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“The Viennale should be kept as it was and as it is”

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Franz Schwartz • Director, Viennale

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- Current Viennale director Franz Schwartz talks about his interim position, the spirit of the Viennale and the effort to keep it going after the passing of long-standing director Hans Hurch

Franz Schwartz  • Director, Viennale
(© Viennale)

The Viennale is one of the world’s oldest and most influential audience-focused festivals, known for its carefully selected programme and uncompromising attitude to cinema, both contemporary and historical. For the last 20 years, it has followed the bold vision of its director, Hans Hurch, who passed away suddenly in Rome on 23 July this year. The selection of Franz Schwartz for the position of interim festival director might have come as a surprise to some, but the founder and director of Vienna’s Stadtkino and Hurch were close friends and shared the same artistic vision. Cineuropa sat down to talk to Schwartz regarding the transition period and the future of the Viennale.

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Cineuropa: The Viennale is one of the rare, important audience-focused festivals. How do you make it sustainable without a film competition, or industry or film-market events?
Franz Schwartz:
 I think it is just because the programme is decided on by one person. For the past 20 years, it was curated by Hans Hurch, and it is always a mixture of documentaries, feature films, short films and major films to a certain extent, such as this year’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [+see also:
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]
. It doesn’t go beyond that level. And since Hans selected all the movies over a period of 20 years, people identified with his feeling for film and followed him. I think this is the spirit of the festival: the audience, both domestic and international, and the guests followed the idea of cinema as he saw it.

He passed away so suddenly, and you stepped in to take on his role. How does it feel?
I feel like he is watching over me closely and feel that he is still advising me on what to do. I knew Hans very well for 40 years; we had a shared attitude towards film, so for me, it was easy to complete the programme by selecting 50 or 60 films in keeping with the style of the festival. He was very strict in his decisions – not just about the films, but also about all the other details. But I knew what he thought about all of those elements, about the style and the integrity, so it was pretty easy to keep it on the same level. I hope that the next festival director is a person who will do the same.

Hans Hurch died suddenly, in the middle of programming, and you finished it.
Yes. I think he did two-thirds of the programming. All of the films except the newest ones were selected by him, and all of the tributes and homages were selected by him – except, of course, for the one made for him by his friends.

You currently hold the interim position. Do you have any ideas about the future of the Viennale?
I am of the opinion that the festival should be kept as it was and as it is. We just have to find the right person for that. On the day after the festival closes, we will start the application process for the new festival director. It is our task to find the right person for the position, someone who is capable of following in the festival’s spirit, of keeping things on the same level and working with the festival team.

When will a final decision be made?
The deadline is the end of January. We wish it could be faster, but the application and selection processes need to be done.

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