Michael wins several awards in Graz; Thierry Jobin takes the helm at Switzerland’s Fribourg.

Sebastian Meise’s bold feature debut Still Life (Stilleben) [pictured] won the Grand Diagonale Prize for Best Austrian Film at this year’s Diagonale – Festival of Austrian Film in the Styrian capital of Graz.

The co-production by Freibeuter Film and Lotus Film, which tackles the taboo subjects of incest and paedophilia, also received the Association of Austrian Cinematographers’ (AAC) prize for Gerald Kerkletz’s cinematography and the Association of Austrian Production Designers’ award for Katharina Wöppermann’s costume design.

Meanwhile, Michael Schleinzer’s debut Michael, which premiered in the Official Competition in Cannes last year and won the Max Ophüls Prize for Best Feature in Saarbrücken at the end of January, took home four prizes at the awards ceremony on Saturday evening for cinematography (Gerald Kerkletz, shared with Stilleben), editing (Wolfgang Widerhofer), production design (Katrin Huber and Gerhard Dohr) and acting (Michael Fuith).

In addition, a jury including Oscar-winning Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky and German distributor-producer Manuela Stehr chose Schleinzer’s screenplay about the relationship between a paedophile and his victim over Karl Markovics’ Breathing and Barbara Eder’s Inside America for this year’s Thomas Pluch Screenplay Award.

Other awards included the Grand Diagonale Prize for Best Documentary for Dariusz Kowalski’s Richtung Nowa Huta, the Diagonale Audience Award for Bernd Liepold-Mosser’s Griffen – Auf den Spuren von Peter Handke, and the Award for an Innovative Production Achievement to Dieter Pochlatko’s epo-film for Breathing.

The annual showcase of Austrian cinema included the main competition, the retrospective of all those Austrian feature films and documentaries theatrically released in 2011, a tribute dedicated to the Israeli filmmaker Avi Mograbi and a spotlight on the cult director Ferry Radax.

The Diagonale’s two-day industry gathering focused this year on strategies for financing and sales of medium-sized fiction and documentary films with local filmmakers such as producers Erich Lackner and Gabriele Kranzelbinder and distributor-exhibitor Michael Stejskal as well as international guests ranging from UK producer Peter Carlton (Warp) and CineMart head Marit van den Elshout, through producers Mikael Rieks (Cosmo Film) and Marek Rozenbaum (Transfax Productions) to distributor Torsten Frehse (Neue Visionen Filmverleih) and sales agent Francois Yon (Films Distribution).

Meanwhile, Switzerland’s Fribourg International Film Festival (FIFF) was opened on Saturday evening by Diego Rougier’s Argentine-Chilean co-production Salt, with the director and actress/producer Javiera Contador in attendance.

This year’s edition of the festival, which has traditionally concentrated on South and Latin America, Asia and Africa, is the first outing as FIFF’s director for film critic Thierry Jobin as the successor for Eduoard Waintrop who was appointed as the artistic director of Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight last July.

Jobin had undertaken major restructuring to the festival programme and introduced permanent new programme sections including a sidebar dedicated to films directed or produced by members of the International Jury.

“I think the competition clearly demonstrates the various aspects that make up the FIFF,” Jobin says. “This year, we have twelve films from twelve different countries – a coincidence, as we did not plan it that way. Then there are two films in which the hero is a child, Lucky from South Africa and 11 Flowers from China. That wasn’t intentional either, but these films really caught our attention. The programme includes two films that deal with AIDS. These are very exciting films in their narrative style: the Egyptian film Asmaa by Amr Salama, for example, deals with a woman who needs an operation that the doctors refuse to give her because she is HIV positive. In the Arab world, AIDS is still a very strong taboo. In the 1990s, this film would have been selected just for its subject matter. But we found that this film is above all extremely well made: the performance of the leading actress is simply brilliant.”

Apart from the 12 films competing for the Regard d’Or, the festival programme will include a spotlight on Bangladesh cinema, a master class hosted by Locarno’s artistic director Olivier Père with the veteran Czech filmmaker Ivan Passer (Cutter’s Way) as well an homage to the Swiss producer Pierre-Alain Meier and a showcase of animation selected by Swiss animator Georges Schwizgebel.

Meanwhile, Gerardo Naranjo’s action film Miss Bala, which first screened in Un Certain Regard last year and was Mexico’s entry for the Foreign Language Film Oscar, will be the closing film after FIFF’s awards ceremony next Saturday (March 31).