2016 Zurich Film Festival - top notch experience

Just returned from a five-day trip to the Zurich Film Festival and couldn't be more impressed by the overall quality of the experience. I was there to cover the festival as a journalist, so while I didn't have a film to screen, I can address the everything else. First off, this is a top-tier film festival with all the bells and whistles of Venice, Toronto, Sundance, etc. If you and your film are invited, you can expect to be treated very well with multiple screenings, green carpet opportunities, media access and more. Here's a topical breakdown to help bring the experience into focus. Attendance - Most of the screenings I attended (11 in all) were fairly full or sold out. Over 85,000 people came to last year's event, so you can expect plenty of interest. ZFF has a several types of screening events...from green carpet galas to regular shows. If you have a film invited here, you can expect to screen at least three times. Venue Quality - ZFF has multiple venues throughout Zurich, with the majority of the theaters (three venues w/six screens) within walking distance of the festival HQ, and two others within a mile. All of the venues are top quality with generous, comfortable seating. Accessibility - No matter where you are in Zurich, it's fairly simple to reach the Festival HQ and theaters by walking or public transit. Whether by bus, streetcar or river taxi, the number of options to get around are frequent and easy to access. Projection Quality - No problems here. Every screening I attended was flawless and professional. Everything I saw was digitally projected, most likely DCP. After the ZFF trailer, they get right to the featured attraction. Quality of Films - I wish I could have had more time to see the full scope of what ZFF had to offer. Based on what I saw, the curation was very solid and reflective of the best international offerings on the festival circuit. A nice mix of big budget and independent. Value for the Money - First off, Zurich is very expensive, so bear that in mind if you're coming on your own dime. Unless you're packing a lunch, it's easy to drop $100 a day on food/drink, never mind your travel and accommodations. That being said, ZFF treats its filmmakers and attendees very well, so the return on investment is strong. Festival HQ / Green Room - One of the best festival centers I've experienced. The central venue encompasses areas for relaxing, networking and press conferences - while featuring a well provisioned bar, merch shopping and a ticketing venue that takes care of attendees quickly and efficiently. The HQ is also directly linked to the step-and-repeat green carpet tent, so it's easy to see the actors/directors as they mingle with the public/press. Lastly, there is a huge public plaza that surrounds the HQ, with plenty of chairs and tables to linger and people watch while you wait for the next screening. Special Activities - Aside from the myriad screenings, there is plenty extra to check into. You can look forward to multiple gala screenings, often with actors/director in attendance. Many of the filmmakers participated in Q&A's following their presentations, so that's a nice bonus. ZFF also has several industry workshops, and lectures with some of the major leaguers. This year featured talks with Ewan McGregor, Daniel Radcliffe and Woody Harrelson. Additionally, there was a fantastic film music competition where five composers had their score (to a six minute film) performed live by a crack orchestra in a fantastic 18th century concert hall. They also feature ZFF for kids, with films targeted for 14 and under. Communication - Very clear and helpful dialogue with the ZFF travel and promo team. No issues getting travel and accommodations lined up, and they were proactive in asking about special considerations and needs. At the festival, the international PR team took care of every press request I had, no matter how small. Awards - Category winners for International Film, International Documentary and Focus Switzerland/Germany/Austria receive a Golden Eye statuette and a cash prize of 25,000 CHF or 20,000 CHF. Of the additional opportunities, there is a competition for film music with a 10,000 CHF award, and a screenplay treatment contest with a 5,000 CHF award. There is also an audience award, critics choice and children's film award. If you're a contender, there's definitely some good money to be had. Lodging - Zurich has plenty of accommodations that surround the festival area. All of the hotels associated with ZFF are top quality, usually featuring a free breakfast to go with your stay. I hung my hat at the Marriott, which had a fantastic breakfast bar and all the amenities you might expect. It's expensive (between $150 and $350 per night), but if you can get the festival to cover your stay... Atmosphere & Experience - ZFF is a great reflection of its home. Wrapped in history, but modern in every way. It has the trappings and culture of a major film festival, while still managing to keep a very personal touch in its atmosphere and overall vibe. Big premieres and Hollywood luminaries mix well with small independents and up and coming filmmakers. While a trip to ZFF might hit you in the pocketbook, it's a worthwhile investment.