Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ellen Page Join the 11th Edition of Zurich Film Festival
Keynote addresses by Christoph Waltz and director Marc Forster also help give the Swiss festival a sense of time and ascendency, as local money pours in.
The festival circuit isn't easy these days. Established August events — from Locarno and Karlovy Vary to Moscow, Tokyo and San Sebastian — are fighting for survival. Tighter release windows, a weakened art house market and pressure from TV and digital have led to a general decline for all but a handful of must-attend fests.
So how has the upstart Zurich International Film Festival, which celebrates its 11th anniversary this year, managed to prosper? The 2015 edition will be Zurich's biggest yet, with top stars (expected VIPs include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Christoph Waltz, Kiefer Sutherland, Ellen Page and Dev Patel), significant films (Scott Cooper's Black Mass, Todd Haynes' Carol and Cesc Gay's Truman are among the program highlights) and industry heavyweights, including Oscar-winning producers Harvey Weinstein, Steve Golan (Babel) and John Lesher (Birdman).
From an industry perspective, Zurich, with French-, German-, Italian- and English-speaking populations, has the advantage of being a European microcosm. (It doesn't hurt that the city is reachable by direct flights from both New York and L.A., every big city in Europe and much of Asia.) Zurich also has the highest concentration of cinemas in Europe, making it an ideal testing ground for new titles.
"We have more world premieres this year than ever before, but that's not our primary goal — what's important is that we are a suitable platform for the producers and distributors," says the fest's artistic director, Karl Spoerri. "We want a big spectrum, from crowd-pleasers and films that can reach a wide audience to pure art house films."
The festival’s opening film, Matt Brown’s 'The Man Who Knew Infinity,' stars Jeremy Irons (left) and Patel.
Last year, the festival decided to leverage built-in local assets by launching the Zurich Summit, an industry get-together set up in collaboration with film-finance forum organizers Winston Baker. "There's a lot of money in Zurich and a lot of people interested in investing in film, but the know-how was missing," says Spoerri. "The summit helps bridge that gap and gives different people in the industry — producers, sellers, agents, financiers — a place to meet."
This year's Zurich Summit will include talent — both Waltz and director Marc Forster (World War Z) will give keynote addresses — and television. Thomas Ebeling, CEO of European broadcast giant ProSiebenSat.1, will present a keynote address, and the summit program will include top execs from the likes of Sky Europe, HBO and Vimeo. It's a nod to the explosive growth in television and online drama production, which are both copying many of the financing models pioneered by the independent film industry. Another notable event: this year's China panel, featuring Jack Gao of Wanda Media, Huayi Brothers' Tao Liu and William Feng, general manager and chief representative for China for the Motion Picture Association.
"With the festival or the summit, it's all about getting the right mix," says Spoerri. "It has to be relevant and lucrative enough to make it worth your while from a business standpoint, but it also needs to be catchy and entertaining."