Zurich Film Fest: 5 Things to Know

Top 5 Zurich - H 2013

Top 5 Zurich - H 2013

In just nine years, the swank Swiss city has quietly become a preferred destination for A-list stars and industry heavyweights.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

With the exception of Tribeca, no international film festival has gone from a standing start to global recognition faster than the one held in Zurich. Only 9 years old, the Swiss fest (Sept. 26 to Oct. 6) has the clout -- and capital -- to attract A-list celebrities and industry heavyweights without losing the cozy hometown flavor of an event held in one of Europe's most picturesque small cities. Here's why the industry is giving Zurich so much love.

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Zurich made global headlines in 2009 when Roman Polanski was arrested on his way to receive the festival's lifetime achievement honor. But that hasn't kept the stars from Zurich's red carpet. This year's A-list attendees include Hugh Jackman (Prisoners), James McAvoy (Filth) and Daniel Bruhl (Rush) alongside such directors as Atom Egoyan (Devil's Knot), James Gray (The Immigrant) and World War Z's Marc Forster, the president of this year's Zurich jury. "From the beginning, the idea was to make the festival high-end -- the best of everything. That's made it attractive for guests and talent in particular," says festival co-director Karl Spoerri. "We try to tailor things to what the VIPs want. So, for example, when Laurence Fishburne wanted to do a motorcycle tour of the mountains around Zurich, we set that up for him."


Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity premiered in Venice, but Zurich is where Warner Bros. will kick off its continental campaign for the film. It's a similar story for Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners and Ron Howard's festival opener, the racing biopic Rush, both of which plan to use the media machine surrounding the festival to support their films' commercial release in Europe. Zurich's new arrangement with Spain's San Sebastian festival will see the two events share titles and costs to give films a pan-European platform. "The old festival model of competing for world premieres is outdated," says Spoerri. "What we want to do is put the film, not the festival, at the center and create a platform -- starting in Toronto, going to San Sebastian and then to Zurich -- that can best help a film's release in Europe."


If there's one thing the Swiss understand, it's money (well, that and chocolate). So it's no surprise that Zurich's finance forum, which runs concurrent to the festival, has become a go-to event for indie producers looking to tap European private and public capital. "Zurich brings in the top players, the A-list, but unlike in Cannes, where they have maybe 15 minutes between meetings, here they've got time to relax and talk about projects," says Dario Suter, a Zurich native and co-head of German producer/distributor DCM. "And, of course, Zurich is a banking city, so you have a lot of serious financiers and private equity around who are interested in investing in film."

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Where else but Zurich can you sit in on intimate one-on-one conversations with industry giants ranging from Harvey Weinstein to director Michael Haneke (of Oscar winner Amour) to Working Title producer Tim Bevan (Atonement, Les Miserables), who will be on hand this year for a Career Achievement Award? The ZFF Master sessions are a festival highlight both for industry insiders and the everyday film fanatic.


Switzerland's largest city still is one of Europe's best-kept location secrets. The region offers Manhattan-style urban settings and centuries of historical architecture a stone's throw from unspoiled Alpine wilderness. "We like to say Zurich is a city as designed by Universal Studios because everything -- the sea, mountains, the city, the countryside -- it's all so close together and easy to get to," says Susanne Jungbluth of the Zurich Film Office. Another advantage for major shoots: legendary Swiss shrewdness. "You come here to shoot, you can be sure of absolute security and absolute discretion," says Jungbluth. "It is Switzerland, after all."