Swiss Fest Solothurn to Make Big Splash at Goes to Cannes with Curated Slate including Latest Nicolas Steiner Jacqueline Zünd

Unspooling May 18 as part of an overall Swiss Focus at the Marché du Film, Solothurn Film Festival Goes to Cannes marks the first collaboration between the long-standing Swiss festival and the Cannes market, but also a first for many of the talents and producers carefully picked for the event.

Two of Switzerland’s top documentary filmmakers Jacqueline Zünd, winner of a 2019 Crystal Bear nominated for “Where We Belong,” and Nicholas Steiner, director of “Above & Below”, ranked among Variety reviewer Peter Debruge’s Top 10 films of 2015, are set to attract buyers, sales agents and programmers’ attention with their star-stubbed fiction debuts.

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In “Do You Believe in Angels, Mr Drowak,” Steiner has hired Karl Markovics, star of the 2008 Oscar winner “The Counterfeiters”, rising acting talent Lune Wedler (“All the Light that I Can See,” “Je suis Karl”), Lars Eidinger (“Babylon Berlin,” “All the Light that I Can See”) and Dominique Pinon (“Delicatessen”, “Amélie”).

“After two cinematic documentaries that ran worldwide and an original Netflix series [“Dig Deeper-The Disappearance of Birgit Meier”], I was excited to create this technically demanding, stylistic feature with an exceptional cast and my trusted core crew who has been with me since the beginning,” says Steiner about his film in the editing stage and due for delivery in 2025.

With “Do You Believe in Angels, Mr Drowak”, we enter a world where creativity knows no bounds,” says Niccolò Castelli who took the helm of the prestigious Solothurn Film Festival as artistic director in 2022.

“In this black comedy, shot in black and white, we are delighted to observe how two seemingly distant fantasy characters approach each other, driven by similar desires. Acting, set design, camera, rhythm: cinema is a dream that gives us so much life and emotion. It is a pleasure to enter Mr Drowak’s universe,” he says.

The film is co-produced by Germany’s Zieglerfilm Baden-Baden and Switzerland’s tellfilm, with broadcasters SWR, SRF/SRG SSR, ARTE, WDR and HR, in collaboration with MMC Fiction and Edition Tanja, support from MFG, DFFF, Federal Office of Culture (FOC), Filmstiftung NRW, Region Basel Stadt, Zürcher Filmstiftung, Region Basel Land, FFF Bayern, Suissimage, and FOCAL Stage Pool.

In “Don’t Let the Sun (Catch You Crying)” starring Levan Gelbakhiani (“And Then We Danced”) and Karidja Touré (“Girlhood”), Zünd uses her documentary background to draw a realistic drama about the fragile nature of relationships.

“The film portrays a world that is only a small step away from our reality, not just in terms of human relations but also when it comes to the premise: people have turned night into day, which is a conceivable consequence of our current climate crisis,” comments producer Louis Mataré of Lomotion. “The film’s world is embedded in a city marked by the hard edge of brutalism, but not as densely populated as it might have been. Framed by raw, barren concrete buildings, the images reflect people’s inner landscapes, making their fragility and vulnerability palpable,” he continues.

“With her first foray into fiction, Zünd carries her fascinating way of looking at the limits of modern human life,” adds Castelli.

Shot almost entirely at night in Milan, Genova and São Paulo, the Lomotion production is co-produced by Italy’s Casa delle Visioni, with backing from Swiss broadcaster SRF, FOC, Zürcher Filmstiftung, Berner Filmförderung, Kulturfonds Suissimage and Italian tax credit.

Swiss distributor Filmcoopi holds domestic rights.

In a unique attempt to bring closer together Swiss and South African talent and storytelling, “The Laundry” marks the first co-production between established Swiss prodo Akka Films, present at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard with “The Shameless,” and South Africa (Kude Media). Joining the partners are France’s KinoElektron and veteran U.S. indie icon Jim Stark (“Triangle of Sadness,” “Down By Law”).
The feature debut of South-African Zamo Mkhwanazi received backing from FOC, RTS, Succès Passage Antenne, Suissimage, as well as South Africa’s National Film and Video Foundation and tax incentives.

Set in 1968, ”The Laundry” is a poignant exploration of the human experience during the apartheid era in South Africa,” producer Philippe Coeytaux tells Variety.

“It delves deep into the emotional and psychological consequences of systemic discrimination, highlighting the often-tragic consequences of this policy. By shedding light on this dark chapter in humanity, the film not only reminds us of the importance of fighting injustice, but also bears witness to the enduring power of hope and solidarity in the face of adversity.”

Digging deeper, Solothurn’s artistic director says, “it’s a vivid and important story, told by someone who can understand the feelings of the protagonists, because she [Mkhwanazi] has been directly involved in it as it’s the story of her mother’s family. Amidst dreams of freedom and deprivation of rights, it is an extremely necessary narrative today, reminding us with so many emotions how much we cannot take the achievement of democracy and civil rights for granted.”

Meanwhile “The Exposure” by seasoned writer-director-producer Thomas Imbach (“Nemesis”, “Mary Queen of Scots”) breaks new ground as “probably the first European film to be realised 100% in virtual production”, says the director.

“It will be interesting to discover the ever-changing look of director Thomas Imbach in his long and successful research,” notes Castelli. “With ‘The Exposure,’ he experiments with an innovative cinematic narrative, taking a literary work set in the 1920s [Arthur Schnitzler’s 1924 novella ‘Fräulein Else’], consisting entirely of the thoughts of the protagonist, and turning it into a film shot entirely in a studio, thanks to 3D projection technology.”

The Exposure
The Exposure

The project starring Deleila Piasko and Milan Peschel, is produced by Thomas Imbach Picture, with backing from broadcasters SRF, SRG SSR, Prestige Films, FOC, Basel Film und Media Arts, Suissimage Cultural Fund and the Zurich Film Foundation.

Al Baseer-The Blind Ferryman,” by Iraqi-born Ali Al-Fatlawi, is an environmental odyssey, transporting the viewer into the Iraqi marshes. “It blends breath-taking landscapes with cultural heritage, to illuminate environmental and cultural challenges,” says the director whose ambition is “to authentically portray the resilience of this ancient ecosystem, collaborating closely with local communities.”

For Castelli, “Al Baseer – The Blind Ferryman” stands out as yet another facet of Switzerland.
“Switzerland was and still is a place of immigration, the world is present in Switzerland and there is a constant exchange, a search for roots and dialogue,” and we can see this very clearly in Ali Al-Fatlawi’s feature,” says the festival honcho.

The co-production between Switzerland’s Samir, Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion, Ali Al-Fatlawi, and Iraq’s Karada Films was picked in 2022 for Cannes Atelier 2022.

With the Goes to Cannes initiative, Castelli hopes to achieve various goals, both for Solothurn, which welcomes more than 60,000 visitors each year, and Swiss film and talent as a whole.

“Our mission is to connect Swiss cinema with the public, to bring the Swiss film industry closer to the audience and to offer this space for dialogue and exchange,” he explains.

“In the current context of filmmaking, where festivals and their markets are increasingly important for the exposure and circulation of a film, we believe that an organisation such as ours, with our name and our contacts, can play a role in helping films to have a career abroad for world premieres and sales, and consequently to have greater visibility among Swiss audiences. The more a film circulates successfully in the world, the more the careers of the authors and their films are facilitated in Switzerland.”

“Moreover,” he continues, “the number of international co-productions has increased exponentially compared to 10-20 years ago, and it is interesting for us to expand the possibilities of exchange with the countries with which Switzerland co-produces the most. We are looking forward to bringing these promising works to the Marché in Cannes,” he says.

Short run-down of the projects:

“Al Basheer-The Blind Ferryman,”(Ali Al-Fatlawi)

The blind ferryman Ayoub lives in the swamps of southern Iraq. One day he meets a mysterious beautiful woman and falls for her. However, nobody believes that she exists. When even his neighbors turn away from him, he carries out a fatal act in desperation.

“Do You Believe in Angels,” (Nicolas Steiner)

Lena (played by Luna Wedler) is hopelessly optimistic, unabashedly open, and unconditionally believes in love and goodness. When she applies to be a writing instructor as part of a social initiative at the “office,” she has no idea of the depths of the only client interested in her course: Former homeless man Hugo Drowak (Karl Markovics). Continuously caught off guard by Lena’s seemingly naive openness, the misanthrope and old drunkard unexpectedly captivates her with his remarkable talent for writing. He slowly but surely starts to lose his footing. However, Drowak wouldn’t be Drowak if he were easy to crack.

“Don’t Let the Sun (Catch You Crying),” (Jacqueline Zünd)

In a world almost like ours, Jonah works for an agency that offers human relationships. When he’s hired to serve as Nika’s father, he begins to lose control of his tightly controlled life. A delicately dystopian drama set in a place of unbearable heat, where people are desperate for human warmth.

“The Exposure,” (Thomas Imbach)

In the 1920s, Lili’s summer getaway takes an unexpected turn when she’s pressured by Dorsday, a predator from her past. To save her family’s honor, she confronts the haunting spectre of abuse.

“The Laundry,” (Zamo Mkhwanazi)

South Africa 1968. Khuthala hates the family-owned laundry. But as the apartheid government cracks down on Black business ownership, Khuthala is torn between chasing his music dreams and fighting the injustice that threatens the business that is the sole means of support and glue of his family.

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