Undeterred by the pandemic, the Zurich Film Festival kicks off this month with an impressive lineup that includes its biggest ever film, James Bond pic “No Time to Die,” which is set to screen just minutes after its Sept. 28 world premiere in London.

Zurich was one of the few major fests to have a full physical event last year during the COVID crisis. Despite concerns about new variants, organizers are confident that health safety measures will ensure a welcome return to cinemas. ZFF artistic director Christian Jungen says the festival is working with embassies to safely bring in guests from other countries while relying on a verification process that includes vaccination certificates, current negative COVID test results or proof of recovery from infection.

“Here in Zurich to date, 70% of the population is vaccinated,” he says. “The city of Zurich has the highest rate in all of Switzerland and I am really confident that we can do the festival with full theaters, without masks and [with] a lot of joyful people.” The fest opens Sept. 23 with Michael Steiner’s “And Tomorrow We Will Be Dead,” a fact-based drama about a Swiss couple who are taken hostage and handed over to the Taliban while traveling through Pakistan in 2011.

“We had seen it long before the Taliban took over in Afghanistan,” Jungen says. “Michael Steiner is a personal favorite of mine because he’s an auteur but one who makes films with blockbuster appeal.” Noting that Steiner’s films are hugely successful locally, Jungen says “And Tomorrow We Will Be Dead” is his most international film and predicts it will travel to foreign territories. Steiner’s previous feature, “The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch,” likewise premiered in Zurich before it was nabbed by Netflix.

ZFF has become a major platform for Swiss films, which have been gaining ground at big fests such as Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Sundance. “We want to be a booster for this trend.” Most of Switzerland’s biggest box office hits have premiered at the fest. “Two-thirds of the Swiss film industry is located in Zurich, so it’s also our role to do something for Swiss cinema.” Jungen, who took over as artistic director last year, has expanded the fest’s focus while maintaining its longstanding connection to Hollywood.

“The Zurich festival is known for its strong American presence,” he says. “If you look at how many stars have been here, it’s pretty impressive, even if you compare it to bigger festivals. One of the reasons is that you can position a film for the Oscars when playing in Zurich.

From the last 10 best picture winners, five played in Zurich and several of them, ‘Spotlight’ or ‘Green Book,’ for example, as European premieres. So it’s a good launchpad for Oscar films and I want to maintain this high level of American presence.

“What I added is more focus on French-speaking territories, because I’m personally a Francophile – I love French cinema.” Also a music aficionado, Jungen has formed a collaboration with ZFF and the Montreux Jazz Festival and this year introduced a section called Sounds, which presents music films, and concerts will remain a highlight of the event.

Ray Parker Jr., who attended Zurich last year for the premiere of Fran Strine’s “Who You Gonna Call,” is returning to play a series of concerts with an all-star band of musicians — all of whom played at Montreux.

“It brings more emotion to the festival and it’s cool to have concerts in the evening,” says Jungen.

While ZFF will also continue to fete big stars — this year’s Golden Icon goes to Sharon Stone — Jungen says it will also seek to celebrate auteur filmmakers. It pays tribute to Paolo Sorrentino and welcomes Jacques Audiard, Todd Haynes and Paul Schrader, who receives the Lifetime Achievement Award.

An impressive main venue is expanding ZFF’s prospects. The 1,665-seat main hall of the renovated Zurich Convention Center made it possible for ZFF to land the James Bond film — the biggest movie Zurich has had since its establishment in 2005, Jungen says. “Since we are a festival, we see ourselves as advocates of the theatrical experience.”