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Zurich Film Festival Screens ‘Joker,’ ‘Judy,’ Honors Stewart, Blanchett

The 15th Zurich Film Festival (Sept. 26-Oct. 6) is marking a major changing of the guard while again presenting an impressive selection of high-profile international works and showcasing the
latest in Swiss cinema.

Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” Rupert Goold’s “Judy” and James Mangold’s “Le Mans ’66” (aka “Ford v Ferrari”) are among the films screening in the fest’s Gala Premieres section, which offers some of the year’s most highly anticipated films.

Zurich will again welcome a slew of major stars and filmmakers. This year the fest is honoring Roland Emmerich, Cate Blanchett and Kristen Stewart.

Likewise on hand will be Oliver Stone, who heads the fest’s international feature film competition jury, as well as Donald Sutherland, Javier Bardem and Julie Delpy, all of whom will be taking part in the
ZFF Masters series.

2019 marks the final outing for fest founders and co-directors Nadja Schildknecht and Karl Spoerri. They will step down from their current posts at the beginning of 2020, but continue to work with the festival as board members.

Christian Jungen, chief cultural editor at Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag, will succeed Spoerri next year as artistic director and also oversee the entire event, while Christina Hanke, CEO of event agency Swisscovery/Foxtrail, will take over some of Schildknecht’s responsibilities as head of marketing and sponsoring for the fest. The move follows the 2016 acquisition of the festival by the NZZ Media Group.

“I think [the festival] has a great chance to develop, continue increasing its audience and be more relevant, both in Switzerland and outside Switzerland,” Spoerri tells Variety. “We have a great new artistic director in place. I think he totally gets the DNA of the festival.”

The festival has seen dramatic growth since its launch in 2005, when it attracted 8,000 attendees. This year some 104,000 festgoers are expected.

Unlike most major European film festivals, Zurich is largely financed by the private sector, with sponsors covering 80% of its 7.8 million Swiss francs ($8.6 million) budget. Ticket sales account for 10% and combined funding from public sources and foundations make up the rest. The festival boasts more than 150 sponsors.

The festival will open Sept. 26 with Niklaus Hilber’s Swiss drama “Paradise War: The Story of Bruno Manser,” about the famed environmental activist. It’s one of 36 films unspooling in Gala Premieres. Also premiering in the section are such star-studded works as Steven Soderbergh’s “The Laundromat”; Scott Z. Burns’ “The Report”; “The Lighthouse,” by Robert Eggers; Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story”; Andrea Di Stefano’s “The Informer”; “Gemini Man,” by Ang Lee; Benedict Andrews’ “Seberg”; and “The Current War,” by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

Zurich’s international film competition will present 14 works from around the world. These include Jayro Bustamante’s Guatemalan thriller “La Llorona”; Levan Akin’s Georgian film “And Then We Danced”; from Iceland, Hlynur Pálmason’s “A White, White Day”; the British Sarah Gavron’s social drama “Rocks”; Shannon Murphy’s Australian work “Babyteeth”; and Jérémy Clapin’s French animated feature “I Lost My Body.” Its doc competition includes “One Child Nation,” from Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang, and “Cold Case Hammerskjold” from Mads Brugger.

The New World View sidebar focuses on Colombian cinema, showcasing 14 titles from a new generation of filmmakers, among them Ciro Guerra’s “Embrace of the Serpent,” Catalina Arroyave Restrepo’s “Days of the Whale” and Laura Mora’s “Killing Jesus.”

“The young Colombian auteur cinema is artistically uncompromising and belongs to the most innovative cinematographies of Latin America,” says senior programmer Georg Bütler.

On the industry side, the Zurich Summit has become a leading platform for the local and international industry, bringing together filmmakers, agencies, tech companies and investors to address the sector’s most current issues and latest trends. The Swiss Films Market Preview, meanwhile, presents new and partially finished Swiss films to buyers, sales agents, distributors and festival programmers.

Another major highlight is the festival’s eighth Intl. Film Music Competition, which saw record participation this year with 321 composers. Of those, five finalists and their original compositions made the shortlist, with the winning piece set to score Robert Rugan’s short “Danny and the Wild Bunch.”
The finalists include Ching-Shan Chang from the U.S.; Olivier Depierre of Switzerland; Sweden’s Carl Falkenau; Andrey Mordovsky of Russia; and Gus Nicholson of the U.K.

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