Pierre-Yves Walder • CEO and Artistic Director, NIFFF
"NIFFF has its own all-important legacy which I treasure and respect enormously"
- Neuchâtel festival’s recently appointed CEO and artistic director speaks to us about the 2022 edition of the event, his passion for fantastic film and the new and exciting Scream Queer retrospective
We were lucky enough to sit down with Pierre-Yves Walder, the new CEO and artistic director of the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival (NIFFF). His all-consuming passion for genre film and his extensive experience in the fields of culture and film have allowed him to tackle his first edition of the event with panache and determination.
Cineuropa: Could you tell us about your professional background?
Pierre-Yves Walder: Everything about artistic expression interests me, but fundamentally I consider myself a cinephile. When I was in Paris, working in press relations, I read that the people I’d known since my childhood in Neuchâtel had created a genre film festival. At the time, I was working for the Locarno Festival, but after that I decided to join them on their adventure. I started out working in the press team and then I joined the programming team (in 2010) under Anaïs Emery. After five years, I needed a change, so I left for Zurich to join the Pro Helvetia team. When Anaïs Emery left his role, I applied for it and returned to NIFFF as CEO and artistic director.
How are you approaching your first year at the wheel of NIFFF?
One of my first objectives on returning to the festival after two very complicated years caused by the pandemic, was to preserve the excellent and demanding nature of the festival’s line-up, which I believed to be extremely qualitative. It boasted a good, solid concept which had stayed the course for a long time; it didn’t make sense to change it or revolutionise things. 2022 is about prioritising physical events and consolidating the festival’s achievements. NIFFF has its own all-important legacy which I treasure and respect enormously.
Could you tell us a little something about this year’s edition? What’s new to the festival and what are your favourite films?
The International Competition is anchored in the fantastical genre in the wider sense, featuring films which need to surprise audiences and arouse their interest. What I especially like about the NIFFF is that you get to see both action films of a more commercial nature and arthouse films. I’m also determined to highlight first films, whilst also closely following authors we’ve previously showcased (and discovered) in the festival. Out of the various first films we’ve selected, I’d like to mention Hypochondriac by a young American director called Addison Heimann, the French movie Summer Scars [+see also:
interview: Simon Rieth
film profile] (Simon Rieth) and the breath-taking works Blaze by Australia’s Del Kathryn Barton and Huesera by Mexico’s Michelle Garza Cervera. In other sections, I’d like to mention the intense thriller Holy Spider [+see also:
film profile] (Ali Abbasi), The Night of the 12th [+see also:
interview: Dominik Moll
film profile] by Dominik Moll, which is an "atypical" police thriller inhabiting the fantastic genre, The Timekeepers of Eternity (Aristotelis Maragkos), which rubs shoulders with the modern art world, and Falcon Lake [+see also:
film profile] by Quebecker director Charlotte Le Bon, which is a magnificent and highly personal film. I think we’ve put quite a multidisciplinary and intersectional programme together.
Could you tell us about the new Scream Queer retrospective?
In my mind, Scream Queer is both a retrospective and a statement. It’s an idea which I’d had since the outset and which I suggested when I first applied for the role of artistic director. Generally speaking, I wanted to thematise some of the social elements you see in fantastic film, because I see this genre as an exceptional “laboratory”, in terms of form, technology and themes.
I wanted to understand how the depiction of queerness had evolved over the years. I didn’t only want to screen films with gay and cisgender men, I also wanted movies with women and transgender people. There was one film which I definitely wanted to include in the retrospective: Orlando by Sally Potter, starring the mind-blowing Tilda Swinton. For me, this film is an uninhibited, serene and fluid reading of trans identity. I also wanted to highlight the figure of the "big bad queer". They’re "nasty" people with a confused sexual identity who are clearly a negative presence because they embody the unknown but are fascinating for audiences. I think these depictions are "problematic". I’m definitely not saying these are bad films - often they’re real masterpieces. But it’s interesting to realise that the "big bad queer" has been on our screens for a long time. Queer representation has evolved, and since the 2000s there’s been an opening up, a sort of celebration of these characters. The queer theme crops up transversally throughout the entire festival programme. You might even call it an inclusive and well-rounded fantastic festival.
(Translated from French)
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