In its fourth year, the Zurich Film Festival’s ambitions — looking to become the Sundance of Europe and increase its impact on the German film world — are well on the way to being realized.

It’s held in a city with the highest concentration of movie theaters per capita worldwide, and, despite the looming presence of the established Locarno fest in August, Zurich is thriving under its savvy director, Karl Spoerri, by targeting audience pleasers and local gems.

The ZFF will screen more than 60 films in 11 days to an expected crowd of 30,000. Peter Fonda leads the jury.

The event has become one of the most important festivals in German-speaking Europe and a key platform for smaller films to find worldwide exposure, says Spoerri.

Case in point: John McKenzie’s U.K. comedy “Twelve in a Box,” about a group of people looking to collect £1million by remaining locked up in a remote country mansion for four days, won the fest’s Audience Award after playing to four sold-out screenings last year in what was its first theatrical outing.

Says producer Bruce Windwood: “The Zurich Film Festival was great for the film. The level of enthusiasm was amazing. The festival, and seeing hundreds of people queuing around the block, really helped us realize the film’s full potential.”

Indeed, its success in Zurich led to its acquisition by Los Angeles-based distrib Cinevolve Studios for the U.S.

Arguably the most anticipated German film of the year, Uli Edel’s “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” will open this year’s festival Sept. 25, the same day it hits theaters in Germany.

The Bernd Eichinger production chronicles the rise and fall of West Germany’s notorious Red Army Faction terrorist group.

The event is flexing its international muscle by honoring a thesp and filmmaker not normally seen on the fest circuit: Sylvester Stallone, who will be feted with the inaugural Golden Icon Award for lifetime achievement. The fest will also present a retrospective of Stallone’s work.

Also being honored this year is writer-director Constantin Costa-Gavras, who will be presented with the festival’s Golden Eye Award.

For such a young festival, the event appears to have had little trouble attracting big names in the industry, although Spoerri begs to differ.

“It’s not that easy, but it’s great that they come.” While Spoerri agrees that the presence of international filmmakers and actors certainly adds to the glamour quotient, he’s equally keen on getting his high-profile guests to take part in the fest’s educational Master Class series.

In addition to the competition, which unspools 24 international titles, the ZFF this year spotlights Israel in its New World View section, in part to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary.

The ZFF’s growing significance for international film has reflected increasing support by sponsors in its first four years.

Backed with mostly private coin, its budget has steadily climbed from some $450,000 in 2005 to $2.7 million this year, most of that from corporate sponsors Audi, Credit Suisse, Jobs.ch and L’Oreal Paris.

The ZFF was founded by Spoerri, Nadja Schildknecht and Antoine Monot Jr. after they came together to organize a Zurich version of the U.K. digital festival Onedotzero in 2004. That led to the creation of the ZFF the following year.

The fest still includes a selection from the London event as well as the Onedotzero_ch competition sidebar, which offers young Swiss talent a platform and what organizers hope will increasingly become a major steppingstone toward international distribution.


When: Sept. 25-Oct. 5

Where: Zurich, Switzerland

Web: zurichfilmfestival.org