Magda Bossy, secretary of Helvetas for French-speaking Switzerland, wishes to organize a unique event in honour of the 25th anniversary of the French-speaking Swiss association. Convinced that film would be an excellent medium for expressing cultural richness, the Egyptian native thinks to open the floor to filmmakers from the South. These "Third-World films", as they're unashamedly called, are only able to attain niche distribution, often linked with legendary directors like India's Satyajit Ray or Japan's Akira Kurosawa. She reaches out to journalist Yvan Stern, a passionate cinephile responsible for the Catholic Office of Cinema for French-speaking Switzerland. Together, encouraged by Swiss Cinémathèque founder and director Freddy Buache, Magda Bossy and Yvan Stern attain financing by linking Helvetas with Swissaid, Action de Carême, Pain pour le prochain (Bread for All) and Déclaration de Berne. Thus, between November and December 1980, seven 16 mm films from Asia, Africa and Latin America (including Antonio das Mortes by Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha and Baara by Souleymane Cissé) screen at ciné-clubs in Fribourg, Lausanne, Geneva, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Bienne, Sion, Neuchâtel and Delémont. Admission is free, with a collection awaiting spectators at the exit to cover the costs. The burgeoning festival is thus decentralised and spread out across French-speaking Switzerland. And its success – although varying city to city – calls for a second Edition.
The second FIFF was known as Festival de Films du Tiers-Monde (Third-World Film Festival), although the organisation preferred a "circuit of Third-World films". Four partners join the founding group: L’Entraide protestante (Swiss Church Aid), Frères sans frontières, Le Groupe des volontaires d’Outre-Mer and Magasins du Monde. Then, starting in November 1983, two partners from the Confederation: Pro Helvetia and the DDA (Direction de la coopération au développement et de l’aide humanitaire), which in 1996 became the DDC (Direction du développement et de la coopération). Various cities also join the network: Basel, La Tour-de-Peilz, Porrentruy and Courtelary. 18 feature films from Third-World countries are presented, with 77 screenings in all. During a review in February 1984, the group sets forth a biannual schedule. But above all else, they must find a way to work past the scattered locations and tie together the launch of the festival into one distinct event. The event must be compressed into one or two weeks, with one city serving as a point of departure for filmmakers invited from Southern countries, together with the birth of a true festival atmosphere and a way for schools to have a better role. As Lausanne and Geneva already had vast cultural offerings, the choice is between Bienne and Fribourg, and ultimately goes to Fribourg, having the lesser amount of cinematic events. Magda Bossy's administrative and organisational actions are located in her HELVETAS office in Lausanne, while Yvan Stern is in charge of programming from the Catholic Office of Cinema in Fribourg. The two are aided by only a handful of volunteers, which include future artistic director Martial Knaebel, who helped prepare the St-Pierre theatre for screenings in Fribourg from the 1980 Edition onwards.
20 to 29 January 1986. Under the leadership of a board of patrons from the new organisations and with a secretarial office shared between Yvan Stern and Martial Knaebel, an honorary committee is created, presided over by Pierre Aubert, head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. A complete catalogue accompanies the new communication effort. Most importantly, thanks to the enthusiasm of exhibitor Marc Salafa, the Festival sets up shop in a true cinema, the Rex, for around ten days before the films make the rounds across French-speaking Switzerland in the same non-commercial circuit as the previous year. There are two sections: official selections in competition and "information" selections. A competition is created, which awards a distribution assistance Prize that helps with the winning film's release in the commercial circuit. The first winner is Wend Kuuni by Gaston Kaboré (Burkina Faso, 1982), which was in competition with filmmakers including Ousmane Sembene (Emitaï), Souleymane Cissé (Finye), Haile Gerima (Harvest: 3,000 Years) and even Lino Brocka (Bayan Ko). After a nerve-racking first screening with only ten or so spectators, seats are soon filled to the point where additional screenings have to be scheduled. With festival architect Magda Bossy watching on – a jury member from the first Edition onwards – the Festival is born. Over ten days in Fribourg, then in around a dozen other cities screening certain films, more than 8000 spectators joined in for 96 screenings, resulting in a public and critical success (particularly in German-speaking Switzerland) that exceeded all expectations.
Starting in June 1987, Yvan Stern pushes the board of patrons to create a support association for the Festival, a decision which requires the drafting of articles of incorporation in order to receive subsidies. On 28 September 1987 at the Rex, the constitutive general assembly of the Support Association for the Third-World Film Festival takes place. The explicitly French-speaking Association's objective is to promote the dialogue between all cultures and to introduce and distribute the cinema of the South across Switzerland. On 20 October 1987, the Association bodies sign off on the statutes: general assembly, board of patrons, honorary committee, executive office and board of auditors. Reinforced with this new structure, 1988 is also the year in which the Festival resolves the problem of film distribution in the commercial circuit once and for all. Journalist Bruno Jaeggi had just created a charitable foundation with the objective of distributing and archiving quality Third-World films in Switzerland: Trigon-Film. With so much in common with the Festival and hoping to avoid competition between the two, Yvan Stern thus forges a collaboration with Trigon-Film with the striking force to distribute films from Fribourg, and the Festival thus screens selections from Trigon-Film. The Festival is growing, but the organisation wishes to keep it within bounds. The budget for the 4th Edition is 62,300 Swiss francs with a deficit forecast as similar to the 3rd Edition, around 20,000 Swiss francs. From 11 to 20 January 1988, the Festival screens 27 feature films first in Fribourg, then in wider French-speaking Switzerland. Works are split into three sections: Competition, Information and Short Films, with particular emphasis on China and Taiwan. The Distribution Assistance Prize, which could have been called the City of Fribourg Prize, considering that the 10,000 Swiss francs came from the municipality, is awarded once more, ex aequo between Zhuangzhuang Tian's The Horse Thief (Tibet/China, 1985) and Souleymane Cissé's Yeelen (Mali, 1987). In Fribourg and across Switzerland, 16,217 spectators – double the total in 1986 – take part in 164 screenings.
The 5th Edition marks 10 years of the festival and the "Third-World" title is dropped, with filmmakers citing negative connotations. From that point on, the Fribourg Film Festival adopts the subtitle "Africa, Asia, Latin America". An indicative budget of 205,000 Swiss francs had been approved by the board of patrons in May 1988. The committee also decides on the use of private sponsorship. Following the great success of a first attempt in Zurich in 1988, this year the circuit also spreads into German Switzerland (Zurich, Lucerne, Basel and even Berne), giving the festival a truly national scope. From that point on, the program is available in both French and German. But the German expansion is too rich an exploit for the festival, which steers the essential organisational efforts, and is thus soon abandoned. In Fribourg, 12 films are featured in competition. New prizes emerge alongside the Distribution Assistance Prize: the Trigon Prize and Public Prize. The Information section is still featured. Special screenings are added out of competition, as well as a retrospective on Sarah Maldoror, the first female African filmmaker, and the addition of African short films. Piravi by Shaji N. Karun takes home both the Distribution Assistance Prize and the Public Prize. For ten days, things run smoothly: 6,400 spectators with 70 screenings of around 50 different films. Around ten or so filmmakers are in attendance. At the end of the festival, Magda Bossy hands over stewardship of the Support Association to Yvan Stern, who in turn lets Martial Knaebel take over as festival director. The board of patrons decides to make the festival a yearly event and to create an office in Fribourg (direction, administrative, secretarial). But this change requires a bit of time, and the annual rhythm does not take effect until 1992.
Beyond the Festival, which runs from 27th January to 5th February in Fribourg, the circuit of screenings in Swiss cities continues to thrive, despite the widespread emergence of similar offerings. The circuit is known as "Asian-African-Latin American Film Festival", followed by the name of the city or the venue. Films in competition, out of competition, short films and documentaries, as well as an homage to Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka and a genuine school programme, all add up to around 70 programmed selections. Thanks to the support of DDA (later DDC), Pro Helvetia, the French-speaking Swiss Lottery and the Federal Commission of Cinema, among others, along with the City and Canton of Fribourg, the Festival grows more professional: director Martial Knaebel brings on two assistants, Ingrid Kramer and Dominique de Rivaz. For their parts, Yvan Stern handles public relations and helps programming, while Magda Bossy is charged with reception. Two new competitions are established – one for short films, the other for documentaries (awarded to Lumumba: La mort du prophète by Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck) – while the feature film prizes go to Vietnamese filmmaker Linh Viet (Ganh Xiec Rong, Distribution Assistance Prize), Tajik filmmaker Bakthyar Khudoynazarov (Bratan, Trigon-Film Prize) and Turkish filmmaker Ömer Kavur (Gizli Yüz, Public Prize). In Fribourg and beyond, the 6th Edition presents no less than 453 screenings across 15 different cities. The total attendees for French-speaking Switzerland is 20,000 (with 2,000 more in Fribourg than the prior year). With a budget of 400,000 Swiss francs, the deficit is marginal, at around 5,000 Swiss francs, but the lack of private sponsors begins to take its toll. And the lack of support for the Asian-African-Latin American Film Festival from participating cities, compared to the immense engagement from the team, calls for revisiting the formula with a more modest number of films.
In autumn 1992, the Festival receives international recognition from UNESCO: the World Decade for Cultural Development seal. For the first time, all filmmakers are invited to participate. The administration lays the grounds for auxiliary involvement (secretary, press attaché, operator and courier) four months prior to the start of the 7th Edition, which runs from 17th to 24th January – seven days as opposed to ten. The professional calibre of the new Edition is matched by a reasonable note: less films make the Swiss cities tour which changed its name (Les Films du Sud, over one month instead of two), but with greater emphasis on Fribourg itself. Joining the fiction, documentary and short film competitions is an homage to Indian director Satyajit Ray, a retrospective on South Korean filmmaker Jang-ho Lee, and a focus on the San Antonio film school in Los Banos, Cuba. The main prize is awarded ex-aequo to Chinese filmmaker Shaohong Li (Xuese Qingchen) and the Syrian Mohamed Malas (Al-lail). Chilean Ricardo Larrain takes home the Trigon-Film Prize (La Frontera), while Argentinian Adolfo Aristarain wins the Public Prize (Un lugar en el mundo). The three theatres at the Rex are used intensively and visits rise by 10% to reach a threshold of 10,000 attendees. The question of private sponsorship involvement and its coherence with Festival ethics comes under debate once more.
Beyond the festival, which runs from 30 January to 6 February, the need for a change of articles of incorporation is at the centre of discussions at the start of the year: from 30 March 1994, the honorary committee is presided over by Federal Councillor Ruth Dreifuss, voted in by the general assembly, cancelling the 1987 statutes. It consists essentially of a vote for improved professionalism, particularly in freeing up director Martial Knaebel from certain administrative obligations and allowing him to travel more. At the recommendation of Paul Jubin, president of the Support Association, the structure is divided into three wings: general assembly, executive committee, and the direction and executive secretariat. Meanwhile, the 1994 Edition beats all the records: competitions, a section entitled Regards croisés, a retrospective of works by the Indian filmmaker Govindan Aravindan, a tribute to Hsiao-Hsien Hou (who wins the Distribution Assistance Prize for his new film, The Puppetmaster, ex-aequo with Kosh Ba Kosh by Tajik filmmaker Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov) drawing in around 25,000 spectators (15% more than in 1993) to four screens in Fribourg and across 19 other cities in the Les Films du Sud circuit. With a budget now reaching 720,000 Swiss francs, the success still can't stop a deficit of 34,000 Swiss francs. A more rigorous internal organisation is decided upon, along with seeking out new means of support.
The festival moves from January to March (5th to 12th), for greater distance from the Solothurn Film Festival. Two Cubans, Fernando Pérez with Madagascar and Daniel Diáz Torres with Quiereme y verás..., split the Grand Prize (the Distribution Assistance Prize and the Documentary Prize both disappear) and the Jury awards a Special Prize (to Charachar by Indian Buddhadev Dasgupta) for the first time. Running parallel with Regards croisés is a retrospective on Cuban filmmaker Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, and an homage to Mongolian cinema. In all, 70 films over 8 days. Admission in Fribourg itself nears 12,000 spectators (compared to 11,700 in 1994). Aside from financing from the Confederation (23% via Pro Helvetia, Federal Office of Culture and the DDA, future DDC), the Cantons and the communes (9%), the French-speaking Swiss Lottery and other sponsorship associations (27%) and its own revenue (41%), two private financing partners join the Festival adventure for the first time: the Burrus group (Parisian) and Telecom. This new development, along with the search for other sponsors, provokes intense debate during the general assembly of 1 June 1995. In further growing pains, the reception for Films du Sud by the Métrociné group in Lausanne and Geneva causes a stir and half the audience of those cities steer clear of screenings.
Under the leadership of new president Jean-Paul Rüttimann, director of public relations, a new connection is made with the Fribourg Tourism Office and the Festival gains improved visibility within some storefront windows. The team undergoes numerous changes: while Dominique de Rivaz (press relations) and Ingrid Kramer (secretariat along with Roberta Wullschleger) still work alongside director Martial Knaebel, Anne-Sophie Cosandey takes the place of Philippe Clivaz, coordinating the Films du Sud circuit. In addition to short and feature films in and out of competition, the 10th Edition, which runs from 3 to 10 March 1996, presents a rich programme featuring an Argentinian short film programme, a series of Mexican animated short films by Carlos Carrera, a retrospective on Bolivian filmmaker Jorge Sanjinés and a Panorama of Azerbaijan cinema. The Argentinian Eliseo Subiela takes home the Grand Prize for No te mueras sin decirme adónde vas and Taiwanese Hsiao-Hsien Hou once more wins at Fribourg (Special Jury Prize for Good Men, Good Women). With 139 screenings across five cinemas including school screenings, the Festival counts 13,000 total in attendance. But the bottom line does not follow suit.
The deficit of the 10th Edition forces the organisation into budgetary cut-backs: lowering of salaries and expenses, as well as the number of films (70 at most compared to 110 in 1996). A new executive committee is put into place and a professional is brought on board in search of sponsors. Despite these conditions, with an extension of the Festival into Bulle, the streamlined formula still draws in 14,000 spectators to the festival, which runs from 2 to 9 March. The programme stays extremely dynamic. In addition to the films in and out of competition, the line-up includes a focus on South Korean New Wave, a panorama of South African films and an Adoor Gopalakrishnan retrospective. Chinese filmmaker Ming Zhang takes home the Grand Prize with Wushan Yunyu: In Expectation.
The ongoing evolution of the event is pronounced with the addition of "International" in the festival name. The Grand Prize awarded by FIFF (Fribourg International Film Festival) becomes the Regard d’or, embodied in an original design by Fribourg sculptor Jean-Jacques Hofstetter. From 1st to 8th March, the festival stretches from Bulle and Fribourg all the way to Guin. The educational side also expands, allowing hundreds of students from Fribourg, Lausanne and Berne to discover cinematic gems totally unknown to their young eyes. Once more in the history of the Festival, the Grand Prize, or Regard d’or, is shared by two films: Who the Hell Is Juliette? by Carlos Marcovich (Mexico) and Pizza, Beer, and Cigarettes by Adrián Caetano and Bruno Stagnaro (Argentina). Including a Panorama of Hong Kong cinema (1966-1996) and a Retrospective on Tango in Cinema (1933-1944), the selection meets with great success, tallying 20,000 total spectators (a 50% increase from the previous year). The formula altered from Films du Sud, the Festival now buys eight copies which can be freely exhibited. Organised by Passion Cinéma, the circuit meets with immense success: 11,000 attendees in 25 cities, and more than 2,000 students.
The Festival, which runs from 7 to 14 March and had lost the sponsor Swisscom and gained a smaller amount of support from Crédit Suisse, feels the need to clarify its links with Trigon-Film. Previously, the latter's films were not to overlap with those of Films du Sud, and the influence of diversity at Trigon was swayed towards German-speaking Switzerland, while the Festival was to maintain a foothold in the French-speaking parts. Meanwhile, one of the events of this year's Edition, initiated by Abderrahmane Sissoko (La Vie sur Terre, Mali/Mauritania) with the audience-awarded prize going to Life is to Whistle by Cuban Fernando Pérez, is the "Carte Blanche: 10 Years of Trigon-Film". There is also a Panorama of 1990s cinema in Kazakhstan and a tribute to Brazilian documentary filmmaker César Paes. An additional 1,000 spectators bring the total in attendance to 21,000. The students in attendance reach 4,000 in number.
The 14th Edition marks the festival's 20-year anniversary. In October 1999, the DDC (formerly DDA, a supporter from the start), decides to become the principal sponsor of the event with a contribution of 175,000 Swiss francs. From 12 to 19 March 2000, the Festival, now led by Charles Ridoré (with Marina Mottin in the film department and Marie-Claude Barbier in general secretariat/marketing), screens some 70 films. With sections on South Korean resistance cinema, the 20-year anniversary of the Festival, the partition of Bengal and the essential films of Arabic cinema, the competition is thus judged by more than a half-dozen juries added to the roster over the years: the International Jury, FIPRESCI Jury of International Press, Ecumenical Jury, Jury of the Pestalozzi Children's Foundation, FICC (International Federation of Ciné-Clubs) Jury, and the Jury of Political Press. The short film competition disappears. And South Korean filmmaker Soo-il Jeon takes home the Regard d’or for Sae Neun Paegoksuneul, while the Argentinian Pablo Trapero crops up the four other prizes for Mondo Grúa.
The Regard d’or is awarded to Yi Yi, by Taiwanese director Edward Yang, marking one of the greatest successes for a FIFF première beyond the festival. At this 15th Edition, Chinese director Zhangke Jia also receives an award for Zhantai. Walter Rugo takes charge of the administration. In parallel sections the Edition offers two focal points: Breakaway films in Latin-American cinema and Young African Cinema.
The structure of the festival changes. Martial Knaebel, administrative director since 1990, becomes artistic director and Walter Rugo takes over administration, while a female director is named: Rachel Bruhlart. As will be case for the coming years until his last Edition in 2007, Martial Knaebel shares with his colleagues the editorial space in the catalogue that is normally reserved for him. South Korean director Ki-yong Park wins the Regard d’or with Nakta(dul) in a competition that presents sections dedicated to Black America: images to liberate and The South: instructions for use.
The new film by Mauritanian director Aberrahmane Sissako, Waiting for Happiness, opens the Festival on 16 March. Director Rachel Bruhlart makes the announcement in the tabloid Edition published by the FIFF's long-standing partner, La Liberté. Jean-François Giovannini replaces Charles Ridoré as President. 87 films are screened in Fribourg, Bulle and Guin. The highlight of the program, in addition to the usual sections, is a joyous and impressive Retrospective: Musical comedies. FIFF adapts to social and cultural changes outside the realm of cinema. After the notion of the Third World, to some extent outmoded in 1990, the concept of the South, as opposed to the North, begins to be thought of in a new way. Argentina wins the wager with the Public Prize awarded to Adolfo Aristarain for Lugares Comunes and the Regard d’or to Carlos Sorin for Historias Minimas.
The selection team is reinforced: filmmaker Jean-Stéphane Bron, scriptwriter Christophe Gallaz and producer Elena Tatti assist Martial Knaebel. The resulting selection includes five parallel sections, in addition to the official selection: Argentina at heart; 50 years of TSR; In Memory; Regards croisés; and a Retrospective "The Cinema of Central Asia" conceived by Marina Mottin. Peruvian Josué Mendez wins the Regard d’or and three other awards for Días de Santiago. Ticket sales reach a record: 28,000 tickets sold.
From 6 to 13 March, and beyond with the circulation of Films from the South, FIFF screens 101 films. They span eight sections, including the competition, with a tribute to Turkish director Ömer Kavur, a panorama Palestine/Israel, a Swiss memory and a retrospective entitled Filming the invisible, where a work by Pasolini is screened alongside a Tarkovski. Twelve years after winning the short film award for Un Certain Matin, Burkinabe director Regina Fanta Nacro wins the Regard d’or with her film La Nuit de la Vérité.
20th Edition! 25th year in operation. The whole Festival team is exultant in a photo in the catalogue, especially the new administrative director Franziska Burkhardt, and the team cosigns the editorial. True to the FIFF spirit, the Edition does not indulge in any commemoration: alongside the official selection and out of competition, there is a tribute to the anti-establishment star of Brazilian cinema, Helena Ignez, a panorama Iranian Cinema Goes to War and a focus on Philippine Digital Cinema. And it is an Iranian, Maziar Miri, who wins the Regard d’or with Be Ahestegi over Filipino director Lav Diaz (whose 480 minutes long film Heremias wins the Special Prize), Singaporean director Eric Khoo, three-time winner for Be With Me, and Lebanese director Jocelyne Saab, Prix Public for Dunia.
In July, work begins on the transformation of the Ancienne Gare in Fribourg, which will soon house the FIFF offices. In October, at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, Martial Knaebel receives the Korean Film Award acknowledging a foreign figure who has made an exceptional contribution to promoting Korean film worldwide. In November, Ruth Lüthi is named FIFF President. Amongst her many duties, she will manage the installation of the Festival in the Ancienne Gare premises. She also has to take part in negotiations between the cinema operators in the city because Salafa is not the only company: in the city centre, a multiplex cinema named Cap’Ciné (the future Arena) is to open in the autumn of 2007.
The first in a series of four Editions where the festival's visual identity is set with images of kaleidoscopes, this 21st Edition from 18 to 25 March is the last one for artistic director Martial Knaebel, who has accompanied the Festival's development since its creation in 1980. Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (already present in 2002), Algerian director Tariq Teguia and Argentinian director Ariel Rotter are in competition and all three win awards, but it is Brazilian director Chico Teixeira who takes home the Regard d’or for A Casa de Alice. In addition to the short films that for some time now have been selected by Anne Delseth, the parallel sections present a retrospective Taiwan: Little Everyday Stories, as well as two panoramas entitled Pictures of the Urban Age and Beyond Freedom: the Identity of South African Filmmakers.
The tent that was used as the festival headquarters is replaced by the Ancienne Gare. This final Edition in the Knaebel era is very active and for the first time, the festival records 26,000 tickets sold. Interviewed after the departure of her colleague, the administrative director Franziska Burkhardt announces that FIFF, "with the new artistic direction, will give some thought to a more accessible programme for the general public" while still keeping its basic orientation. In June, an article in La Liberté announces that FIFF could delegate its programming, but in spite of 26 candidates, it has yet to find a suitable artistic director. This vacancy is all the more problematic because it occurs at the very time that the Cinema Section of the Federal Office of Culture, under the direction of Nicolas Bideau, is in the process of redistributing grants to festivals, in particular to the four major festivals, including FIFF, Locarno, Nyon and Soleure. On August 2, the Festival finally announces that it has found the ideal candidate: Edouard Waintrop, French film critic for the newspaper Libération. Unfortunately, two days later, the decision of the Federal Office of Culture is announced, with the festival relegated to B category, with a trial period of one year and a cut in funding of no less than 130,000 Swiss francs (out of the 230,000 allocated in the previous years).
In record time of only five months since his appointment in August 2007, although he had never before worked in the organisation of a festival, new director Edouard Waintrop is already able to announce, in January 2008, a program that was in line with his philosophy: "For me, the cinema of the South does not exist. What does exist is all the diverse and varied kinds of cinema, where we find genres like melodrama, police films and comedy. All these kinds of cinema have to coexist." His first editorial in the catalogue is entitled "The festival opens up to genre cinema". His predilection for "film noir" is featured from the start in a panorama Noir Total, to which is added a focus on the Atelier Varan in Kabul, a Tribute to South Korean director Lee Chang-dong, as well as the panoramas Cinema and Revolution and Global Love. Malaysia wins the Regard d’or with Flower in the pocket by Liew Seng Tat. The public selects La Zona by Mexican director Rodrigo Plá, and Chinese director Wang Bing wins three distinctions with He Fengming.
With its new headquarters in the Ancienne Gare, new screening venues at Cap’Ciné (future Arena) and the disappearance of the Films of the South circulation that had become too expensive and fraught with too much competition, le 22nd FIFF commences the Waintrop era in good form with 25,500 tickets sold, just 500 fewer than the previous year, in spite of the tormented year that the festival had undergone. By including the school programme as in 2007, the score actually reaches 27,900. In fact, there is a noticeable increase: 2,400! Edouard Waintrop, who was originally only supposed to produce this Edition, already has ideas for the next one...
The Federal Office of Culture finally announces that the grant funding would be capped at 100,000 Swiss francs for another two years. Nevertheless, with a stable budget of 1.7 million, this 23rd Edition from 14th to 21th March is bountiful. Singaporean director Eric Khoo is back with My Magic and wins the Regard d’or at the core of a selection that presents half a dozen parallel sections: Out of Bollywood; Fábulas de Favela; Tribute to Francisco Lombardi; Women's Revenge; The Godfather in Asia; Made in Nollywood, accompanied by a professional workshop entitled "L’Elephant a-t-il encore des couilles?" (a reference to a France/Gabon comedy co-production). The psychological bar of 30,000 tickets is surpassed. Opening up to genre cinema while keeping the regular FIFF attendees happy: the wager is won.
As Franziska Burkhardt had announced in her second Edition in 2007, she would leave her position of General Secretary as soon as the turbulence had subsided. In May 2009, Esther Widmer is named as her successor and she assumes her duties in September, to accompany a 2010 Edition that once again will exceed 30,000 spectators. Edouard Waintrop, happy to have obtained many good films that met his goal of opening up the festival, enjoys the success of programming that honours the Georgian director George Ovashvili with the Regard d’or and the Public Prize for The Other Bank. In addition to the competition, special screenings and short films, the 24th FIFF programme includes a forum on TV series in the Near East and six panoramas: Je me balade dans Mockba; Âmes corsaires (Carlos Reichenbach and Jorge Furtado); Moi, un Noir; The Curse on the Korean Kings; Reykjavik, Sofia; and Yakuza Graveyard (Kinji Fukasaku). Critics talk about the "triumph of cinephilia". In May, the Corso cinema closes. FIFF is obliged to allocate its screenings between the Rex cinemas and Cap’Ciné (future Arena), which some Festival purists have shunned since its opening.
At the beginning of September 2010, Edouard Waintrop announces his departure from the FIFF direction at the end of the 25th Edition which takes place between 19th and 26th March 2011: he is to replace Ruy Nogueira at the head of CAC-Voltaire in Geneva and, soon, will head up La Quinzqine des réalisateurs at the Festival de Cannes. A successor is soon found: Thierry Jobin, journalist at the daily newspaper Le Temps. Appointed before the 25th Edition, the new director has a comfortable year of preparation before his first Edition in 2012. In the meantime, the 25th takes place and sets a new record of 32,000 tickets sold. The visual identity of the Festival leaves its kaleidoscopic images behind, to enter into a new graphic era defined by Benedict Rohrer. South Korean director Lee Chang-dong, honoured by a tribute during Edouard Waintrop's first edition four years back, goes full cycle with Waintrop's tenure, winning the Regard d’or with Poetry. Seven panoramas reveal the secrets of Georgian cinema, black music in film, Argentinian director Lita Stantic, the Malaysian Da Huang Network, the femme fatale, portraits of terrorists and a patchwork of films produced between Lima and Pristina.
During his candidacy, the new artistic director Thierry Jobin had put forward a redefinition of the FIFF sections: preserve what has been acquired by the founders while still taking advantage of new openings introduced by Edouard Waintrop, and make the parallel sections more identifiable by using the same names that recur each year and raising the festivals' visibility for the general public and for the media, by apprehending other cultures through art films, experimental films and commercial films: Genre Cinema, Decryption (thematic section), Diaspora (carte blanche to an exiled filmmaker), Hommage à…, New Territory (focus on a developing cinematography) and Sur la Carte de… (classic carte blanche), to which are added popular films for the family (FIFFamily) or for thrill seekers (Midnight screenings). With committee backing, 118 films from 47 countries are screened in the official selection and in these new sections, designed as complementary chapters, as points of intersection for insights into a cinematographic reality where the lines of demarcation are not as marked as they once were. Understanding the world by first understanding your neighbour across the hall.
Israeli director Ido Fluk wins the Regard d’or with his road movie Never Too Late, while Brazilian director Julia Murat carries off four other awards with Histórias que Só Existem Quando Lembradas. Invited to select a filmmaker he admires, the artistic director of the Locarno Festival, Olivier Père, names Ivan Passer, who attends the Festival. The section Decryption explores the image of Islam in Western films. Diaspora invites illustrator Patrick Chappatte to talk about his Lebanese roots. Genre Cinema looks at the ways in which the Western has been adapted on different continents. Hommage à… pays tribute to Swiss producer Pierre-Alain Meier. New Territory discovers the cinema of Bangladesh. Sur la Carte de… invites the Swiss master of animation, Georges Schwizgebel. In spite of summery weather, the Edition records a little over 30,000 tickets sold.
Ruth Lüthi leaves the Festival presidency to Walter Stoffel. His first FIFF Edition, from 16th to 23rd March, features a line-up on the themes of abandoned children (Decryption), Armenia portrayed through Atom Egoyan's carte blanche (Diaspora), sports films from around the world (Genre Cinema), a tribute to Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation (Hommage à…), Ouzbek cinema (New Territory), or the favourite films of Belgian director Bouli Lanners (Sur la Carte de...). A number of personalities make surprise visits: South Korean director Im Sang-soo, invited by the director of the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival, as well as Charles Aznavour, to talk about Armenia and Eric Cantona to talk about sports film. Chinese director Wang Bing takes in the jackpot with four prizes including the Regard d’or for Three Sisters. The public honours Wadjda, the first Saudi film by a female director, Haifaa Al-Mansour. Ticket sales reach a record 36,000 (4,000 more than in 2011).
For the first time in its history, FIFF is sponsored by the Banque cantonale fribourgeoise. The issue of private sector funding is finally becoming more concrete and no doubt one of the reasons is the way the festival has opened up to all genres and all audiences. This comes on the heels of more good news: in May 2013, the Festival learns that the Federal Office of Culture funding is increased by 30% for three years (to 130,000 Swiss francs for a total budget of approximately 2 million). And to top it off, two new prestigious filmmakers confirm their visit in March 2014: the Dardenne brothers. While they occupy the section Sur la Carte de… The other sections, with the exception of the Diaspora carte blanche offered to Russian hockey legend Slava Bykov, tend towards rather sombre tones: catastrophe films (Genre Cinema), Malagasy cinema (New Territory), economic crisis (Decryption), and A History of Iranian cinema by its creators, a tribute presented through a survey of fifteen Iranian directors to be screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in July 2014 and at Toronto's TIFF Cinematheque in March 2015. A female South Korean director, Lee Sujin, wins the Regard d’or with the excruciating film Han Gong-ju. And the renaissance of a short film competition awards its prize to La Reina by Argentinian director Manuel Abramovich. 1,000 spectators are added to the previous year's record to hit the 37,000 mark.
Walter Stoffel, who left the Festival presidency in November 2014, is replaced by François Nordmann. The attack on Charlie Hebdo on 7th January casts a shadow over the selection, especially the sections Decryption (Can you laugh about anything?) and Hommage à… (Syria, by Ossama Mohammed). There is much talk about exile with Diaspora presented by Tony Gatlif around his Roma roots and New Territory, which explores a forgotten Third World, the one depicted in indigenous North American cinema. Even Genre Cinema, with a focus on erotic films, gives way to controversial debate, in particular in the presence of Jean-Marc Barr. The Jury crowns Mexican director Cristian Diaz Pardo and his film Gonzalez, in a competition that brings Geraldine Chaplin on a surprise visit to FIFF to support the Dominican film Sand Dollars in which she stars. With the issue of freedom at the heart of its programme, this 29th Edition breaks the record for any film festival ever held in western Switzerland: 40,000 tickets sold. Esther Widmer, who has managed the administration for six successful Editions, decides to leave the position. She is replaced in November 2015 by Giovanna Garghentini Python.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to FIFF! This is the festival that screens curious and wonderful films from the four corners of the globe. The festival for true lovers of cinema. The best festival in the world, as some say. The FIFF!” The video intro from Geraldine Chaplin kicked off the 30th edition of FIFF (along with a message from Jane Campion herself!) and was presented before the staggering and unforgettable concert/screening of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid at Théâtre Equilibre. As you can see, her message was bursting with praise! And yet, over the course of its history, the FIFF has never indulged in self-satisfaction at any of its past jubilees. In keeping with that idea, the 2016 edition doubled as an homage to the struggle for women's rights in front and behind the camera. It was the first non-specialized film festival in the world to ever feature an all-woman jury (which awarded top honours to Mountain, the film by Israeli director Yaelle Kayam). The initiative was further bolstered by surprise visits from Marthe Keller and Sophie Hunger, with an exuberant reaction to the accompanying sections (Genre Cinema: Fiercer than the Male; Decryption: And Woman created the cinema; Diaspora: Mira Nair and India; Hommage à Ida Lupino by Pierre Rissient; New Territory: Being a Female Filmmaker in Africa; and Sur la carte de Geraldine Chaplin). Audiences came rushing in: from 30,000 in 2012, the 2016 edition greeted 42,000 attendees, with 38,000 solely in attendance for screenings!
FIFF has changed so much that it was decided it was time for a new visual identity. Fribourg-based agency Asphalte Design won the day, with the royal blue of its first poster taking Fribourg by storm. On the menu this time around, genuine pearls hailing from Africa, Latin America and Asia (International Competitions: Feature Films and Short Films, with official selections including Salam by Lebanese filmmaker Raed Rafei and Apprentice by Boo Junfeng from Singapore), new cinematic discoveries from Nepal (New Territory), Egyptian rarities (Diaspora), acts of spectral conjuring (Genre Cinema), a probing look at the art of cinema (Decryption), or even bombastic American picks from the fifties and sixties that still resonate today in Donald Trump's America (Sur la Carte de Douglas Kennedy, American novelist). Critics were quickly won over, as journalist Eric Steiner described in daily newspaper La Liberté: “As I prepared to write this article, I had hoped to point out something amiss, to proudly convey the sharp critical mindset. But on this occasion there was nothing. The 31st edition of the festival was enough to satisfy the most demanding of spectators, both in terms of the overall calibre of films in competition and for the originality of the different parallel sections.”
Meanwhile, FIFF also stakes its claim as an essential passing-of-the-torch for Swiss filmmakers. One year after founding a short film jury made up of students from the Swiss film schools (the Cinema Network CH Jury), the festival now unveils the Foreign Visa Prize. The concept is to upturn the traditional order of judgement running from “North” to “South”, as Swiss universities submit their short films to be judged by guests from the New Territory section. In this way, Nepalese filmmakers will find themselves face-to-face with works by aspiring Swiss directors.
Fewer films than in 2017 (around twenty), fewer screenings too (around forty) and yet, more spectators (over 44,000)! Every section, without exception, benefits from such buzz: the International Feature Film and Short Film Competitions, as well as discoveries in the New Territory (Mongolia), Genre Cinema (Biopics) and "carte blanche" sections (Diaspora: Beki Probst and Turkey and Sur la Carte de Ken Loach) that allow classic films to be rediscovered. The Decryption section was devoted to the more local event, the 200th anniversary of the Brazilian city of Nova Friburgo. Having been brewing for several years, these sections were summed up by La Liberté newspaper as "a clever blend of challenging cinema and entertainment, rare gems and real classics, cinematic curiosities, relevant and bold artistic choices". A mix fully reflected by the winners: Black Level, a parable without words by Ukrainian filmmaker Valentyn Vasyanovych won the Grand Prix; the Special Jury Prize went to After My Death, the first film by South Korean director Kim Ui-seok; Iram Haq, a Norwegian of Pakistani origin, won the Public Prize with What Will People Say; the other prizes were shared between The Seen and Unseenby Indonesian director Kamila Andini and Foxtrot by Israeli director Samuel Maoz. With the prize for Best International Short Film presented to Man of Pa’aling by Filipino director E. del Mundo, the Foreign Visa Prize awarded to Wendy Pillonel from Fribourg for Les Heures-Encre and Margarita Mina's Puppy Love picking up the Swiss Cinema Network prize, female directors made up the majority of the winners.
FIFF 2018 was able to depend more than ever on its bond of trust with festivalgoers. 2018 will remain the year that FIFF really came into its own. A rough diamond transformed: it had to get back in the black and recover from the deficits of the two previous editions, the departure of the Administrative Director and an in-depth reassessment of its administrative and financial structure. At the closing ceremony, Dominique de Buman, President of the Swiss National Council, praised festivalgoers who "fearlessly embraced the new experiences offered by festival organisers and Artistic Director, Thierry Jobin, in particular. A director who has seen his boldness and risk-taking rewarded by record attendance".
How could one forget that moment which will go down in FIFF’s history? The presence in Fribourg of British filmmaker Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – well accustomed to red carpets – director of a powerful autobiographic movie, Farming, which received a standing ovation at the end of its Midnight Screening. As a member of the International Jury, the actor, who played in TV shows such as Lost or Game of Thrones, as well as in action movies aside Robert De Niro, Jason Statham or Sylvester Stallone, discovered at FIFF that another kind of cinema is possible. The kind of the International Competition: Feature Films in which he and his co-jurors awarded the Mexican director Alejandra Marquez Abella (Grand Prix to The Good Girls) and the Urugyan Alvaro Brechner (Special Jury Prize to Compañeros, Audience Award as well). The kind of the parallel sections: that alternative history of cinema offered in the section Decryption by the author of the book Noire n’est pas mon métier (Being a Black Woman is not my job); those discoveries form the Caribbean, especially Dominican Republic, in the section New Territory; favourite productions chosen by the Swiss author from French and Korean origins Elisa Shua Dusapin for the section Diaspora; or those unusual Romantic Comedies produced in China or Honduras and gathered in the section Genre Cinema.
For the second year in a row, FIFF met with success with a tight programme of 110 films including less than 80 feature films. That is the smallest offer among the biggest festivals in Switzerland. It looks like FIFF found the perfect formula for a festival dedicated to the public rather than to the industry: the audience gets their bearing and discuss more often about the same films.
Among the fortyish short movies screened at Fribourg during that 2019 edition, close to fifteen were part of the International Competition: Short Films. A competition won by two directors from Asia : Indian Payal Kapadia for And What is the Summer Saying (Best International Short Film Award) and Indonesian Aditya Ahmad for Kado (CH Cinema Network Prize).
Finally, FIFF hit the jackpot with a new artistic risk-taking. When the host of the section Sur la Carte de… was announced, the name of the Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho was known by cinema lovers quite exclusively. Two months after that 33rd edition, his latest film Parasite won the Palme d’or at Cannes! An award which make up for having cancelled his coming to Fribourg at the last minute: he had to stay in Seoul to put the final touch to his film. An award which also placed FIFF on the map of every Swiss media: the later mentioned FIFF in more than fifty articles and reports following Cannes.
Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic which greatly unsettled Europe in the Spring of 2020, the 34th edition of FIFF has been called of, like so many other cultural events. On 4th March 2020, following recommendations from the authorities, the FIFF Organising Committee has decided not to go ahead with the edition which should have taken place from 20th to 28th March.
The Festival team wished to present part of the programme. Thus they imagined the edition "34 and a half". With screenings in other festivals, online, on TV and at special one-off events the selection of FIFF will live on during the year. This new plan can happen thanks to the huge support shown by the audience and the partners of FIFF. A big thank you to everyone!
The 2021 kept its promises, including the most original ones: a 34½ edition which kept us busy part of the fall while we were preparing the 35th; the decision we took in January to postpone the Festival from March to July 2021; a delayed preparation generating additional work because of the complete reorganisation and, in the end, a summer edition.
Celebrate, discover, preserve, support, unite cultures: FIFF 2021 did not get flustered by the pandemic, the cancellation of 2022 and the rescheduling of this edition. It is true that we all missed having filmmakers, who could not travel because of obvious sanitary measures. Having the edition in the summer holidays also deprived us of part of the audience, especially the students of Fribourg University. The return to some normality compensated however those absences. The happiness one could see on the filmmakers’ faces during the videoconferences with the audience added to the general pleasure too.
For the second year in a row, a film from the African continent – The Night of Kings by Ivorian Philippe Lacôte – won the Grand Prix of FIFF. Africa is back in the first place and twice in a row after a long wait since 2005. The list of winners includes two first films: Bad Christmas by Argentinian Gastón Portal (Special Jury Prize) and Monsters Never Know by Chinese Yang Ming (Best international short film). The highly experienced Bosnian Jasmina Zbanic won both the Audience and the Youth Jury awards with her deeply moving Quo vadis, Aida?
The summer Festival was a moment of birth and rebirth. The birth of new sections which were a way to thank the audience for the solidarity and kindness they shown when FIFF was canceled and then delayed. With Genre Cinema (II): Audience Choice, the audience could vote for their favourite musicals (screened in an Open Air cinema in a medieval fortress of the city of Fribourg). The second one, Make it family time, was an extended offer for kids and their parents. (Complete programme in archives)
Because of the pandemic, FIFF chose to exceptionnaly move in school and show film directly in classrooms. This adaptation necessitated a significant technical and organisational work for Planète Cinéma (watch the video). The team had to set up an online platform which would allow each teacher to screen a FIFF film in their classroom. Planète Cinéma offer included eleven films and two short films programmes. In total, 14’525 pupils and students, from more than 800 classes, enjoyed a screening of a Planète Cinéma film.
After two years of COVID-induced disruptions, the 2022 Festival will return to its traditional March slot.
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