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Vincent Perez, the film thinker

Published on 18/03/2022
Written by swissinfo.ch
Published from Swissinfo.ch

The Swiss actor, director and photographer Vincent Perez shares his vision for this year’s edition of Think Cinema, the film festival he founded in 2018. After two editions disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, film stars and screenings have returned to Lausanne. 

On March 2, 2020, just 48 hours before its scheduled start, the Think Cinema festival (known as Rencontres du 7ème Art in French) announced it was cancelling its third edition, despite meeting all the health safety requirements. 

The following week, the first general lockdown began in Switzerland. Undeterred, Perez and his team started working on the 2021 edition, scheduled to take place in March of that year. Unfortunately, with the second lockdown still in effect, they had to postpone until May, a decision that did have some advantages.

“We lost most of our guests as a result of the change in dates,” Perez explains in a phone interview. “But we gained exposure by deciding to make the conversations available on our website and YouTube channel. Jean Dujardin’s masterclass during the festival had 200,000 views, which is unusual for a festival. So, we’re retaining that online element this year.”

The fifth edition of the festival, which runs from March 12-20 in Lausanne, boasts major international guests like Willem Dafoe and Daniel Brühl, who will be introducing their personal selection of films to audiences. Dafoe’s picks include At Eternity’s Gate, in which Perez also appears.

Both actors have a strong multicultural pedigree. Dafoe, who was born in the US and also holds Italian citizenship through his marriage to Italian film director and actress Giada Colagrande, has an apartment in Rome and has performed in Italian, most notably in Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini. Brühl, who now lives in Berlin, was born in Barcelona and raised multilingual, making him one of cinema’s most popular polyglots; he is fluent in German, English, French and Spanish. 

It’s a path not dissimilar to that of Perez, who was born close to Lausanne to a German mother and a Spanish father. He moved to France to become an actor as part of the ensemble at the Théâtre des Amandiers, which included fellow Swiss emigrant Bruno Todeschini.

He has since appeared in numerous films and TV series in Europe and in the United States. “I like to keep myself busy, as an actor, director, writer, and photographer,” says Perez. “I think one should do as much as possible. Some of my films turned out well, others did not, and that’s all part of the journey.”

That journey includes the decision to create Think Cinema, which was first announced in October 2017. It launched its inaugural edition in March the next year. For Perez, this was a chance to reconnect with his native region and its rich cultural history.

He explains: “The Swiss Film Archive is located in Lausanne, and it has one of the largest collections in the world, so it felt right to highlight it on a national and international level. And the area, with the lake and the riviera, felt like the right context in which to think about the history of cinema, hence the festival’s English name.” 

The Cinemathèque Suisse, a film archive based in Lausanne, has been a major component of the festival from the very beginning, with the famous Capitole cinema serving as the event’s gala venue in 2018 and 2019. As the theatre is currently undergoing renovations, with the grand reopening scheduled for 2023, the festival’s roster has expanded to the two Pathé multiplexes in Lausanne, as well as the CityClub in the neighboring town of Pully. 

The wide range of locations is an ideal context for this year’s main theme: Mirror Mirror, or films about cinema itself. The selection covers ten decades of moviemaking, from 1928 (Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman) to 2019 (Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood). It is largely American, with some titles coming from Italy, France, Britain and Spain. 

“All these great filmmakers, from Keaton to Truffaut to Billy Wilder, made these wonderful films about the artform itself, and it seemed like the right opportunity to rediscover them on the big screen,” Perez says.

And some titles, he adds, are worth checking out even if they’re not as well known. “Have you seen Listen to Me Marlon?”, he asks us, referring to the 2015 documentary that uses previously unheard private recordings of Marlon Brando.

With the question of film history also comes that of film preservation. The festival’s programme includes a discussion on that topic, followed by a screening of the newly restored version of Francis Reusser’s Derborence, which competed in Cannes Film Festival in 1985.

There will also be a discussion about cinema’s role in the age of internet platforms, something Perez knows about firsthand, having acted in the Amazon Studios production The Aeronauts. The film was only accessible on Amazon Prime.

He says he has mixed feelings about it: “On the one hand, streaming platfoms provide great opportunities for filmmakers, and opposing their success would be unrealistic. On the other, the theatrical sector is undeniably going through a very rough patch.”

Would it be harder to secure a cinema release for his latest film as director, Alone in Berlin (2016), if it were made today? “It would be harder to get it made in the first place. I spent many years developing it before we actually started filming,” says Perez.

But he is not discouraged by the current situation of the cinema industry, where more and more funds are channeled to streaming platforms rather than to finance independent or art-house films.

He remains active in all his professional fields. Perez briefly mentions that he has just returned from a shoot overseas, before adding he cannot disclose any details. Running a film festival also provides him with new inspiration.

“Dealing with cinema and artists in this manner gives me a new perspective and motivates me, both professionally and personally,” he concludes.