Zurich Film Festival co-director Karl Spoerri tells Wendy Mitchell about the event’s dramatic audience growth, starry glamour and new German-language film market.

It is hard to believe the Zurich Film Festival (September 20-30) is only in its eighth year, as the event has the audiences, industry stature and high-powered attendees that some decades-old festivals would envy.

“The festival gets more and more recognised by the international industry so that’s great,” says Karl Spoerri [pictured], the festival’s artistic director and co-director (with Nadja Schildknecht). “It is more of a German-language festival, it’s not a specialist Swiss festival. Hopefully we’ll get more and more industry people coming ― that’s important for the future.”

Zurich may have received some unexpected media attention in 2009 when Roman Polanski was arrested ahead of receiving an award at the festival. The event has since made happier headlines ― Polanski returned in 2011 for a tribute and guests last year also included Sean Penn, Laurence Fishburne, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Paul Haggis and the team from The Help.

But it is not just the industry sessions and red-carpet glamour that are growing. “In 2007 we had audiences of 27,000 and in 2011 that was 51,000. We hope we can continue to grow,” Spoerri notes.

Part of the appeal is that Zurich has been adding programmes every year. This year’s new initiatives include a ‘mini-market’ of German-language films, the ZFF Filmboutique, which also includes works in progress.

‘Zurich is perfect for a festival. It’s a small city but it has a lot to offer in terms of culture and infrastructure’

Karl Spoerri, Zurich Film Festival

“We have invited a lot of buyers and the reaction has been quite good,” says Spoerri. “It is a pilot project and we’ll have about 50 people here presenting German-language films. It’s also new films, not just our competition. We want to provide a great overview of German-language cinema. It’s a small start now but we can increase that.”

The 2012 edition inaugurates the International Film Music Competition. More than 250 composers under 35 years of age have submitted entries for the $10,200 (chf10,000) prize (from partners Credit Suisse, Die Schweizerische Post and Audi). “Score is such an important element in film, and we think we could give them a platform,” Spoerri says.

As Zurich is well known as a banking capital, the city is also a good fit for the festival’s Film Finance Forum (now in its third year, hosted by Winston Baker). Spoerri notes: “It is not just a conference ― it’s also a networking platform. There are panels and then round-tables and networking events. The most important thing for German-language investors is to build up a relationship with international producers, and we try to provide a platform for that.”

Zurich itself is well-suited to host a festival, with convenient cinemas and festival venues within walking distance. “It is a small city but it has a lot to offer in terms of culture and infrastructure,” Spoerri says. Some 90% of the festival’s budget comes from private sponsors.

While the programme was still under wraps as Screen went to press, Spoerri says: “Hopefully we’ll have a strong international competition and I think we can increase our number of world premieres.” There are competition sections for international features, German-language features, international documentaries and German-language documentaries.

The honorees in 2012 announced so far include John Travolta, who stars in Oliver Stone’s opening night film Savages, and US producer Jerry Weintraub, whose credits include Nashville, The Karate Kid and Ocean’s Eleven.

Zurich 2012

  • Oliver Stone’s Savages will open the festival.
  • New for this edition is a ‘mini-market’ for German-language films, ZFF Filmboutique.
  • The New World View programme is devoted to Sweden.
  • Jerry Weintraub will receive a career achievement award and give a masterclass.
  • John Travolta will receive the Golden Eye award.