Cannes latest: festival's top doc prize goes to Agnès Varda and JR film 'Visages Villages'
Varda earns L'oeil d'or three days before her 89th birthday
Filmmaker Agnès Varda has earned numerous prizes over the course of a career that dates back to the 1950s. On Saturday she added another: L'oeil d'or (Golden Eye), the top award for documentary at the Cannes Film Festival.
She and co-director JR, a noted French photographer and artist, earned the honor for their film Visages Villages (Faces Places), one of 18 documentaries eligible for L'oeil d'or selected from across the festival's diverse sections.
Il est presque inutile de dire pourquoi nous avons tant aimé ce film (It is almost unnecessary to say why we loved this film so much).
Visages Villages is something of a road movie. In it the filmmakers -- separated in age by more than 50 years -- travel the French countryside, encountering ordinary people along the way.
"It is almost unnecessary to say why we loved this film so much," L'oeil d'or jury president Sandrine Bonnaire said in announcing the prize. She described the film as "an exchange between two generations, between two artists and their way of looking at life and also looking at each other."
Bonnaire was joined at the presentation by her fellow jurors -- Thom Powers, the Toronto International Film Festival's documentary programmer and artistic director of DOC NYC; Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh; British filmmaker Lucy Walker, and Italian film critic Lorenzo Codelli.
Neither Varda -- who celebrates her 89th birthday May 30 -- nor JR were present for the announcement.
L'oeil d'or was created only three years ago by LaScam, the guild representing French multimedia authors including writers, photographers, journalists and illustrators. It comes with a €5,000 award.
Among the other films in competition for the top prize were documentaries by Claude Lanzmann, Barbet Schroeder, Abel Ferrara, Mark Kidel and Tony Zierra. A special mention was given to the documentary Makala by Emmanuelle Gras, which earlier won the top prize from the Semaine de la Critique (and a comparatively more generous €15,000 award). Gras' film follows a Congolese man struggling to provide for his family.
"I could not be happier with the two films that we acknowledged," juror Thom Powers told Nonfictionfilm.com at a cocktail party that followed the awards presentation. "We watched 18 feature documentaries. There were a lot of dogs in that bunch, I gotta say... I think the jury felt like we had three of four films we had to really chew over."
He spoke glowingly of Visages Villages, as have a number of critics, including Manohla Dargis of the New York Times.
"It's a beautiful collaboration between two big talents," Powers commented, referring to Varda and JR. "We saw it in the public screening and my eyes got wet watching Agnès Varda walk up the red carpet possibly for the last time in her career. Her eyesight is failing, as she talks about in the film. This is probably the last film she'll make. My eyes were wet as they gave her an ovation and they did not dry throughout the entire film because the film is that emotional and truly great."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.