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Geneva Film Festival Moves With the Times

When Emmanuel Cuenod came on board the Geneva Intl. Film Festival in 2013, he took the reins of a markedly different event than the one about to unfurl Nov. 2-10.

For one thing, the festival went by a different name. At its inception in 1995, the festival was known as Tous Ecrans — French for “All Screens.” Always a platform for both feature films and television productions of all stripes, the festival has since moved to include digital offerings, Virtual/Augmented Reality content and live events in recent years, befitting a change in name, if not identity.

Last year, it officially became the Geneva Intl. Film Festival – GIFF for short – in a rebrand that spoke to executive/artistic director Cuenod’s view of the industry and his festival’s role within it.

The industry, he felt, was undergoing significant changes. “Today,” explains Cuenod, “the word film has a broader definition.” Whereas the festival once defined itself as a bridge between the TV and film worlds, nowadays consumers stream features, series and direct-to-web content on the same devices, and the festival wanted to reflect that.

Then, there was the question of local reach. “When under the name Tous Ecrans, we were only speaking to Francophone audiences, which is a problem for an international festival,” says Cuenod. “Geneva is an international city, with something like 50% of its residents coming from other parts of the world. Something like 30-40% of Genevans only speak English. So for us, it was important to be better understood.”

Under the GIFF moniker, Cuenod hopes to foster a festival that is open to the wider world while staying firmly rooted in place. And one need only look at this year’s program to see that theory in action.

GIFF will screen 164 projects across its various selections this year, only 40 of which are feature-length films. In terms of features, the festival hopes to cement a curatorial reputation as a platform for audacious, somewhat risky fare. On top of recent Cannes conversation pieces “Little Tickles” and the technologically innovative “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” Cuenod is especially proud to host the Swiss premiere for American director Alex Ross Perry’s “Her Smell,” a hard-hitting rock-star addiction drama that galvanized audiences at the recent Toronto and New York film festivals.

In terms of television content, the festival has changed its approach in recent years. “About three years ago, we saw that the public wasn’t responding to the American series we’d programed,” explains Cuenod. “We asked why, and people responded that in Switzerland, those series were already very easy to download, so why bother watching them in a festival setting?” Instead, Cuenod, head of programs Nathalie Gregoletto and their selection committee have opted to focus on promising European fare, such as Estonian series “The Bank,” which recently sold to Stateside broadcaster MHz Networks.

Finally, GIFF will play host to 35 VR/AR productions, including recent breakouts “The Enemy” and “Jurassic Flight.” Landing those two has been particular point of pride for the executive director. Just as it was ramping up its VR offerings, the festival screened both projects in unfinished forms in 2014. Finally completed, the two project return to since rebranded festival as a testament to how far it’s come. “These are fascinating projects, game-changers,” beams Cuenod, “that we helped spotlight four years ago. Now, we can show off the product of those years of work.”

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