The new director of Swiss documentary festival Visions Du Réel which runs April 7-13, talks about his plans to boost the festival’s international profile.

Luciano Barisone is the new director of Vision Du Reel, the Nyon-based documentary festival founded in Switzerland in 1969 which runs this year from April 7-13.

A journalist and author as well as a festival programmer, Barisone was previously at the Festival of Popoli in Florence. He takes over the reins from Jean Perret, with plans to ramp up the festival’s market activities and its international profile.

Alongside its competition, the festival will be holding a special focus on the work of both Spanish auteur José Luis Guerin and of American director Jay Rosenblatt. There will also be a strong Latin American emphasis, and 700 international guests are expected.

How is the festival going to be different than it was under Perret?

We’ve changed something in the organisation. My idea was that to put into the same competition long features, mid-length features and short features was not fair, so I’ve shifted the competition into three categories. Jean (Perret) wanted to have in his programme only exclusives (premieres). I think it’s also very interesting for audiences to have also the best documentary films that have been awarded at festivals all over the world.

I’ve created a section called Etat D’Espirt which is for films that were in Cannes, Venice, Locarno and other festivals. We’re having a tribute to Colombian cinema, which is being put together with the market. We will be screening six new films but at the same time, many producers and filmmakers will come to Nyon to a co-production meeting with European and Swiss producers.

What and who are your high-profile films and guests?

This year, we have two directors who are quite famous in international competition – Nikolaus Geyrhalter from Austria (with Abendland) and Thomas Heise from Germany (with Sonnensystem). We have Mercedes Alvarez, who won a Tiger in Rotterdam with her first feature The Sky Turns. Her second film Mercado De Futuros is a world premiere here. All the international competition titles, long, middle-length and shorts, are 95% international and world premieres – and 5% are European premieres.

Is it frustrating for you that more and more of the major festivals, whether Cannes or Venice, seem to give more attention to documentaries?

I share that frustration. I am happy because I always was a supporter of the strength of documentaries. But, at the same time, I am frustrated. Sometimes, some of the best films that I would like to programme here go to Berlin. It’s because of that I created this section, Etat D’Esprit (to show the films from other festivals). This year, our main competitor was not IDFA because it finished before us and not Hot Docs (we have a very good agreement between the festivals) but Cannes and Berlin. There were five I wanted that went to Berlin (among them Lost Land by Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd and The Black Power Mixtape).

What is the proposition you can make to filmmakers and producers who might want to take their docs elsewhere?

The filmmakers and producers have to feel that the festival is on their side — that it is there to support their film. Here, for example, when they have a film in the programme, their film is in the market for free. We have 700 people here — programmers from international festivals, world sales teams, broadcasters. The film could be very well received and sold here. And every year, 12 to 16 films in the programme are bought by Swiss television.

Swiss distributors are very interested in documentary. Every week, a documentary is released in theatres. For films not sold, we organise every year Visions Du Reel on tour and take them all around the main Swiss cities and screen them. And we’re part of Doc Alliance (the partnership with  – CPH DOX Copenhagen, DOK Leipzig, IDFF Jihlava and Planete Doc Review Warsaw.) We have a very intense exchange of films. Many of the films here could be at the other four festivals.

You’re a major Swiss festival with a long history. Are you exasperated that there is not the same awareness of Visions Du Réel internationally as of Locarno?

No! If you look at the budget, they (Locarno) have five or six times what we have. We have 2.5 million Swiss Francs ($2.7 million). We have to improve the visibility at the international level. The festival is very well known in northern-eastern Europe and France but is not so well known in Italy, for example, or in Spain and Portugal and, of course, in Latin America. As I worked for eight years as a Latin America correspondent for Venice, I know the production companies very well. For me, it was quite natural to try to create a strong relation with the south of the world. I think that’s quite new for Nyon. The festival has to improve not only as an event that can promote new talent and films but also that can start to work at the production level.

So the festival is going to set up a production fund?

A fund in which we are involved already exists – Visions Südwest. It used to produce or help some films that are in progress. That way, you can choose a film that really deserves your help and give money to finish the film. There are many countries from Asia to Africa to South America that apply. For documentaries, the maximum we invest is $71,700 (€50,000) a year.