ZFF Academy: The ‘School Trip’ for New Filmmaking Talent

ZFF Academy: The ‘School Trip’ for New Filmmaking Talent
Courtesy of ZFF

Talk to the people behind the ZFF Academy, and it quickly becomes clear that this Zurich Film Festival talent program is close to their hearts.

Launched back in 2006, just a year after the festival itself, the aim of the ZFF Academy is to promote exchange between notable filmmakers and aspiring directors, writers and producers. It’s there to help up and coming creatives and execs to learn from film industry experts, connect with each other and to exchange ideas.

In many ways, it’s like the well-known Berlinale Talents program – only more intimate. Just 19 talents – nine women and 10 men – have been selected from hundreds of applicants to take part in the five-day Zurich initiative.

Talent from all over the world traditionally apply to the ZFF Academy, but this year the cohort is largely European – reflecting the difficulties that many people are having travelling due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Head of ZFF Industry Reta Guetg says the strategy has long been to keep the Academy small and select so that the talents get the most out of it. “It’s like going on a school trip for a week, and then you are best friends when you come back.”

Guetg says the Academy has fostered many film industry collaborations, citing a Spanish distribution exec who took on the film of a German filmmaker she met while in Zurich. Another two German filmmakers, both alumni of the Academy, have gone on to form a company together, while an Italian writer has collaborated with a Greek director she got to know on the program. Previous alumni include Lisa Bruhlmann (“Blue My Mind”), Pierre Monnard (“Needle Park Baby”) and Jonas Carpignano (“A Ciambra”).

The five-day program itself consists of masterclasses, industry talks, case-studies, and dinners, running from Wednesday.

To help build strong relationships during the Academy, each of the 19 filmmakers has to take part in the entire program, rather than dip in and out of sessions.

Lying at the heart of the program are the Masterclasses, says ZFF Academy project manager Daniela Engler. This year they are each being given by a number of the high-profile filmmakers attending the festival, including director Paolo Sorrentino, Eskil Vogt, Ninja Thyberg, Ada Solomon, Asif Kapadia, Paul Schrader, and Ulises Porra and Silvina Schnicer. “Each of them is all in a small room together [with the talents], and it is a really intimate discussion,” says Engler.

The Bits & Pieces section, meanwhile, allows the 19 talents to present excerpts from their current projects on the big screen in front of their peers and industry representatives, who then provide feedback and advice.

Then there is a session “Finding Your Audience – Story Lab meets ZFF Academy,” which focuses on how to draw attention to projects and films. A special masterclass on film marketing during the development phase will kick off the event, followed by the “ZFF Elevator Pitch” – where participants have to pitch their projects during an actual elevator ride.