Evoking Emotions

COMPANION invited Nadja Schildknecht, co-founder and co-director of the Zurich Film Festival, to compile a playlist of her favorite famous movie soundtracks.

Zurich is a clear frontrunner in the movie industry — at least in terms of its number of movie theaters. Nowhere else in Europe boasts more cinemas per square meter than here. And so it’s only fitting that this charming city on the Limmat river has its own film festival: entrepreneur Nadja Schildknecht founded the Zurich Film Festival (ZFF) in 2005 together with her business partner Karl Spoerri. Both of them see Zurich as the ideal host city — the festival venues are only a few minutes apart on foot, the infrastructure is modern, and this multilingual city is open to international movies from all over the world. “The Zurich Film Festival is very popular with the public and the movie industry,” says Nadja. “Business mixes with pleasure here, and lots of actors, producers, and directors have discovered this happy combination for themselves.”


The latest edition of the Zurich Film Festival attracted around 100,000 visitors. Employing the tools of tenacity, hard work, and a strong vision, Nadja and Karl are not only trying to attract emerging artists and movie buffs, but have also welcomed international Oscar winners such as composer Hans Zimmer and actress Alicia Vikander, who discussed their work with visitors. Entries compete in the International Feature Film or International Documentary Film categories, eagerly anticipated new movies are brought to the big screen at gala premieres, and podium discussions offer a platform for those involved in the movie industry to discuss the hot topics of the day.


Other corners of the movie industry also get to take to the stage at the ZFF: the annual International Film Music Competition is one example of how the often unsung heroes of the industry, such as composers, are recognized at the festival. The part that music plays in movies is often underestimated, even though it can open up whole new aesthetic perspectives for the series of images it accompanies, guiding the plotline without disrupting the flow of dialog. In those places where the movie needs to be explained, the composer may provide context through music, or else purposefully lead the audience further into a state of confusion. Character development is often supported by the use of music, too, which helps to communicate the emotional state of the character without this having to be spelled out through conversation.


The Zurich Film Festival pays tribute to this subtle craft. New works, rather than established compositions, compete for prizes: there’s an open competition in which a soundtrack must be composed for a short movie chosen by an expert panel. Out of all the submissions, five pieces are selected by the judges to proceed to the final round. During the film festival, the five nominees’ musical interpretations are premiered through an orchestral performance, so the audience can get an idea of what effect the music has on the movie and which particular aspects of the movie it brings into focus. Then the winner is chosen.
This level of emphasis on film music is something unique to Zurich. Why is it so important to Nadja Schildknecht? “If you take music away from a movie, the movie loses all its emotional impact. It’s only through music that a film has the power to move its viewers and cause them to laugh or to cry.” Which is a good enough reason for us to ask the co-director of the festival what her favorite movie soundtracks are. Exclusively for COMPANION, she put together a select playlist that combines classics with more recent discoveries. In our view, it includes some of the greatest films of all time.

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