“Becoming an Astronaut,” an ambitious documentary focusing on four new astronauts to be announced by the European Space Agency (ESA) in November, has won the Focal Audience & Market Strategies pitching event at the Zurich Film Festival.
Organized by Focal, the Lausanne-based foundation for film and audiovisual media training, Audience & Market Strategies is a three-part training program that helps producers promote their projects at an early stage. This year’s event showcased eight Swiss projects at various stages of development.
The program culminated in the pitching event, in which the producers presented their projects to representatives of the sales company, industry experts and an international jury composed of Stephen Kelliher from Bankside Films, Netflix’s Lars Wiebe, Olivier Tournaud from Cinephil, Sven Wälti, head film at Swiss pubcaster SRG SSR and Diana Lodderhose from Deadline.
Produced by Franziska Sonder of Ensemble Film and directed by Roman Hodel, who impressed with his 2020 short documentary “The Game”, “Becoming an Astronaut” will follow the astronauts chosen by ESA after an extensive selection process, including more than 22,500 candidates. , over a four-year period in an ongoing competition to see who will travel to space first. Sonder has been granted unprecedented access to ESA for the project.
Special mentions went to two projects, including “Dom”, from DockLab producer Corinna Dästner. The documentary deals with the current topic of Russians who have fled their homeland out of political conviction and their dissatisfaction with the Kremlin’s policies and the war in Ukraine. It follows a group of people from all over Russia who have found shelter in Tbilisi, Georgia, including a student couple, a singer, a journalist, an activist, a gay blogger and a former politician, as they search for a new home – “stupid” in Russian.
Also honored was Maja Tschumi’s “Immortals”, a documentary produced by Nadine Lüchinger and Azra Djurdjevic of Filmgerberei. The film follows Milo, a queer feminist activist in Iraq, and her friend Khalili. The two have known nothing but hopelessness in their country, which has remained devastated since the American invasion. Together, they took part in the 2019 youth protests — the largest to ever take place in Iraq — where Khalili was shot, kidnapped and tortured by militias. Despite the bloody performance, the two continue their fight for a better life and dream of a new Iraq.
Other projects included “Blösch”, by director Markus Imboden (“The Foster Boy”) and presented by Núria Gysin of Contrast Film. Based on Beat Sterchi’s novel, the film revolves around xenophobia and the inhumanity of industrialized agricultural production. Set in 1961, it follows Ambrosio, a Spanish guest worker who works on a Swiss farm with a unique bond with animals, most notably a difficult bovine, Blösch, who is destined to play a fateful role in his future.
In ‘Maiara’, a feature film produced by Amel Soudani of Amka Films Productions, a troubled Swiss woman returns to her native country after living in Buenos Aires for ten years and reconnects with her father and an old friend. She suffers from severe anxiety, but finds comfort and support in butterflies, which help her recover.
“Naima”, an Anna Thommen documentary produced by Judith Lichtneckert of Zurich-based Emilia Productions and Perron X in Basel, follows a 46-year-old Venezuelan woman in Switzerland who struggles to survive after losing her job. Although she initially ends up training as a nurse in a psychiatric ward, she still faces her toughest challenge: standing up for herself.
Dario Schoch of Catpics presented Piet Baumgartner’s ‘The Driven Ones’, a long-running documentary about five young business students from different countries on their way to the top. The film, currently in post-production, will guide the lead actors for more than five years, from their student days at the University of St. Gallen to beginning their careers at top management consultancies and beyond. “The Driven Ones” also addresses the responsibilities and challenges these young business leaders face as they move into positions of power.
In the historical drama “The Woodchuck Hunt”, produced by Cyrill Gerber and Caroline Meier of Milan Film and based on the classic novel by Ulrich Becher, journalist Albert Trebla and his wife Xane escape Nazi persecution in Austria in 1938 and find their refuge in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The tense atmosphere in the village only heightens Trebla’s fear that he and his wife could be targets of a Nazi death squad. The producers, who are looking for a director, describe the feature as a mixed-genre picture with elements of romance, noir and comedy with a crossover appeal.
(Pictured: Franziska Sonder, Roman Hodel)