The FIFF: a Festival in the Midst of Change

in 28th Festival International de Films de Fribourg

by Thomas Gerber

Since 2012, the Fribourg International Film Festival has been undergoing a deep transformation. This revolution was announced when the festival’s current artistic director, Thierry Jobin, first took up the mantle after Edouard Waintrop left to pursue other endeavours (namely, becoming artistic director of The Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes). Now, this year’s FIFF — the third edition supervised by such a passionate film enthusiast as Jobin — is already showing signs of this transformation. The most noticeable one is the growing importance of genre films in the festival’s programme, as shown by the creation of the “Genre cinema” category, which was one of Jobin’s first decisions as a director. It is not surprising then to see the disaster films showcased in this category, after the western and the sports film genres. This gives the audience an opportunity to discover never seen before mainstream films in Switzerland. Among them, one can mention Out of Inferno 3D (Tao Qu Sheng Tian), an impressive Hong Kong film featuring firefighters, The Tower (Ta-weo), a Korean reimagining of The Towering Inferno, Bong Joon-ho’s brilliant blockbuster Snowpiercer or, even more daring, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, a dark romantic comedy with Steve Carell.

This adoption of genre films and little known mainstream productions is strengthened with a handful of midnight showings dominated by Asian cinema, ranging from Moebius to the superb Filipino film noir On the Job, directed by Erik Matti — films no one would have dreamt of seeing at the FIFF just a few years ago. Created in 1980, the festival had always favoured programmes that could be described as third-worldist, which is why Thierry Jobin soon stated that “for a long time, the FIFF was kind of like the good conscience week”. In 2013, he went as far as to assert that African films are “often mediocre, if not plain bad”. Such daring words did not fail to have an effect on the festival’s regulars, some of whom still whisper to this day that the festival might have slightly forgotten its roots.

Be that as it may, the festival’s wish to showcase genre films that are too often scorned in Switzerland is praiseworthy. Besides, the public seems to be responsive, as demonstrated by the 36,000 attendees of 2013, which set a new ground-breaking record. However, these attempts have not been without consequences and the FIFF can now be defined by its hybridity. With a tribute to Iranian cinema, the focus on films from Madagascar, the disaster features and the carte blanche given to the Dardenne brothers, it has become difficult to clearly figure out where the festival’s artistic direction is going. This is why keeping an eye on the programme’s evolution through the years should prove interesting, as it seems to have reached a crossroads.

Edited by Alissa Simon