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Debut film hunts Golden Lion in Venice

The cold winter in the Jura region served as an atmospheric backdrop for the film (sp)

A Swiss film shot by a first-time director is going up against some of the big names in cinema at the 61st Venice International Film Festival, which opened on Wednesday.

It is the first time in 15 years that a Swiss entry has been selected to compete for the Golden Lion.

“Tout un hiver sans feu” (All Winter Without Fire) is the first feature film by Swiss-Polish director Greg Zglinski, a former pupil of acclaimed filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski.

The film tells the story of Jean and Laure who lose their young daughter in a fire at their farm in Switzerland and struggle to cope with feelings of remorse and guilt. Meanwhile all around them lies the cold of winter.

“The selection committee in Venice was probably won over by the very moving script. It’s a film of immense depth,” said producer Gérard Ruey of CAB Productions.

The film is up against some tough competition, with works by directors Wim Wenders and Mike Leigh included among the 21 films in contention.

New talent

Ruey discovered the 36-year-old Zglinski in 2001 when he was on the funding panel at the Federal Culture Office.

“One day we received a graduation film from a certain Greg Zglinski. I found his work exceptional,” recalled the producer.

Ruey immediately contacted the young filmmaker and arranged a meeting with Pierre-Pascal Rossi, a former journalist who has become an author.

Together, they worked on Rossi’s screenplay, picked a cast and a setting for the film.

They settled on the Jura, an area of Switzerland well known to Zglinski who emigrated to Switzerland from his native Poland in 1978.

“I owe my first experiences of the cinema to a nanny,” said Zglinski. “Instead of going to the playground, she used to take me to the cinema from time to time. The real eye-opener was ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’.”

Legendary Polish director

Zglinski started shooting short films from the age of 15. Ten years later he returned to Poland to study film at the National School of Film, Television and Drama in Lodz. It was there that he met the legendary Kieslowski.

By coincidence, Ruey’s CAB Productions collaborated with Kieslowski on his trilogy, “Three Colours: Blue, White, Red”.

“And Greg Zglinski was one of his last pupils. I find that amazing, especially since chance was one of Kieslowski’s favourite themes,” said Ruey.

On Wednesday, the apprentice will take his place alongside some of the leading lights in cinema at the opening of the 11-day festival.

Directors Steven Spielberg, Wim Wenders, Spike Lee and Mike Leigh are all expected to be in Venice, along with Hollywood stars Tom Hanks, John Travolta and Meryl Streep.

“It was our dream to have the film screened at a festival, and now that’s come true,” added Ruey. “Now we are raising the bar even higher. Why not a prize?”

Zglinski is also up for a Golden Camera as a first-time director. But he says what really counts is that his film is seen by as many people as possible.

“The ideal thing would be for the Venice Film Festival to give us wings, as they say in Poland. Wings to take us to new heights…”

“Tout un hiver sans feu” is due to be screened at the festival on Monday September 6.

swissinfo, Alexandra Richard

Key facts

Two other Swiss co-productions are showing in Venice:
“Confituur” (Sweet Jam) by Lieven Debrauwer appears in the Venice Days section.
“La femme de Gilles” (Wife of Gilles) by Frédéric Fonteyne is in the Horizons section.

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