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Solothurn: Around the world in 170 films – from home

Syrian actor Jihad Abdo in 'Nachbarn' (Neighbours) by Mano Khalil Solothurner Filmtage © 2021

What does fear do to us? What is everyday life like for a Kurdish schoolchild on the Turkish-Syrian border? What would Jesus preach today? These are some of the questions presented to cinephiles at the 56th Solothurn Film Festival. SWI swissinfo.ch previews five films.

This content was published on January 20, 2021 - 18:30

This year the festivalExternal link, which started on Wednesday, is taking place exclusively online: stories from all over the world will enter Swiss homes. A total of 170 films are being shown with 1,000 virtual tickets per screening. The previous festival counted over 66,000 visitors – how many people will log in over the next seven days from their sofas?

Solothurn Film Festival 2021

The most important festival of the Swiss film industry includes a representative cross-section of current productions of all genres and lengths, with fiction, documentary, experimental and animation films.

The festival’s opening film, Atlas by Niccolò Castelli from Italian-speaking canton Ticino, will be accessible to the entire Swiss population for the first time. It can be watched for free on the festival website and will be broadcast on Wednesday on Swiss public television RTS, SRF and RSI. Atlas tells the story of a woman who survives a terrorist attack. At the centre of the plot is fear, like the one we all feel today because of the pandemic.

Debates and online masterclasses are on the programme as usual, especially in the Focus section dedicated to film criticism.

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Fourteen productions are nominated for the prize in the main competitionExternal link, the Prix de Soleure, worth CHF60,000 ($67,500). Nine of these are by women, including the world premieres, The Scent of Fear by Mirjam von Arx, and Watch Over Me by Farida Pacha.

Also worth mentioning are Das Neue Evangelium (The New Gospel) by Milo Rau, Nachbarn (Neighbours) by Mano Khalil, and Kombinat by Gabriel Tejedor.

Milo Rau, winner of the Swiss Theatre Award 2014, teamed up with Cameroonian political activist Yvan Sagnet to make a film, 'Das Neue Evangelium', about Jesus in which a biblical narrative intertwines with revolt. Sagnet returns to the largest refugee camp near Matera, southern Italy, to find his “followers”: desperate people who have crossed the Mediterranean to slave away in tomato fields, living in inhumane conditions. Together with local small farmers they founded the “Rivolta Della Dignità” (revolt of dignity), a political campaign led by Sagnet that fights for the rights of migrants. Solothurner Filmtage © 2021
In 'The Scent of Fear' , documentary filmmaker Mirjam von Arx explores what fear is and why we are so afraid of it. Neuroscientists, psychologists and politicians show how society is controlled by messages of fear. The film also travels the world and meets people who are paralysed by fear. Solothurner Filmtage © 2021
Mano Khalil started his carrier as a filmmaker in Switzerland after spending three years in a refugee camp. Solothurn gave him his first shot in Switzerland to become again the artist he was in Syria and in Czechoslovakia. In 'Nachbarn' he takes the audience to a small border village between Syria and Turkey in the early 1980s, where little Sero experiences his first year at school. Sero plays cheeky pranks on his friends, dreams of a television so he can finally watch cartoons, and at the same time experiences how the adults around him are increasingly crushed by random acts of nationalism and violence. Solothurner Filmtage © 2021
Farida Pasha, born in Mumbai, has lived and worked in Zurich since 2011. In her world premiere 'Watch Over Me' she takes viewers to New Delhi, where Mani, Sini and Dr Reena work for a palliative care organisation. The film explores the universal question: how important is it to accept that dying is a normal process, a part of life? Solothurner Filmtage © 2021
Gabriel Tejedor is also one of the many directors participating in this year’s festival who are interested in a very different culture than Swiss culture. His documentary 'Kombinat' was shown last year at the 26th Visions du Réel International Film Festival in Nyon, which also had to be cancelled and shown online. Kombinat portrays the day-to-day lives of Lena, Sasha, Guenia and their families. These young parents wonder about their living and working conditions, which seem to be ruled by the Kombinat, one of Russia’s largest iron and steel factories, and its state capitalism. Solothurner Filmtage © 2021

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