You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Viennale Taps Franz Schwartz as Interim Artistic Director, Following Passing of Hans Hurch

The Vienna-based film festival will continue in the wake of Hans Hurch's passing, as local art-film luminary Franz Schwartz steps in.

The Viennale has appointed Franz Schwartz as interim artistic director, following the death of Hans Hurch. The plan of how to carry on with this year’s festival, scheduled to run from Oct. 19-Nov. 2, was announced on Thursday, as colleagues and friends gathered for the funeral of the Austrian film festival’s longtime leader. Hurch, who was 64 years old, died of heart failure on July 23, while visiting director Abel Ferrara in Italy.

Of all the festivals of its stature or larger, it’s hard to imagine one that might be more impacted by the passing of its director than the Viennale. Hurch was an iconoclastic figure who, although assisted by a programming team, personally shaped the lineup of each edition to reflect the extremely refined taste for which he was known. He had a tendency to invite films that no one else on his team understood, and might veto those he disliked, despite the support of his staff, resulting in an esoteric program rich in bold, independent voices, as opposed to mainstream fare.

Hurch welcomed contributions from the local Filmmuseum and the Austrian Film Archive, and though not all the selections were his, he made it a point to see (nearly) every film the Viennale invited, resulting in one of the most consistently curated programs of any festival on earth. But he also understood his audience, both among local cinephiles and the international community, and he selected films accordingly. And yet, as he told the BFI several years back, “I don’t want the Viennale to be the Hans Hurch festival, I would hate this idea.” Privately, if asked what such a lineup might look like (that is, one comprised exclusively of films that met his high standards), Hurch confided, “Then the festival wouldn’t show more than 20 films.”

I attended the Viennale twice, and both times was struck by its clear and often challenging aesthetic. Hurch wasn’t swayed by flashy style or hype, and gravitated to what film critic Manny Farber called “termite art” — diligent, piercing studies of the human condition. When it came to inviting American films, he championed directors who are all but unknown in this country, but far more deserving of a wider audience, including James Benning and students the avant-garde auteur had taught at Cal Arts, such as Mike Ott and David Fenster.

Though there was no mandate to deliver world premieres, he wouldn’t hesitate to select films that had been turned down elsewhere, encouraging new voices working in opposition to mainstream trends. Hurch was an early champion of writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, as well as such international auteurs as Alain Guiraudie, Lav Diaz, Denis Coté and Miguel Gomes, offering each their first significant spotlights or retrospectives.

He was an intellectual who held court over long meals, incorporating such meetings and group exchanges of ideas into the fabric of the festival itself. He was also stubbornly old-fashioned, a Luddite when it came to e-mail and the internet, who would ask his assistant, Hellmut Goebl, to print his messages and read them aloud. Hurch then would dictate his responses, or else write them out longhand, convinced that the logic of how humans express themselves was changing with technology.

For years, Hurch had indicated that he would be stepping down as director, but each time his contract drew to a close, they convinced him to renew, most recently a two-year extension that would have taken him through the 2018 edition. Hurch had already selected roughly 90 films for the upcoming festival — roughly two-thirds of the approximately 150-film lineup — and Schwartz will take over from there, while trying to honor Hurch’s spirit (even in those inevitable cases when only Hurch could articulate his reason for believing in a particular film).

Colleagues insist that Hurch had the utmost respect for Schwartz, who was the most logical person to step in under such difficult circumstances. Something of a local hero when it comes to foreign and independent film in Austria, Schwartz co-founded the city’s Stadtkino arthouse in 1981 and founded a distribution company the following decade at a time when the local market was dominated by American-owned studios.

In an official statement, Viennale managing director Eva Rotter said, “He and Hans Hurch were close friends, and Hans Hurch thought highly of him with regard to his work and integrity. Together, we intend to stage a festival in the spirit of Hans Hurch.” As Tilda Swinton wrote upon hearing the news, “Great, lovely, brilliant Hans. There is a light that never goes out.” Schwartz and all involved hope to honor that legacy at the upcoming edition.

More Film

  • Bertrand Tavernier Hosts Night of Cinema

    Bertrand Tavernier Hosts Night of Cinema Inspired Orchestra in Paris

    Flanked by UniFrance president Serge Toubiana and the National Orchestra of France, filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier stood before a rapt crowd at Paris’ Maison de la Radio this past Saturday to introduce an evening dedicated to French film scores called “May the Music Begin!” That moniker – a reference to the original French title of his [...]

  • Orange Studio Sells Out 'Serial (Bad)

    Orange Studio Sells Out 'Serial (Bad) Weddings 2,' 'City Hunter' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Paris-based Orange Studio has nearly sold out its two French comedy highlights, Philippe de Chauveron’s “Serial (Bad) Weddings 2” and Philippe Lacheau’s “City Hunter.” “Serial (Bad) Weddings 2,” which opened the UniFrance Rendez-Vous in Paris last week, is the sequel of the smash hit film which grossed over $148 million worldwide. The movie has been [...]

  • Danmarks Sønner, en film af Ulaa

    Trailer for Rotterdam Competition Opener 'Sons of Denmark' Released (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the trailer for the opening film of Rotterdam Film Festival’s Tiger Competition, “Sons of Denmark.” The film is a political thriller set in Denmark in 2025, a year after a bomb attack in Copenhagen, when ethnic tensions are running high. An ultra-nationalist politician, Martin Nordahl, and his National [...]

  • Operation Red Sea review

    Chinese Entertainment Industry Braces for a 'Cold Winter' in 2019

    Winter is here for the Chinese entertainment industry, a half-dozen top-tier industry professionals concurred in Beijing at the launch last week of Tencent Entertainment’s annual data-filled white paper. China’s box office hit new heights in 2018, raking in about $9 billion, but it was also a year of drastic regulatory changes and a government tax [...]

  • Indie Sales Acquires Martin Lund's Nordic

    Indie Sales Acquires Nordic Coming-Of-Age 'Psychobitch' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Paris-based company Indie Sales has acquired Martin Lund’s Norwegian coming-of-age drama “Psychobitch” which is headlined by Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne (“Utoya: July 22”). “Psychobitch” marks the first feature film of Martin Lund, who made his debut with “Twigson Ties the Knot,” a local box office hit, and followed up with “The Almost Man,” which won [...]

  • Studiocanal has sold Jean Paul Gaultier's

    Jean Paul Gaultier's 'Freak And Chic' Documentary Sells For Studiocanal (EXCLUSIVE)

    Underscoring the strength and scope of French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s legacy around the world, the documentary “Jean Paul Gaultier Freak And Chic,” which chronicles the making of Gaultier’s ongoing popular show in Paris, has been luring distributors in key markets. Sold by Studiocanal and produced by Capa, the documentary has already been picked [...]

  • Korea Box Office: 'MAL·MO·E' and 'Inside

    Korea Box Office: 'MAL·MO·E' and 'Inside Me' Remain on Top

    There was no change at the top of the Korean box office, as local titles “MAL·MO·E: The Secret Mission” and “Inside Me (a.k.a. The Dude in Me)” dominated a second weekend. Lotte’s “MAL·MO·E” earned $4.79 million from 618,000 admissions between Friday and Sunday for a total of $16.7 million from 2.23 million admissions after two [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content