Fendant wine, Fondue and Films – A First!

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Last year Sommelier India did a story on Saas-Fee, a charming Swiss mountain village and its neighbouring high altitude vineyard, Visperterminen describing its prize winning wine, Heida. It was also the year of Saas-Fee’s first film festival, writes Renu Chahil-Graf Left: Festival co-organizer Gabriel Zurbriggen and Artistic director Stefan Fichtner

The Festival took place in Cinema Rex, the name itself conjuring up images of a bygone era. Indeed, this classic old movie house had remained closed for many years, but with the gentle persuasion of local film aficionados, the 81-year old owner of the cinema agreed to let it be open for five days to host the Saas-Fee Filmfest from 19-23 March 2014.

Innovative and idiosyncratic is a possible description of this collection of nine films in competition. Many were unbelievably low-cost, by young Directors, showcasing the thinking and direction of these individuals. From countries bordering Switzerland – Austria, Italy, France and Germany – the films were selected with the criteria that they should not have had a theatrical release. An interesting characteristic in some of the films was that the actors had the freedom to stray from the script as their heart and head allowed. Looking at real issues of the times – personal and autobiographical – perhaps reflecting current day angst…

Passion and honesty dominated the discussion over an excellent fondue lunch hosted at the intimate one-room restaurant “dü- astrid’s fondue hitta”. Seated with Martin Blaney, member of the festival jury, Gabriel Zurbriggen, the Festival co-organizer, and Jessica Krummacher, director of Totem and jury member, made for an exciting exchange. Helped along, no doubt, by the excellent Fendant Molignon, Valais AOC 2012, generously poured by our hostess.Totem pushes boundaries and surprises you with its concluding message.

My personal favourites at the Festival were the Italian movies – communicating political and historical messages with a touch of humour. Standing out among them was the moving The Mafia Only Kills in Summer directed by Pierfrancesco Diliberto. With all awards going to debut films, the official prize for best film was divided between the German production, Jacob Lass’ Love Steaks and the Austrian Soldate Jeanette directed by Daniel Hoesl. The Critics Jury awarded Finsterworld, directed by the German Frauke Finsterwalder. The Audience Award went to Ivana Lalovic’sSitting Next to Zoe, a heart-warming story of fidelity between friends.

The real laurels, however, must go to Festival Directors: Gabriel Zurbriggen, a child of Saas-Fee, now an actor in Berlin, and the eclectic Artistic Director, Stefan Fichtner, passionately committed to a “democratization of cinema”. Saas-Fee made for an unforgettable experience for all who travelled to be there – Directors, Actors and the Jury. The late March gentle snowfall added to the romance.

In the words of Stefan and Gabriel, “This small, no-car mountain village is unique. You walk everywhere and get to your destination in minutes. But most of all, it was the warmth and generosity of the local people, the numerous sponsors and hosts, the tourist office, which contributed to making this a memorable and successful event. Undeniably the invigorating climate and the clean, glacial air played its part in energizing us all! We firmly believe that Saas-Fee has the potential to develop a renowned annual film festival.”

Stefan and Gabriel met in the playgrounds of Berlin, ie, the ones with slides and sand pits, on outings with their young children. So, sorry ladies, both these charming, go-getting gentlemen are taken! However, the good news is that the co-Directors of the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF), Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin have been invited as special guests to the 2015 Saas-Fee Film Festival, which runs from 18 to 22 March this year. Undoubtedly, Stefan and Gabriel will attend the DIFF! Linking two mountain villages in a creative endeavour, not to be missed!

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