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"It was very important for each film to have its time to shine and to be visible"

Industry Report: Film Festival Trends

Anita Hugi • Director, Solothurn Film Festival


The director of the Swiss festival for the second year talks about the 2021 edition, which will unspool online from 20-27 January

Anita Hugi • Director, Solothurn Film Festival

Anita Hugi, this year heading up the Solothurn Film Festival for the second time, talks to us enthusiastically about the 2021 edition of the gathering, which will take place completely online from 20-27 January.

Cineuropa: When and how did the idea come about of offering a 100% online edition, but structured like a classic, in-person event?
Anita Hugi:
There were several key moments when we were coming up with the concept for this festival. Right at the start, we realised that we had to prepare to adopt an online format. In September, we considered organising the festival on site, but we knew that the capacities of the movie theatres were going to be reduced. So then we thought that another option could be to maintain two platforms: one on-site, in the theatres, and an online back-up element. And so it was in September when we really began to breathe life into our digital iteration. Finally, in December, we had to bite the bullet and decide to abandon the idea of keeping the physical screenings. The festival reinvented itself as the pandemic went on, but even from very early on, it still had a safety net in the guise of the online platform that we had initially envisaged as a back-up tool, and then as a framework for the event in its entirety. That allowed us to ask ourselves the question of what a festival actually is: a rendezvous that enables us to be together in the same place to see a film, and a rendezvous revolving around cinema, a magic moment when we can meet up and exchange views. We started to ponder how we could create a "digital piazza".

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This year, we had more film submissions than last year. In addition, we realised fairly early on just how rich and strong the submissions were, and it would have been a real shame to let all of that go to waste. As a showcase for current Swiss film, if we had given up, it would have meant having a gaping hole in the history of our national film production. Bear in mind that I come from a digital background: I made a very long project on the Dada movement in 2016, so I knew that an online edition could work well if we were lucky and, above all, if we put a workable plan in place. Specifically, every day at midday, we will grant the audience access to a series of screenings, of between 15 and 20 films. The day after, the interviews with the filmmakers will take place online, in Solothurn. Lastly, on the third day, the movie and the interview will both be made available at the same time. The films will therefore be visible for 72 hours. For me, it was very important for each film to have its time to shine and to be visible. It was therefore crucial to pick up the classical format of the festival, to pique people’s curiosity and stoke it, and then welcome the audience to our new website [click here]. First and foremost, we’ll be an online festival with a fresh batch of Swiss films every day, rather than a VoD platform.

We wanted to conduct the interviews in the theatres here in Solothurn in order to remind people that it’s here, in these very cinemas, that film happens. Afterwards, I hope that this online edition will allow Swiss cinema to also reach new audiences – audiences who are still not really familiar with the experience of watching a film in a theatre. It’s important to try to turn this situation around and turn it into something positive for Swiss film, to push this showcase a bit further, and to show as many people as possible what a festival actually is.

Can you tell us anything about the new Opera Prima Award that will be given to a debut film for the first time? Where did this desire to train the spotlight on the Swiss directors of tomorrow come from?
It’s the first prize of its kind in Switzerland. The OFC [Federal Office of Culture] singles out the best graduation film and then the best film. But we think there’s this intervening period that needs to be emphasised in order to encourage the filmmakers of tomorrow. I hope the visibility we give to the films that are nominated for this trophy will help the directors to gain access to funding for their second movie or to start other collaborations with international producers. The jury reflects this approach: it’s made up of Paolo Moretti, from the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight and director of Les Cinémas du Grütli; Patrick Sibourd, a French distributor who was in charge of, and continues to be in charge of, handling several Swiss films (maintaining a strong link with the international sphere is vital for young Swiss film – all the more so now that Switzerland is no longer part of MEDIA); and Swiss director Anja Kofmel, whose feature debut, Chris the Swiss [+see also:
film review
interview: Anja Kofmel
film profile
, which she spent seven years working on, was a roaring success (she is someone who can encourage directors to persevere, even if it means knuckling down for a bit longer).

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(Translated from Italian)

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