In just 10 years, the Zurich Film Festival has gone from a small, regional festival to an internationally acclaimed event. The Festival Center located on the shore of beautiful Lake Zurich and the majestic Zurich Opera House is open to movie stars and visitors for 11 days each year. With an impressive line-up this year of 172 films, 17 world premieres, 8 European premieres, 607 distinguished guests and over 90,000 viewers the festival continues to grow its international profile.
The latest 12th edition of the festival kicked off on September 22nd with a European premiere of Lion, a film by Garth Davids. The legendary film producer Harvey Weinstein was on hand to introduce his production, starring Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman.
Switzerland, a country inhabited by only 8 million people, already hosts another internationally recognized film festival, the well established Film Festival Locarno, which has been held annually every August since 1946. The organizers and co-directors of ZFF Nadja Schildknecht and Karl Spoerri don’t see these two events as direct competitors, while to compete effectively with the London Film Festival they formed a film-sharing partnership with the San Sebastian Film Festival, which has been going strong since 2013.
Similar to Locarno the Zurich Film Festival focuses on the presentation and promotion of new films and film-makers from around the world. Only first, second or third directing works are eligible to enter the three competition categories: the International Feature Film Competition, International Documentary Film Competition and Focus Switzerland, Germany, Austria. Promotion of the German language cinema is the unique feature of the festival together with the interesting ZFF 72 contest, which challenges film-makers to make a film lasting a maximum of 72 seconds on a specific theme lasting in just 72 hours.
Three years ago a new dimension was added in the form of two-day forum, Zurich Summit, which the festival co-founder Karl Spoerri wants to develop into a major discussion and collaboration platform for the various creative industries. Virtual reality was on the agenda for the first time and delegates were able to try, presented already at Sundance and Cannes, Birdly, a VR experience that allows participants to take flight via a full-body contraption. The official media partner of the festival became recently The Wall Street Journal, while to connect the event with a younger global audience, more than 20 social media personalities from US, Canada, Colombia and Mexico, were invited to this year’s edition. The main festival award is the Golden Eye, a $25,700 (25,000 CHF) cash prize, which is awarded in the three main competition categories as well as to the festival’s guests of honor.
This year Golden Eye for the best international feature film went to Finnish director Juho Kuosmanens for his black and white feature debut The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki. This film, which already won Cannes’ Un Certain Regard prize and will represent Finland at Oscars is based on the true story of a boxer who chooses love over his boxing career. The jury made up of Danish director Lone Scherfig, British screenwriter-director David Farr, German actress Sibel Kekilli, and British producer Graham Broadbent also gave three special mentions to Lady Macbeth by William Oldroyd (UK), Personal Affairs by Maha Haj (Israel) and Two Lottery Tickets by Paul Negoescu (Romania).
The prize for the best international documentary was awarded to Jero Yun for the French-South Korean production Mrs B, A North Korean Woman «Madame B., Histoire d’une Nord-Coréenne». Compiled from footage shot over three years, it chronicles the fate of the North Korean mother, who is trafficked to China. In the contest among films in the German language the winner was the Austrian Valentin Hitz for his sci-fi film “Hidden Reserves”. This dystopian vision imagines a future Vienna in which people no longer have a right to die but are kept artificially alive until they are no longer mentally or physically useful for the economy. The emerging Swiss Talent Award went to the best Swiss film by Jan Gassmann’s Europe, She Loves You. This moving, political drama, follows for ten days, lives of four young couples in Sevilla, Dublin, Tallinn and Thessaloniki. The film captures the most intimate aspects of their lives also in the bedroom.
The biggest surprise of the festival was the audience prize, which went to Heidi Brandenburg und Mathew Orzel the makers of the documentary «When Two Worlds Collide». This Peruvian-American documentary depicts the heroic fight of the Peruvian indigenous people for their land and right to live. It is remarkable as this documentary defeated many strong comedies competing for this prize. Among stars and filmmakers, who graced this year’s green (not red) carpet was Daniel Radcliffe and Woody Harrelson, both apart from promoting their new movies were also discussing their careers during Master Classes. Evan McGregor came together with Jennifer Connelly to promote his directorial debut American Pastoral, while Shailene Woodley and Joseph Gordon-Levitt hit the green carpet for the premiere of whistleblower drama Snowden on Saturday (September 24). The two co-stars met up with their director Oliver Stone at press conference earlier in the day. Oliver Stone was the first of the ZFF star guest and in 2007 received A Tribute to… Award. He visited the Zurich festival several times since then, prizing its great organization and city itself as being a center of arts. Famous for his foppish charm and self-depreciation Hugh Grant arrived at the Zurich Film festival in a retro roadster to collect this year Golden Icon Award honoring his achievements. Accepting this accolade he found himself in great company, including : Diane Keaton, Hugh Jackman, Sean Penn, Michael Douglas and Morgan Freeman. Promoting his movie Florence Foster Jenkins he revealed that working with Meryl Streep was terrifying and exhilarating.
The festival closed with an elegant gala on Saturday 1st of October, which included Daniel Radcliffe presenting the audience award and French director Oliver Assayas receiving A Tribute To… Award.