“Becoming an Astronaut,” an ambitious documentary that will focus on four new astronauts who will be announced by the European Space Agency (ESA) this 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 in various states of development.
The program culminated with the pitching event, in which the producers presented their projects to sales company representatives, industry experts and an international jury comprising Stephen Kelliher of Bankside Films, Netflix’s Lars Wiebe, Olivier Tournaud of Cinephil, Sven Wälti, head of film at Swiss pubcaster SRG SSR, and Deadline’s Diana Lodderhose.
Produced by Franziska Sonder of Ensemble Film and set to be directed by Roman Hodel, who made a splash with his 2020 short documentary “The Game,” “Becoming an Astronaut” will follow the astronauts, chosen by ESA after an exhaustive selection processes that included more than 22,500 applicants, over a four-year period in an ongoing competition to see who will be first to travel to space. Sonder has gained unprecedented access to ESA for the project.
Special mentions went to two projects, including “Dom,” from producer Corinna Dästner of DockLab. The documentary tackles the timely topic of Russians who have fled their native country out of political conviction and their unhappiness with the Kremlin’s policies and the war in Ukraine. It follows a group of people from across Russia that has found shelter in Tbilisi, Georgia, including a student couple, a singer, a journalist, an activist, a gay blogger and former politician, as they search for a new home – “dom” 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 only hopelessness in their country, which has remained devastated since the U.S. 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 crackdown, the two continue their battle 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 the novel by Beat Sterchi, the film revolves around xenophobia and the inhumanity of industrialized agricultural production. Set in 1961, it follows Ambrosio, a Spanish guest worker employed on a Swiss farm with a unique connection to animals, particularly 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 having lived in Buenos Aires for a decade and reconnects with her father and an old friend. She suffers from severe anxiety but finds comfort and support in butterflies, which help her recovery.
“Naima,” a documentary by Anna Thommen produced by Judith Lichtneckert of Zurich-based Emilia Productions and Perron X in Basel, follows a 46-year-old Venezuelan woman in Switzerland struggling to survive after losing her job. While she initially lands a nursing apprenticeship in a psychiatric ward, she still faces her most difficult challenge of all: standing up for herself.
Dario Schoch of Catpics presented Piet Baumgartner’s “The Driven Ones,” a long-term documentary focusing on five young business students from different countries on their way to the top. The film, currently in post-production, accompanies the protagonists for more than five years, from their student years at the University of St. Gallen to the start of their careers in top management consulting firms and beyond. “The Driven Ones” also addresses the responsibility and challenges of these young business leaders 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 1938 Austria and find refuge in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The tense atmosphere in the village only exacerbates Trebla’s fears that he and his wife could be a targets of a Nazi death squad. The producers, who are looking for a director, describe the feature as a mixed-genre pic with elements of romance, noir and comedy with cross-over appeal.
(Pictured: Franziska Sonder, Roman Hodel)