand. And he told me, ‘Have I read you my latest poem?’” 

Soon her father takes her to a poetry club of old men which has been running every Monday evening in a lawyer’s office for many years. “I was really mesmerized by the entire thing. And I felt like, okay, if there is a place where I can actually have a conversation with my dad without interruption, it will be there.”

Some months into the project, Al Jazeera came on board as co-producers (there will be a 90-minute version for the broadcaster, halving the current 177-minute running time). Kassem also won a financial prize from Dok Leipzig, and support from Chicken & Egg, Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program, and Doha Film Institute. “It was a dream to be able to pay the people that I work with,” Kassem said. “And to also know that I can allow the time to pass. I wanted a film that is talking about time and temporality. And I knew that for that we needed a certain budget, and the whole team is dedicating a lot of time for this.”

Diaries From Lebanon

In Diaries From Lebanon, Myriam El Hajj takes a more sweeping view of a country in turmoil through the stories of three protagonists. Politician Joumana and activist Perla Joe are both attempting to bring about change, while aging George, instrumental in launching the civil war in 1975, ekes away his twilight years shuttling between his flat and his barber, his memories firmly in the past. With a minimal use of archives, El Hajj interweaves their stories over several years to take us deep into a country in perpetual crisis.

El Hajj explained in a post screening interview that the decision to include herself in the film, where she periodically provides a personal voiceover, came quite late in the edit. “After I finished filming, when I started editing in 2020 the film was three hours long and I wasn‘t in the film. So, I decided to come into the film because I felt that it wasn‘t enough for me to tell the story through these three characters, because actually I’m not a journalist coming from outside to film. I am from the inside. I have things to say.” 

Carol Nahra is a documentary journalist and lecturer. She teaches documentary and digital journalism at Syracuse University London, Royal Holloway, and the London College of Communications. She also works as a programmer and producer and is the lead trainer for the Grierson DocLab.