The Belle from Gaza | Pyramide Films

22 Documentaries Compete for the l’Œil d’Or at Cannes

Alison McAlpine's Perfectly a Strangeness also screens in the short film Official Competition

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22 documentaries will compete for the l’Œil d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The competition slate was just unveiled by LaScam, the society that advocates for the rights and welfare of artists and organizes the annual documentary prize at the festival. Not a single documentary appears in the Official Competition, which had two docs last year: Four Daughters and Youth (Spring).

Eight of the documentaries screen in the Official Selection’s Special Screenings section. The docs include The Belle from Gaza from director Yolande Zauberman, whose documentary M won France’s Oscar equivalent, the César. The film follows several transgender people as they flee Gaza and seek the freedom of an open life in Tel Aviv.

Also screening in the Special Selections is Apprendre from Claire Simon, whose previous documentary Our Body drew considerable acclaim on the festival circuit last year. Her new doc goes inside an elementary school on the outskirts of Paris. Meanwhile, Oscar nominee Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro) profiles the life and work of South African photographer Ernest Cole in Ernest Cole: Lost and Found. The film features Oscar nominee LaKeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah) as Cole. Festival favourite Sergei Loznitsa also returns to Cannes. This time, he brings Invasion, which continues his observation of the Russian siege on Ukraine.

A unique portrait of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic comes in Lou Ye’s An Unfinished Film. The doc chronicles what transpired when a film that had previously halted its production saw its crew reunite to resume filming during January 2020 in Wuhan, China.

Meanwhile, Nasty: More than Just Tennis from the Romanian trio of Tudor Giurgiu, Tudor D. Popescu, and Cristian Pascariu profiles controversial tennis bad boy Ilie Nastase. A character profile also drives Lula, Oliver Stone and Rob Wilson’s take on Brazilian president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. Rounding out the Special Screenings docs is Spectators! from perennial Cannes contender Arnaud Desplechin. The project is a hybrid work about the joy of moviegoing.

Six documentaries appear in the Cannes Classics stream of the official selection, which includes docs about movies screening alongside old favourites and restored gems. Film-on-film docs include Jim Henson: Idea Man. The film from Oscar winner Ron Howard looks at the man behind the Muppets. It streams on Disney+ on May 30 following its Cannes premiere.

Other film-on-film docs include Laurent Bouzereau’s Faye about Oscar winning actress Faye Dunaway and Nanette Burstein’s Elizabeth Taylor: The Lost Tapes. Tributes to French auteurs come in Jacques Démy: Le rose et le noir and Il était une fois Michel Legrand by Florence Platarets and David Hertzog Dessites, respectively. Démy and Legrand won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Go-Between. The former returns to the Croisette this year, while the music from the latter became a viral sensation last year when Todd Haynes repurposed it for May December.

Meanwhile, Miyazaki and the Heron from director Kaku Arakawa looks at the Studio Ghibli Oscar winner. Ghibli is among the recipients of an honorary Palme d’Or this year. Arakawa previously chronicled Miyazaki in the documentary Never-Ending Man. Kim Lyang’s Walking in the Movies pays tribute to another face of Asian cinema: Kim Dong-ho, founder of the Busan International Film Festival. Mickaël Gamrasni’s Olympiques! La France des jeux, finally, rounds out the Cannes Classics docs, while Frederick Wiseman’s Law and Order screens with a restored print.

Outside of the Official Selection, documentaries competing for the l’Œil d’Or include Rafaat einy ll sama (The Brink of Dreams) from Nada Riyadh and Ayman El Amir. The film screens in the Semaine de la Critique sidebar. Two films, meanwhile, hail from the Quinzaine des cinéastes parallel programme: Savanna and the Mountain from director Paulo Carneiro and The Falling Sky from directors Eryk Rocha (who previously won the prize for Cinema Novo) and Gabriela Carneiro da Cunha. Rounding out the pack is My Way, directed by Lisa Azuelos and Thierry Teston.

Last year, two films tied for the l’Œil d’Or and went on to be among the most acclaimed films of 2023: Four Daughters by Kaouther Ben Hania and The Mother of All Lies by Asmae El Moudir. Four Daughters earned an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature. Previous winners also include Oscar nominees All that Breathes, directed by Shaunak Sen, and Faces Places, directed by Agnès Varda and JR. Recent winner Payal Kapadia (A Night of Knowing Nothing) appears in the Official Competition this year with her dramatic feature debut All We Imagine as Light. French filmmaker Nicolas Philibert (On the Adamant) serves as the head of this year’s jury.

Finally, one title represents Canadian documentary at the festival: Perfectly a Strangeness from director Alison McAlpine (Cielo). Described as a hybrid work, the short film follows three donkeys outside an astronomical observatory. While Perfectly a Strangeness isn’t eligible for the l’Œil d’Or, it does have the distinction of representing non-fiction in Cannes’ Official Competition for Short Films. This year’s festival runs from May 14 to 25.


Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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