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Zurich Film Festival: jury decision making

How did the four juries decide on the winning films this year? Was it an easy decision? How did the jury members find the movies?

I was happy to be at the jury talk the morning of the closing award ceremony. It was a nice closure and quite interesting to understand how they picked one movie rather than another.

During the festival I watched ten films (“Take Shelter”, “Page One”, “Circumstance”, “Gnarr”, “Beauty”, “Summer Window”,”Westmind”, “Italy love it or leave it”, “Hot Line” and “Color of the Ocean”. Some were in English, some in German and some were documentaries. In addition, I went to two Master Zurich Classes, which were interviews of a film director, Gonzalez Inarritu, and a screenwriter, Paul Haggis.

Film Podium at the Zurich Film Festival - Paul Haggis

Film Podium at the Zurich Film Festival - Paul Haggis

The selection was excellent but I wished I could have seen more films and documentaries such as “The Bully Project” from Lee Hirsch, “After the Apocalypse” from Antony Butts and “Unter Wasser Atmen” from Stefan Muggli and Andri Hinnen.

In summary I learned, I laughed, I cried, I got scared and at one occasion I almost left!

Laurence Fishburne insisted that despite the beautiful weather outside they did not feel too bad about being inside watching movies. “All the movie we saw were really good films, except maybe two”.

I was happy when I heard the movie “Take Shelter” from Jeff Nichols won the Golden Eye award for international best feature. It was the first movie I watched and I absolutely loved it. I can’t wait until it comes on the screen at movie theaters.

For about 45 minutes 4 juries members talked to the interviewer, Sharon Steward in a cosy and relaxed ambiance.

Who were the jury members present that day?

  • Laurence Fishburne for the international feature films
  • Stephen Nemeth for the international documentary films
  • Janine Jackowski for the German feature films
  • Güzin Kar for the German documentary films
Laurence Fishburne - Zurich Film Festival 2011

Laurence Fishburne - Zurich Film Festival 2011

How many people were in each jury and how many films did they watch?

  • The jury for international features: 6 members – 13 movies
  • The jury for German features: 5 people – 8 films
  • The jury for international documentaries: 5 people – 12 films
  • The jury for documentary in German language:4 people – 8 films

One thing is sure the juries did not have an easy task in choosing winners. Some juries took longer than other to decide. It can be hard to know if a film will have a future in the movie theaters and how the audience will react to such and such film.The best they can do sometimes is to say “did this film touch me?”

The decision was made Friday night at the Dolder hotel in Zurich, one night before the closing and award ceremony at the opera house. Actor and President of the Jury, Laurence Fishburne, said “I think we made a really good choice”. They selected “Take Shelter”.

The Zurich Film Festival does not give the jury members criteria how to choose the winning film but just some guidelines and regulations. It is pretty much up to them.

All had to write a little speech for the ceremony.


When did the jury for international features watch the films, discuss them and come to a decision?

They watched movies with the paying audience and some with the media. Laurence said maybe 60% with paying audience and the rest with the press.

The jury members saw 2 to 3 films a day. After a while he did not know anymore if it was the first or second or third film of the day! “Watching three movies a day is very challenging”, he said.

It took them about 1 1/2 hours to decide. Laurence explained that it was not an easy decision as sometimes the performance of an actor is amazing and other time it is the topic that is more appealing.

Laurence Fishburne does not like taking notes; it does not work out for him. He rather likes discussing the film afterward when it’s fresh in his mind.

Zurich Film Festival tent

Zurich Film Festival tent

The jury ended discussing their three best films on Friday September 30th. They looked for excellence. One important thing to do explained Laurence was “to put personal feelings aside and to forget the nationality of the film”. They never discussed one movie judging it by the country it was from or looking at it as an European style versus an American style film. They looked at the movie itself.

Laurence Fishburne said he loved Zurich and was treated very presidential at the festival. He had been a jury member at festivals before. However it was completly different: in 2006 he had to note 20 short films in New York but he could see them all from home and vote from his computer.


How was it for the international documentary jury? 

International documentary jury member, Stephen Nemeth, was not at the Zurich festival for the first time. He was already there in 2007, working in the international feature films jury. Stephen laughed and said “you are treated with more glamour if you are in the jury for international feature and also you get more press coverage!”

But Stephen continued explaining that he does not mind as he loves documentaries.

It took them 2 hours to decide and it was a more difficult decision than they had anticipated as the documentaries were all really good. The jury members also had different taste, two were more for one film and two for another one.

Documentaries in German language:

The Swiss screenwriter and director, Güzin Kar, said it was not necessary to be German to be a jury member in this category but one had to be able to understand it!

The jury did not have an easy decision and selected “Darwin” as their winning documentary.


Janine Jackowski, German producer  and jury member

Janine Jackowski, German producer and jury member

How did the German features jury make their decision?

Janine Jackowski said it was a long process. It took them about 4 hours to decide. They only discussed the films which they had given the most points. They talked about 3-4 films, then narrowed it down to about 2 films and looked at the pros and cons.


I watched three movies with the international features jury and two movies with the German features jury at the beautiful movie theater in Sihlcity. Actually, when Laurence Fishburne arrived at the bottom of the steps inside of the theater, I overheard him say while removing his dark sunglasses, “Wow, it’s nice, like in Cannes.”

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