The film "Winter Nomads" from Swiss director Manuel von Stürler has taken home the best documentary prize at the 2012 European Film Awards, marking the second win for a Swiss film in the awards’ 25-year history.
The award was given by 2,700 industry professionals from across Europe who make up the European Film Academy.
In the film, von Stürler follows two shepherds, 28-year-old Carole and 53-year-old Pascal, who must herd their flock 600 kilmetres through harsh Alpine regions. With only a few animal skins and a canvas tent for shelter, they cover ground in all weather and find food for their sheep where they can.
The result, according to the European Film Awards’ synopsis, is “an eventful journey with surprise encounters, moving reunions with farmer friends, nostalgic figures of a country life that is rapidly shrinking away”.
The 44-year-old von Stürler, who was born in Lausanne to Swiss and French parents, studied the trombone and continues to work as a composer and performer as well as a photographer and filmmaker. Winter Nomads is his first full-length film and was inspired by a flock of sheep unexpectedly passing his home near an urban area in Switzerland.
Through the film, von Stürler says he sought to explore the rapidly urbanising Swiss countryside and make “a movie that makes you smell the scents of the earth and the mud, the wet wool and the forest, to be a concrete, realistic, earthy film".
Films by Swiss directors have enjoyed considerable success at recent festivals and awards ceremonies. Winter Nomads was also lauded at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, where French-Swiss director Ursula Meier’s drama “Sister” received a special runner-up Silver Bear award. “Sister” was also recently nominated for the American Oscar awards in the best foreign language film category.
"The Sound of Insects", a film from Swiss director Peter Liechti, also won the European Film Award for best documentary in 2009, the only other time a Swiss film has claimed the prize.