Zurich Film Festival Opens Under the Sign of Tennis

by Marlene von Arx September 30, 2017
The scene at the 2017 Zurich Film Festoval

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The 13th Zurich Film Festival opened with Januz Metz’ drama Borg vs McEnroe and some special insights from Swiss tennis star Roger Federer. The festival, in Switzerland’s largest city, includes three main competition categories, several out of competition gala screenings and one last-minute surprise guest.

Sorry, Janus Metz and Sverrir Gudnason, but for once the opening movie’s director and star were not the biggest draws on opening night at the Zürich Film Festival. Instead of the Icelandic actor who plays Björn Borg in Borg vs McEnroe, it was tennis great and local hero Roger Federer who got the gala audience to their feet.

The Swiss athlete, who just returned, as part of the winning European team, from the first Laver Cup - where Björn Borg and John McEnroe coached Team Europe and Team World respectively - had already created a traffic jam on the green carpet outside the Corso theater. Inside, he gave his professional analysis of the cold-blooded (Borg) and hot-blooded (McEnroe) temperaments of the two legends and, in typical neutral Swiss manner, expressed appreciation for both: “They were the best teenagers of all time, winning 20 titles before they were 20 years old. That costs a lot of energy, and by the age of 26, Borg was a bit burnt out. He stopped playing or commenting about tennis and he became somewhat of a mystery for my generation which made him even a bigger star than he already was. John McEnroe, on the other hand, was around left, right and center. Not only as one of the greatest singles and doubles player ever but also as a great sports commentator. Having him in our sport is tremendous.”

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Roger Federerand cast and director of the film 'Borg McEnroe" at the 2017 Zurich Film Festival

Zurich moments: (top) Roger Federer's triumphal arrival at the gala opening night; (bottom) Borg vs McEnroe press conference: actor Sverrir Gudnason, director Janus Metz Pedersen and writer Ronnie Sandahl.

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It’s maybe not a coincidence that Battle of the Sexes, which depicts the legendary Billie Jean Kings’ epic match against Bobby Riggs and her fight for equal pay for women in tennis, will be shown at the end of the Festival: Co-Festival Director Karl Spoerri plays tennis himself, and says he watches almost as much tennis on TV as he does movies in theaters. Every year he competes in the festival's Summit Doubles tournament: “I never got further than the semi-final. Roger, if you have nothing to do this weekend, maybe you can help me get that trophy”, he joked during his opening remarks.

There’s more to see than tennis at the 13th Zurich Festival of course. 160 films from 49 countries will be shown (15 from the guest country Hungary). Among the 13 World Premieres are the German thriller Nur Gott kann mich richten by Özgür Yildirim, and Rob Reiner’s Shock and Awe. Rob Reiner will also be in attendance for a Masterclass as will Alicia Vikander (Euphoria) and Andy Serkis (Breathe).  

Additional Hollywood glamour will be added when Andrew Garfield and Jake Gyllenhaal present their latest work in Breathe and Stronger respectively - both guests of honor will receive the Golden Eye award. the Career Achievement Award will go to writer and first-time director Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game). A last minute announcement stated that Roman Polanski will return to the ZFF with his latest film D’après une histoire vraie (Based on a True Story). In 2009, the Paris-based director was temporarily taken into custody on his way to the Festival at the airport in Zurich, facing extradition to the United States for the 1978 rape case and resulting arrest warrant.

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Scenes from the 2017 Zurich Film Festival: Rob Reiner, Alicia Vikander

More from Zurich: guests of honor Rob Reiner and Alicia Vikander, and ZIFF's "eyeball", reaching out to future audiences and filmmakers.

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As the festival ‘s co-director Nadja Schildknecht stated in her opening remarks, gender equality is something that ZFF takes seriously, pointing out that while in the US only 8% of films are directed by women, in Switzerland it’s 20%. That still leaves room for improvement. And the Swiss are on it: Lisa Brühlmann (Blue My Mind) and Katharina Wyss (Sarah Plays a Werewolf) are two of the emerging new filmmakers from the host country receiving good advance notices for their debut films at the festival.

And since you can never begin work too early on becoming a great filmmaker, the festival this year is offering, for the first time Film Workshops for children and young adults. And for the second time, there will be an award given by a jury comprised of children in addition to the annual children’s audience award.

On Saturday, October 7, prizes will also be handed out in the three main categories International Feature Film, International Documentary Film, and Focus: Switzerland, Germany, Austria. The Festival closes a day later with An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, with former US Vice President Al Gore in attendance.