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Laura Mora’s “The Kings of the World” was named Best Film at the Zurich Film Festival Saturday.

The jury, led by Asghar Farhadi and featuring Clio Barnard, Daniel Dreifuss, Petra Volpe and Piodor Gustafsson, was taken with the coming-of-age drama about young friends living on the streets of Medellín, one that has triumphed at San Sebastian as well. Film Factory Entertainment handles sales.

“I am so happy the jury voted for it. I am convinced this film will stand the test of time,” artistic director Christian Jungen told Variety.

“It shows that film can be an art form, but it also provides social criticism on the situation in Colombia. Where poor, regular people can’t easily access their rights.”

Mora got the idea for the story while casting her feature debut “Killing Jesus,” she told Variety back in August.

“More than 90 boys we interviewed all shared a terrible feeling of exclusion, a certainty of not having a future. However, almost like a deep and beautiful contradiction, they were full of life, sometimes delusional dreams, always linked to the same desire: an obsession with having a place in the world, literally and symbolically,” she said.

“From there, questions arose that I have always asked myself about the violence tied to the possession of the land. The nerve center of the conflict in Colombia is precisely that: That of a people who have been dispossessed of their land by landowners, large elites and armed groups, who have formed the basis of an extremely unequal and painful society.”

Gina Gammell and Riley Keough’s Cannes discovery “War Pony” and “Until Tomorrow” by Ali Asgari were also noticed.

Elena Avdija’s documentary “Stuntwomen” triumphed in the Focus Competition, showcasing films from Switzerland, Germany and Austria, and led by Christine Vachon as jury president. Following stuntwomen Virginie Arnaud, Petra Sprecher and Estelle Piget, Avdija calls out the “cartel-like” professional stunt industry and storylines that perpetuate the image of women as victims of violence.

“Stuntwomen” Courtesy of Elena Avdija

“Cinema has a fascination with sexist violence. We like to see women suffer, getting kidnapped or raped,” she noted.

“Stuntwomen are more than the characters they get to play.”

Finally, Reed Harkness’ “Sam Now” was chosen as Best Documentary, with Carmen Jaquier’s “Thunder” granted a special mention. The latter was also noticed by the critics, earning Jaquier an Emerging Swiss Talent Award and Zurich Churches Film Prize.

Laura Kaehr’s “Becoming Giulia” took home the Audience Award, which was presented by Roland Emmerich, described as “master of disaster.”

According to Jungen, the audience came back in “unexpected numbers” this year.

“We’ve had 137,000 admissions, which is 20,000 more than in our record year in 2019. People are eager to watch films collectively and filmmakers are ready to travel. I was talking to Louis Garrel the other day and he spotted Kirill Serebrennikov on the street, they greeted each other. It’s good to have directors in town,” he said.

Only Ben Kingsley, forced to cancel his trip while recovering from COVID, served as a painful reminder that the pandemic is still ongoing.

“In the past two years I have learnt there are things you cannot control. But he promised to come and accept the award in person next year. When I looked into his eyes, I felt this is an honest man,” noted Jungen.

“Sam Now” Courtesy of Reed Harkness

While there is a need for upbeat entertainment, one the festival tries to satisfy with a slew of new comedies, the organizers are not exactly shying away from politics, he added.

Before announcing the winners, Farhadi had asked the audience to stand in memory of Mahsa Amini, the young Iranian woman who died in custody after being detained by Iran’s “morality police.”

“We have shown Jafar Panahi’s ‘No Bears’ and we stand in solidarity with incarcerated Iranian directors,” said Jungen. “You can’t keep a festival in a bubble, because cinema is a reflection of life. It was special, kicking it off with ‘The Swimmers,’ a film about refugees in a moment when Zurich is full of cars with Ukrainian registration plates.”

That being said, the boycott of Russian films was never an option.

“I am against the boycott,” said Jungen.

“When Serebrennikov presented his last film in Zurich, ‘Leto,’ he couldn’t be here. He was under house arrest. Does it help anyone when we suppress or cancel dissident Russian filmmakers? We wouldn’t invite Russian officials, of course, but we are against cancel culture.”

While the festival showed “Rimini” by Ulrich Seidl, its follow-up, “Sparta,” has been recently pulled from Toronto amid allegations of impropriety and child exploitation.

“If you see a crime, please report it to the police. But it’s not the role of a festival to judge directors. Cancelling a film is not the right way to deal with such a situation. At the end of the day, art needs to be free.”

The 18th edition of Zurich Film Festival will wrap on Oct. 2.

The full list of awards:

Feature Film Competition
Best Film: “The Kings of the World”
Special Mention: “War Pony” by Gina Gammell and Riley Keough, and “Until Tomorrow” by Ali Asgari

Focus Competition:
Best Film: “Stuntwomen”
Special Mention: “Thunder” by Carmen Jaquier

Documentary Film Competition:
Best Film: “Sam Now”
Special Mention: “The New Greatness Case” by Anna Shishova and “The Killing of a Journalist” by Matt Sarnecki

Emerging Swiss Talent Award (Critics’ Prize): “Thunder”

ZFF for Kids – Jury Prize: “Lucy Ist Jetzt Gangster” by Till Endemann

Audience Award: “Becoming Giulia” by Laura Kaehr

Science Film Award: “The Territory” by Alex Pritz

Zurich Churches Film Prize: “Thunder”

Best International Film Music: Robert IJserinkhuijsen

A Tribute to … Award: Luca Guadagnino

Golden Icon Award: Sir Ben Kingsley

Career Achievement Award: Rachel Portman

Golden Eye Award: Charlotte Gainsbourg

Golden Eye Award: Eddie Redmayne

Game Changer Award: Michael Barker and Tom Bernard