Organisers of the sixth Zurich Film Festival are hoping for less drama than last year when director Roman Polanski was arrested en route to receiving an award.
The detention of the Polish-French star at Zurich airport last September, on a United States arrest warrant, became an overnight international cause célèbre and diplomatic incident that divided opinion.
Stuck in the middle was the fledgling film festival in Zurich that had unwittingly opened the doors of a trap by inviting Polanski to Switzerland to receive his award in person.
No sooner had Polanski stepped off the plane than he was arrested by police on outstanding charges of child rape in the US. After the director had been under house arrest at his Gstaad chalet for the best part of a year, the Swiss authorities decided after all not to extradite him.
“It was really difficult for such a small organisation as us to manage such a big mess,” festival commercial director Nadja Schildknecht told swissinfo.ch. “We still had to run the show but it was hard as everyone was so shocked.”
“The festival had not long got started and the first years went so well that I was pretty relaxed,” she added. “Then suddenly Polanski was arrested and the whole world came to Zurich and suddenly wanted something out of us. It was a complete mess.”
Thankfully for Schildknecht, who is in charge of raising financing, the festival’s sponsors have not been scared away. On the contrary, this year’s budget has risen to SFr4.1 million ($4 million) from SFr3.8 million in 2009.
Some 80 per cent of this cash comes from commercial sponsors, but the popularity of the festival has even persuaded the national government and local authorities to dip into their pockets to provide seven per cent of the funding.
Official recognition of the festival will be cemented by the visit of Moritz Leuenberger, the first cabinet minister to grace the event. With Switzerland already boasting an established international film festival in Locarno and a domestic counterpart in Solothurn, initial response to Zurich was muted, recalled Schildknecht.
“When we started nobody believed in what we were doing and even the government was not exactly thrilled by the situation,” she told swissinfo.ch. “The authorities were very sceptical but the public provided a perfect answer with increasing audiences.”
Some 37,000 people visited the 11-day festival last year – an audience four times larger than was attracted to the first event in 2005. “We are still just a little child at the moment, but we will continue to grow,” Schildknecht said.
Local young talent
While the organisers will be hoping for a better script in two weeks’ time, no film festival would be complete without a little controversy.
This year, that will be provided by the opening film Sennentuntschi – a local offering from the feted Swiss director Michael Steiner. The movie, set in the Swiss Alps, about a girl believed by villagers to be possessed, had to be rescued by a German production firm after going massively over budget amid lurid media rumours of funds being used to pay for call girls.
The Zurich Film Festival tries to differentiate itself from others by supporting local talent with the airing of a variety of Swiss produced films, awards for the best entrants and a workshop to give budding local movie moguls some hot industry tips.
The festival, that opens on September 23, will also feature an international film documentary section and other movies from around the globe. It will be closed by Oliver Stone’s Wall Street sequel – Money Never Sleeps – on October 3.
The star of that movie, Michael Douglas, will receive a Golden icon award from the festival that will be accepted by Danny DeVito as Douglas is undergoing cancer therapy.
Czech director Milos Forman will also receive an award to pay tribute to his works that include One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus.
Zurich Film Festival
The Zurich Film Festival opened to sceptical previews in 2005 with the intention of promoting Swiss-made productions and young talent from around the world.
It was based loosely on the US Sundance film festival that features independent movies and film makers.
The success of the first festival was enough to persuade the Zurich authorities to provide some funding, and the Swiss government was not far behind.
Featuring some 70 films, also international and documentary offerings, the 6th Zurich Film Festival will run from September 23 to October 3 this year.
It now has a budget of SFr4.1 million, the bulk of which is provided by the main sponsors, including Credit Suisse, Kuoni and the Post.
Separate juries will judge the best German language film, the best international film and the best international documentary.
Switzerland’s largest film festival staged its 63rd edition in Locarno this year. Another festival in Solothurn features Swiss films while Nyon also plays host to an annual film event.