A festival in a state of exception
Because of the pandemic, this year’s Solothurn Film Festival will be taking place digitally. In addition, the new project to be sponsored by Migros Culture Percentage will also be screened for the first time at the festival - Petra Volpe, director of «Labyrinth of Peace», will take on the role of patron.
The 56th Solothurn Film Festival will start with a first, in all senses of the word: on Wednesday 20 January at 20:15 hours for the first time ever, the whole country will be able to watch the opening film, the world première of Niccolò Castelli's feature film «Atlas», on SRF, RTS and RSI as well as on the festival website.
It will then be a case of "Action!" in Solothurn, where the opening ceremony, attended by Swiss President Guy Parmelin, will be recorded live. The public, however, will have to attend the Festival digitally, due to the measures to combat the coronavirus. The events, discussions and prize awards celebrating Swiss film-making will nevertheless take place in Solothurn itself, and will be transmitted live to the living rooms of the nation.
«This means we preserve what's at the core of our festival: the coming together of people,» explains Anita Hugi (45), Director of the Solothurn Film Festival. It just won't happen in the usual way. «But it will be possible to put questions to participants during the live transmissions. Who would have thought you'd be able to hold a conversation with the film-makers direct from your armchair?»
For Hugi and her team, however, this means a significant amount of extra effort and cost to bring this about. «We have had to re-think every discussion round and event - it can't just be filmed.» But Hugi is optimally prepared for this state of exception: «I am a digital freak and have been looking in-depth at these topics for a long time now.» Nowadays it is important, as a general principle, for a festival to have an innovative digital presence.
Migros at the Film Festival
Migros Culture Percentage is sponsoring 18 films to be screened from 20 - 27 January at the Solothurn Film Festival. What's more, the Migros Culture Percentage Story Lab is the principal programme partner for the new section «Im Atelier» (In the Studio) (22.1., 11:00–12:00, with Petra Volpe).
Swiss director and scriptwriter Petra Volpe («Labyrinth of Peace», «The Divine Order») will also only be appearing virtually in Solothurn on 22 January - live streaming from her home in New York, where she has been living with her American husband for the last five years.
Time and money for great stories
Volpe will help to introduce the Migros Culture Percentage Story Lab, a new project that Migros Culture Percentage is sponsoring. «The concept is that it is a laboratory for all audiovisual story-telling formats,» explains Nadine Adler Spiegel (43), Head of Story Lab for Migros Culture Percentage. That is, not just for feature films and documentaries, but also for series, virtual reality and even video games.
And Story Lab does not just provide financial support - between 7,000 and 25,000 francs per project - it also supports the process of developing an idea. That also includes linking up with mentors and other creatives.
«This sponsorship provides more time to develop the story properly in the early phases,» says Adler Spiegel. «There's a place here for wackier ideas, too - it's a laboratory for experimentation, a place in which to try things out - and where you're also allowed to fail.»
Story Lab will be launched on 22 January at the film festival, with Petra Volpe as its patron and as part of a new section at the festival called «Im Atelier» (In the Studio), which is also intended to further the exchange of ideas and impulses between creatives. «Creating a script is a collaborative art form,» says Volpe, whose hit film «The Divine Order» (2017) was sponsored by Migros Culture Percentage. «You can't do it all on your own, that's why Story Lab is such a great concept.»
TV series «Labyrinth of Peace» nine years in the making
The author illustrates how long the road can be from concept to realisation with the example of her series «Labyrinth of Peace», which was screened on SRF before Christmas. «I had the initial idea nine years ago. This was followed by a lot of research, which in turn led to new elements to consider and develop, and finally to the crystallisation of the core story line.»
She had originally conceived it as a film for the big screen, but then realised she had too much material. «About five years ago, the producer suggested a series should be made - which fitted well with all the hype about series starting up at the time.»
Volpe believes what is finally seen on the screen should ideally appear to be absolutely natural, as if it couldn't have been done another way. «But to get there is a long process requiring you to put in a huge amount of work, craft and reflection - and also find people who can help you. It takes a whole village to create a good script.»
It takes a whole village to create a good script.
And finding the right people takes some time. «You need sparring partners who will tell you if you're heading down a blind alley.» Over the years Volpe has gathered a group around her that she trusts: «My producer, my husband and friends, who care for me and are constructive but very firm.» An author's feelings can be hurt very easily, so this calls for sensitive people who know the right way to get ideas across. «It's almost like a marriage. I would particularly recommend that young people gather such a group around them at the start of their careers.»
A form of sponsorship that provides not just money but also support throughout the whole process is therefore enormously helpful. The support in the early phases is also extremely valuable «in helping to pay the rent whilst providing sufficient time to get the foundations properly laid, because that's critical to success,» she stresses.
Back on the big screen in 2022
That is a view shared by Anita Hugi who, despite the pandemic, will also be launching a new prize - called «Opera Prima» - for debut films in Solothurn: «It's normally a question of time, and therefore of money. And it's wonderful if people have the resources to develop a film thoroughly and with true artistic freedom.» The concept behind Story Lab, however, doesn't just give the creative a boost, it also allows him/her artistic latitude. «Why shouldn't a film director go and create a game?»
The form of film sponsorship offered by Migros Culture Percentage up until now ran out at the end of 2020. «The same sums of money will be invested, they will just be distributed differently,» stresses Nadine Adler Spiegel. Thanks to Story Lab, the sponsorship will be more attuned to the times, and not just directed at the world of films and cinema. «It's also a bit of an experiment – and may provide a stimulus for other sponsors.»
Even if everything will be a bit different in Solothurn this year and Anita Hugi would, as a general principle, like the digital world to feature more strongly, the Director of the Film Festival nevertheless wants it back on the big screen in 2022. «A festival should take place in the flesh - the cinematic experience in the movie theatre is really something exceptional. And perhaps we can entice a few of the people who have come to see us online in 2021 to come visit us in the movie theatre in Solothurn next year.»
Photo/stage: Thomas Egli. Portrait of Nadine Adler Spiegel, Head of Story Lab for Migros Culture Percentage.