Zurich film festival shoots for the stars

Oliver Stone is an inspiration to young filmmakers Keystone

The fledgling Zurich film festival has defied critics by attracting audiences, funding and controversial Hollywood director Oliver Stone this year.

This content was published on September 26, 2007 minutes

Organisers want to expand further to develop a European version of the famous American Sundance festival for independent filmmakers and carve new inroads into the German-speaking market.

The Zurich film festival premiered to sceptical reviews in 2005 with many movie buffs predicting it would sink under the weight of the established Locarno event before it could have a chance to swim.

But a projected trebling of audience numbers to 25,000 compared with its inaugural year coupled with the presence of big stars has even persuaded Zurich city and the government to dip into their pockets for funding.

"Zurich was crying out for a festival - I could never understand why we didn't have one. Seventy per cent of all the major players in this industry are based in Zurich," festival director Karl Spoerri told swissinfo.

"You also have the right audience with a high proportion of cinema-goers. People here like independent, intelligent films not just blockbusters."

Spoerri insists that there is enough room for another film festival in Switzerland despite the presence of rivals in Locarno, Solothurn and Nyon. It has been deliberately scheduled for the autumn to avoid clashing with the summer events.

Newcomer slant

Zurich is carving a niche by providing a platform for new filmmakers from around the globe and catering to a wide range of tastes. This year the festival features movies from Russia, a series of workshops with European producers discussing such topics as funding and the increasingly popular digital film section called onedotzero.

The festival will also feature local talent in the shape of new Swiss movies, but will retain its international feel.

"I wanted to do something between a red carpet event and a festival where you can discover new talent and new films from around the globe that you would not see in your usual theatre," said Spoerri.

"We are trying to establish ourselves as a newcomer festival where you can discover new voices, new directors, new writers and new producers – like the Sundance in the US.

"We are [also] trying to establish it in the German market. Berlin is in February and in the second half of the year there are not so many festivals for the German speaking part [of Europe]."

Stone struggles

Spoerri drew inspiration from winning a competition to attend the Cannes film festival in France as a teenager. Bedazzled then by glitz and glamour, he now rubs shoulders with stars such as Oliver Stone – director of JFK, Platoon and Nixon - who will be guest of honour this year.

Stone will give his advice and expertise to up-and-coming filmmakers at a series of master classes during the festival that runs from Thursday to October 7.

"For young filmmakers it is important to see that everyone has to work hard even if you have a lot of money. It is not an easy game and it is inspiring to see that he [Stone] is struggling every day and has to fight his own battles," said Spoerri.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Key facts

The third Zurich film festival runs from September 27 to October 7.
The first event in 2005 attracted 8,000, but 25,000 movie buffs are expected this year.
Zurich city has contributed SFr25,000 ($21,400) to the SFr2.3 million costs and the government SFr50,000. The rest comes from commercial sponsors and revenues.
The festival could only afford to rent one movie house in 2005, but has struck a deal with a chain for five cinemas and a theatre this year.
Onedotzero has become one of the most prominent digital film exhibitions in the world.

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In brief

Switzerland's largest film festival in Locarno was staged for the 60th time this year. It featured 80 international premieres, representing 30 countries with 35 Swiss movies shown.

The Visions du Réel film festival in Nyon was founded in 1969 and was relaunched in 1995. It showed 200 films from 22 countries this year.

Solothurn hosts Switzerland's largest domestic film festival and is also holds the "Swiss Oscars".

The Sundance film festival in the US has grown into the world's biggest platform for low-budget independent films since it was started in 1978. Some 3,287 films were submitted this year.

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