Zurich Film Festival – an Interview with Aurel Graf
By Liam Klenk
The Zurich Film Festival is an annual event which premiered in the summer of 2005. Since then this film festival has grown in size every year and has won much international acclaim. We were lucky to get an interview with the festival’s head of film coordination, Aurel Graf.
Hello Aurel, thank you for this interview. How did you find your way to working for the renowned Zurich Film Festival?
I spent many years studying political sciences at Lucerne University. Afterwards, I studied film science at Zurich University. Film was always a passion.
During my studies, I already had a chance to gather many practical experiences in the cultural world. I worked in the journalistic sector as editorial staff for several newspapers and film publications. At the same time, I also worked in the Cinema Corso in Zurich. One of the town’s oldest movie theaters.
In 2017, I began working in the Zurich Film Festival (ZFF) team. Since then, I am part of the programming team and I am head of film coordination for our festival.
Can you give us some background information about the Zurich Film Festival? Since when does it exist and how did it develop over the years?
The ZFF started in 2005. This year, the festival celebrates its 16th anniversary.
This year is a special year. For the very first time, our festival will be under the direction of artistic director Christian Jungen. It really is astounding, how fast the festival established itself in the Swiss as well as the international film industry.
Just looking at size, the ZFF is now the second-biggest film festival in the German-speaking world. The Berlinale in Berlin is still the biggest.
Every year, I am astounded by the films that are being shown. Many of them high-quality productions from all over the world. Who chooses the films for the festival program?
A team of eight programmers chooses our list of films for each festival year. Each one of us has a geographical focus area. Someone is responsible for the Asian region, someone for Scandinavia, etc.
Then there is also a focus on certain topics which we usually dedicate a series of films to. For example, together with a colleague I am programming the series “Hashtag”, which each year is dedicated to a different contemporary topic.
Will the Zurich Film Festival open to the public this year? Were there any doubts?
We were positive from the very beginning that we will be able to proceed with the festival. One has to be careful, of course. Because the current situation due to Covid-19 is incalculable and unforeseeable.
But we are fortunate to enjoy good backing from our partners as well as from the Zurich authorities, which adds to our optimism.
However, it is clear that we will be alert at all times. We want the visitors of our festival to feel safe and well taken care of. Thus, we will take all necessary precautions and we’ll be ready to react and adapt quickly if so needed.
Which safety measures are you thinking of implementing? Will the festival take place in a reduced form? Or as always, with public screenings, stars, awards ceremonies, and gala events?
The major plus of our festival is its broad spectrum of films from all over the world. We want to stay true to this concept, which means we will keep our film program roughly as large and diverse as always.
We already announced one award winner for this year. Rolf Lyssy, one of the most successful Swiss directors of all times.
Because of the international situation with Covid-19 however, the focus of invited celebrities for this year will have to be more strongly on creatives from Europe and Switzerland.
How do you see the future of the Zurich Film Festival and the future of the entertainment industry in general, regarding Covid-19 and safety?
This is a good question, albeit one which is hard to answer. But I think there are many ways in which we can ensure the safety of our guests at a festival. Whatever will happen in the future, I am confident we will find appropriate solutions.
In the entertainment industry in general, we can’t underestimate the big financial hole this pandemic has ripped into the budgets of cinemas, film distributors, festivals, and other companies within the cultural sector.
However, history also shows us that we continuously have to face new challenges. Continuously have to find new ways. And continuously have to adapt to an ever changing world and environment.
Film and cinema have always survived all these ups and downs. And so I believe they will endure further into the future. Because storytelling and a collective listening to and enjoying of these stories are at the heart of humanity.
Thank you, Aurel Graf, for your insights into the 16th Zurich Film Festival, an ever-growing international event, held in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. “Break a Leg” and “toi toi toi” for this year’s celebrations to honor the art of film-making!