Filmmakers flock to Zurich festival

Thriving event experiences Swiss bliss

One advantage of being a hot new festival in one of the world’s most attractive cities is that you don’t have to go around begging for films.

“The filmmakers are now coming to us,” Zurich festival director Karl Spoerri says. Backed with mostly private coin, it has nearly doubled in size in each of its first three years. It will unspool more than 50 films over 11 days to an expected crowd of 25,000.

“It was hard the first year. The second year was better, and this year has been tremendous,” says Spoerri, who launched the ZFF in 2005 with partners Nadja Schildknecht and Antoine Monot Jr. More than 800 films were submitted, twice as many as last year.

The ZFF’s budget also has jumped to 2.8 million Swiss francs ($2.4 million) this year from 1.8 million ($1.5 million) last year. Most of that comes from private sponsors Audi, Credit Suisse, jobs.ch and l’Oreal Paris.

Attracting Oliver Stone certainly does not hurt the ZFF’s hopes of becoming a “sort of Sundance for Europe,” which is what the fest’s founders had in mind from the start.

Zurich’s unusual moviegoing culture made it prime ground for such a fest, Spoerri explains.

The city’s cinemas have long shown films in the original language with German, French and Italian subtitles rather than dubbing as other Euro countries tend to do. “The people here wouldn’t stand for dubbing,” says Spoerri, a former talent agent in Germany.

Despite Zurich’s rather outdated reputation as a center for secretive banks, Switzerland’s largest city in the heart of the Alps is full of surprises. It has, for instance, one of Europe’s most loyal crowds of cinemagoers. Spoerri says Zurich has more theaters per capita than anywhere in Europe. The ZFF’s strong growth — despite a near total lack of coin from the state, which is leery of helping a rival to the Locarno fest — is the epitome of Zurich’s stereotype-shattering spirit.

“Zurich is far more than just banks and insurance companies,” he says.

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