Ahead of Zurich Film Festival’s ninth edition (Sept 26-Oct 6), festival director Karl Spoerri tells Sarah Cooper about new festival partnerships, world premieres and showcasing local talent.

“We are still young, but every year we are improving and people are becoming more aware of the festival,” says Karl Spoerri, artistic director and co-director - with Nadja Schildknecht - of Zurich Film Festival, ahead of its ninth edition which runs September 26-October 6.

Zurich may forever be associated with Roman Polanski, who was on his way to collect an award at the 2009 festival when he was arrested, but it is now making headlines of its own thanks to a steady stream of high-profile guests - last year it welcomed among others Oliver Stone, Richard Gere and Helen Hunt - along with a growing number of industry initiatives.

“Guests like it because it’s easy to get to, it’s a small city, but there’s lots to do. And they can relax here,” says Spoerri.

New for 2013 is a partnership with San Sebastian Film Festival, which runs September 20-28. Rather than competing for titles, the festivals - which have already shared films and talent in the past - have decided to team up officially and will each host a ‘window’ dedicated to films from their respective countries.

Also launching this year is a Swiss screenwriting competition, in partnership with SRF Radio and Telepool Zurich, which carries a $5,150 award and a development prize worth up to $26,000. According to Spoerri it not only provides much-needed support for screenwriters in Switzerland, but is also a way of tapping into up-and-coming writing talent.

After a successful pilot edition last year, the festival will also host its second mini market of German-language films - both completed and works in progress - with buyers expected not only from German-speaking territories but also from France and the UK. The event will run over three days, growing from two days last year.

The festival has so far received 119 submissions for its second International Music Competition, which launched last year to celebrate the work of film composers, “who are so important but don’t get that much attention”, says Spoerri.

‘We want to attract more world premieres and press and industry people, that’s where we would really like to develop’

Karl Spoerri, Zurich Film Festival

Meanwhile, Zurich’s annual Film Finance Forum will also be returning for a fourth edition on September 28, with speakers including Silver Reel’s Claudia Blumhuber, Exclusive Media’s Nigel Sinclair and CAA’s Roeg Sutherland.

Brazilian films will be the focus of the festival’s New World View section. “Next year the football World Cup is there and two years after that the Olympic Games, so we thought before everyone said, ‘No more Brazil’, we would do it now,” says Spoerri.

Galas will include Gravity, Devil’s Knot, The Railway Man, Joe, Diana, All Is Lost and Le Weekend. The rest of the film programme was yet to be announced when Screen went to press, but Spoerri says he is “optimistic of a great line-up again this year”, across its four competitions sections - international features, international documentaries, German-speaking features and German-speaking documentaries. The jury will be headed by World War Z director Marc Forster, Django Unchained producer Stacey Sher, Killing Them Softly director Andrew Dominik and Indian producer Guneet Monga.

The number of world premieres looks set to rise from six to 10, while the aim is to secure a strong crop of international films from Venice and Toronto, as in previous years. “The timing works well, because they see it as a great platform for the German-language territories, which is a really important market.”

Meanwhile the festival continues to showcase local Swiss fare, with notable world premieres this year including Xavier Koller’s Die Schwarzen Brüder and Markus Imboden’s Am Hang.

Local audiences certainly seem to be impressed. Some 58,000 tickets were sold in 2012, up from 51,000 in 2011, and this year the festival is adding an extra screen to keep up with the growing numbers. At the same time, its already healthy budget of $7.5m (sfr7m) has increased to $8.1m (sfr7.5m) thanks to a renewed sponsorship deal with watch company Glashütte Original and more support from the city and state.

But Spoerri has no plans to sit back and enjoy the show. “We want to attract more world premieres and we would like more press and industry people, that’s where we’d really like to develop.”

Zurich 2013

  • Galas include Gravity, Devil’s Knot, All Is Lost and Le Weekend.
  • New this year is a partnership with San Sebastian Film Festival and a screenwriting competition.
  • Swiss premieres include Die Schwarzen Brüder and Am Hang.
  • The New World Vision section will focus on Brazil.