The 18th Zurich Film Festival kicks off Sept. 22 with a muscular lineup that includes some of the year’s most anticipated international pics while also putting the spotlight on Swiss and German-language cinema.
In addition to a strong selection of U.S. films, including Oscar-winning writer-director Florian Zeller’s “The Son” and Neil Jordan’s “Marlowe,” Zurich is also honoring Sony Pictures Classics’ Michael Barker and Tom Bernard for their contribution to cinema.
“We are very proud that this year about one-fourth of our program are world or European premieres, which – especially when it comes to American films – are quite hard to get because there’s a lot of competition,” says ZFF artistic director Christian Jungen.
Other big titles unspooling in Zurich include Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Woman King,” with Viola Davis; Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin,” starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoghan; and Tobias Lindholm’s “The Good Nurse,” starring Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain. Redmayne will also be on hand to receive the fest’s Golden Eye award, marking a return to Zurich for the actor.
Jungen recalls Redmayne’s first visit to the 3rd ZFF in 2007: “At that time he was a completely unknown newcomer; he was starring alongside Julianne Moore in the opening film, ‘Savage Grace,’ and now 15 years later he’s an Academy Award winner coming back and accepting the Golden Eye. He’s the personification of what we love to do at Zurich – it’s all about discovering new voices, especially in the competition.”
The fest is also honoring Ben Kingsley, who will be in Zurich with Mary Harron’s “Dalíland,” and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who stars in Celyn Jones and Tom Stern’s “The Almond and the Seahorse.”
Jungen expresses particular pride in landing the latter, noting: “I’ve always been a huge Clint Eastwood fan and this film is co-directed by Tom Stern, Clint Eastwood’s long-time cameraman. So this is a very cool ticket to have.”
Zurich’s Tribute to… Award, presented to auteur filmmakers, again goes to an Italian filmmaker, Luca Guadagnino, who follows last year’s recipient, Paolo Sorrentino. The “Call Me By Your Name” director will present his latest work, “Bones and All,” which Jungen describes as “a very unique film, a cannibal romance, beautifully shot. We’re really excited to have him back.”
ZFF is a major showcase for Swiss and German-language films and this year it boasts a strong selection of both.
“In the last four years we have always had the biggest Swiss films at the box office – films that went on to have the best performance after their world premiere at our festival, Jungen says. “I think we have a very high chance of having the biggest one again this year with ‘Die goldenen Jahre’ [‘Golden Years’].”
Barbara Kulcsar’s comedy-drama follows a couple whose plans for a quiet life after retirement go very differently than expected when they set off on a Mediterranean cruise. “It’s a film in which a lot of people, depending on their age, will recognize themselves or their parents,” Jugend adds.
Also certain to make a splash is Johannes Hartmann and Sandro Klopfstein’s crowd-funded “Mad Heidi,” an action-adventure horror comedy that reimagines Switzerland’s carefree Alpine heroine as a battleax-wielding rebel seeking to liberate her dystopian country from fascist rule.
“This is a feminist trash version which questions nationalism and national icons,” Jungen notes. “There is a lot of interest from the media. It’s actually all over the media already. We programmed it in our biggest venue.”
ZFF also offers an ideal promotional opportunity of the domestic industry, particularly for Switzerland’s Oscar contender.
“We want to take advantage of the fact that there will be more than 50 Academy members at the Summit, so we do a special private screening of the Swiss Oscar contender [Michael Koch’s “A Piece of Sky”],” Jungen says. “We did it for the first time last year. It really led to something. Last year it was the film “Olga” and the director [Elie Grappe] got a contract with CAA; he got to know Pamela Abdy and Mike De Luca, who at the time were with MGM, now with Warner Bros. Discovery.
“This year we hope to repeat that success, to make the Swiss contender known and hopefully also to help this young Swiss director get in touch with some of the heavyweights of the American film industry.”
Jungen adds that the initiative is not for the festival, as “A Piece of Sky” is not an official Zurich title. “But obviously we also want to do something for our own filmmakers and this is a nice occasion.”
As the second-biggest festival in German-speaking Europe, Jungen says its crucial for Zurich to have world premieres of big German productions.
This year the fest bows Sönke Worthmann’s “Der Nachname,” a sequel to his 2018 hit comedy “How About Adolf?” that follows the same scandal-plagued family as adult siblings struggle with the news that their mother has married an adopted son.
Edward Berger’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” meanwhile, offers a gripping look at the absurdity and reality of war in what is the first German film adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic novel. It was an important premiere that ZFF fought very hard to get, Jungen notes.
Another German production making its world premiere in Zurich will be Florian Sigl’s musical fantasy “The Magic Flute,” starring Jack Wolfe, Iwan Rheon and F. Murray Abraham in a modern retelling of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s beloved opera.
On the industry side, this year sees the inaugural edition of the ZFF Summit Climber, which takes place as part of the fest’s Zurich Summit – the fest’s annual gathering of showbiz decision makers from both sides of the Atlantic.
“A lot of Americans are coming back in full force,” says Jungen. “We will have all three agencies, CAA, UTA and WME, in town; Tom Quinn from Neon will be here, and Robert Walak from Anonymous Content.”
Organized in partnership with the Vienna-based International Screen Institute, the ZFF Summit Climber program is a three-day training course for eight selected participants from around the world who will learn ways to finance, produce and distribute films in Hollywood from such industry heavyweights as Quinn, Orion Pictures president Alana Mayo, and Roeg Sutherland, co-CEO of CAA Media Finance.
One of this year’s hot topics at the Zurich Summit will be the future of the awards season, says Jungen. “We all know there was a little shakeup with the Golden Globes. Will they come back? Will BAFTA take the place of the Globes? How much will studios and streamers want to spend for the awards seasons of the future? We’re going to gather an interesting panel, also with Helen Hoehne, the president of the HFPA [Hollywood Foreign Press Association], who will be in town for the Summit. I think that’s a topic that’s of great interest. The European Film Academy is also trying to throw in its hat and become a player in the awards season.”
The Zurich Summit is likewise feting Bernard and Barker with the Game Changer Award for their 30 years of success at Sony Pictures Classics.
“I really admire them,” says Jungen. “Others came and then disappeared. They came and stayed. They’ve had 183 Oscar nominations, 41 wins — and 70 nominations were films by women during a period when diversity was not in everybody’s mouth. They also did so much for European auteurs like Wim Wenders and Maren Ade (‘Toni Erdmann), and for someone like Asghar Farhadi. They also brought the best of independent cinema from the U.S. to Europe. They had Sebastián Lelio’s Oscar-winning ‘A Fantastic Woman’ before we were talking about transgender people in all the news media. I’m really looking forward to giving them the award. When we announced it, I received so much positive feedback. I guess everybody in the industry loves them.”