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Green wave, record number of women and many Hollywood stars at Zurich Fest


The 15th Zurich Film Festival (Sept 26 to Oct 6) will feature over 170 films from 58 countries. Among them are more works by women directors than ever before. We further celebrate strong women with Cate Blanchett, Kristen Stewart and Julie Delpy. And the Hollywood stars Javier Bardem, Donald Sutherland, Roland Emmerich and Oliver Stone each head a ZFF Masters session. 

The Zurich Film Festival is the only festival in the world where the carpet is green. And this will be trodden on from the 26th of September by many filmmakers whose works aim to raise the public’s awareness of the need to protect the environment. Indeed, the festival kicks off with Niklaus Hilber’s large-scale Swiss production BRUNO MANSER – DIE STIMME DES REGENWALDES starring Sven Schelker in the title role as the Basel-born environmental activist. We continue with such documentaries and powerful pleas for conservation as SANCTUARY, which producer and protagonist Javier Bardem will introduce personally; WATSON, about Greenpeace founder Paul Watson; and SEA OF SHADOWS, about whale hunting. We also introduce the two environmentally-based films STORM BOY and PHANTOM OWL FOREST in our ZFF for Kids section. "There is a green wave currently sweeping cinema, with a large number of high-quality films tackling environmental issues," explains artistic director Karl Spoerri. "Many of these films were made years or months ago, long before the recent climate demonstrations, once again proving that art is a seismograph of the times, often anticipating issues that matter to people." 

The ZFF will screen a total of 171 films - that's nine more than last year. Twelve of these are world premieres and five European premieres. The three Golden Eye competitions focus on young, original cinema with a total of 44 debut films competing. The 14-title International Feature Film Competition line-up features two Iranian films: the cop thriller JUST 6.5, which became one of the biggest box office hits of all time in Iran, and the European premiere of Mahnaz Mohammadi’s directorial debut SON-MOTHER.     

More films by women than ever before 

The ZFF presents more films by women directors across almost all sections of the festival than ever before, namely 57. That amounts to an increase of 39% on last year. "Fortunately, there are more and more female directors telling stories from a female perspective," explains Karl Spoerri. "Examples include RADIOACTIVE, about Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, which will be introduced personally by director Marjane Satrapi, and MY ZOE by and with Julie Delpy, who embodies a scientist who wants to clone her child.” The latter film will screen as a European premiere and Delpy will also speak at the “Women of Impact” symposium about her experience as a woman in the film industry. "That we show comparatively more films by women than any other festival is probably due in part to the fact that the proportion of women at the ZFF is over 80 percent," explains festival director Nadja Schildknecht. 

In keeping with this trend, two strong women will also receive two of the fest’s most prestigious Golden Eye honours. The Hollywood star Kristen Stewart will receive the Career Achievement Award when she brings SEBERG to Zurich, a film which sees her embody the actress Jean Seberg, who achieved cult icon status after appearing in Godard’s A BOUT DE SOUFFLE. Stewart will also discuss her career in an A CONVERSATION WITH session. “Kristen Stewart is without doubt one of the most versatile actresses of her generation. She shot to stardom in the TWILIGHT SAGA and could have continued to notch up one blockbuster after another. Instead this exceptional character actress concentrated on the artistic demands of such auteur films as SEBERG. It is a privilege for us to honour her work with this accolade,” said Nadja Schildknecht and Karl Spoerri. 

The Golden Icon Award, the festival’s most coveted accolade, will be presented to two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett on October 5. After Glenn Close in 2017 and Judie Dench in 2018, it is the third time in a row that this award has gone to a woman. The Australian will present her latest movie WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Richard Linklater. The ZFF screens 12 more of Blanchett’s films in a retrospective.  

The second retrospective is dedicated to the German-blockbuster-general Roland Emmerich, who will receive the career award “A Tribute to…”. “Emmerich stands for an intelligent mainstream cinema that reflects the times, and does so with such films as THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, which dealt with global warming,” commented Spoerri and Schildknecht, “this is why we have chosen to celebrate his career shortly before the theatrical release of his most recent production MIDWAY.” 

Oscar-nominees in GALA programme 

This year, the festival once again screens the season’s hottest titles as GALA Premieres, several of which will later join the race for the Oscars, including JOKER by Todd Philipps, THE LAUNDROMAT by Steven Soderbergh, LE MANS '66 by James Mangold, MARRIAGE STORY by Noah Baumbach, PAVAROTTI by Ron Howard, THE FAREWELL by Lulu Wang and DEUTSCHSTUNDE by Christian Schwochow. “The ZFF has established itself as the most important festival in the German-speaking world for the most relevant autumn and winter titles. We are particularly pleased that more and more auteur filmmakers are turning to us”, says Karl Spoerri. French shooting star Ladj Ly will personally introduce his Cannes-acclaimed Banlieue thriller LES MISERABLES, Colombian director Ciro Guerra, who also sits on this year’s International Feature Film Competition jury, will be accompanied by his Oscar-winning lead actor Mark Rylance to present WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS, and director Bart Freundlich will present his drama AFTER THE WEDDING, which stars his wife Julianne Moore in the lead role. 

There is also a strong focus this year on such films as THE REPORT and OFFICIAL SECRETS, both of which tell of whistleblowers uncovering uncomfortable truths. The Hashtag section, which is now taking place for the second time after its success last year (over 70% occupancy), presents eight titles on the subject of "Speaking the Truth", many of which, such as BELLINGCAT and PANAMA PAPERS, highlight how important journalists are to a democracy. "Social media and smartphones have made fake news spread faster and faster. We show films that reflect these developments critically and shine a light on the profession of journalism," say Karl Spoerri and Nadia Schildknecht.

The ZFF Masters have become a landmark on the ZFF landscape – and there are more this year than ever before: three-time Oscar winner and president of the International Feature Film Competition jury Oliver Stone, acting legend Donald Sutherland, as well as Javier Bardem and Julie Delpy will all head a ZFF Masters session. 

South American films form another point of focus

The "New World View" section this year introduces cinema from the exciting film-producing country Colombia. And the strong presence of Central and South American cinema is striking in other sections of the festival, too. In addition to the 14 Colombian titles, the programme contains 26 more feature and documentary films from this continent. The "Border Lines" and "ZFF for Kids" sections complete the programme. The latter has been expanded to include ten titles, among them A SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE: FARMAGEDDON from the legendary British animation studio Aardman Animations, which will be presented by the directors personally; and CHECKERED NINJA, which attracted almost one million visitors to the cinema – that in Denmark, with its population of just 5 million, makes it the country’s biggest hit of all time. The ZFF also places great importance on series. The ZFF “Series” section presents a selection of ten inspirational series on the big screen, including GÖSTA by the Swedish cult director Lukas Moodysson, and THE WALL, which premieres at the ZFF.

First fully electric fleet of cars thanks to Mercedes-Benz 

Approximately 90% of the ZFF’s ca. 7.8 million Swiss Franc budget is sourced in the private sector, making the ZFF a unique feature of the Swiss festival landscape. “We are delighted to have secured Mercedes-Benz as a new Main Partner and with them our first fully electric fleet of vehicles.” explains Nadja Schildknecht. “The immense trust placed in us by the corporate sector confirms that our strategy for sustainability is working.” The ZFF has also been able to find another important partner in SwissID. 

The 15th Zurich Film Festival takes place from September 26 to October 6 – we look forward to meeting you there! 




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