Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh is one of Europe’s most significant auteur filmmakers. He has lived his passion for over 50 years and will, as he once put it, “still be a fucking artist when he retires”. Leigh’s ability to enthuse critics and viewers alike with such films as HIGH HOPES (1988), NAKED (1993), SECRETS & LIES (1996) and HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (2008) is underpinned by countless awards, including a Golden Palm and seven Academy Award nominations. Raised in a working-class district of Manchester, Leigh is able to capture the sorrows and hardships of the ‘common people’ with humor and sensitivity. He is one of the leading exponents of New British Cinema, a genus of filmmaking that has performed a cinematic analysis of social developments in Britain since the 1980s. Mike Leigh will accept his award in person during the Award Night on October 3. ZFF offers insight into his work with a representative retrospective screened in his honor.

Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes is one of the most interesting personalities of the current independent cinema scene. Born 1961 in Los Angeles, the screenwriter and director is considered to be the pioneer of the 1990s coined “New Queer Cinema”. Haynes continually succeeds in undermining traditional narrative structures with his uncompromising and often sublimely erotic films. His directorial debut, the science fiction drama POISON, garnered the main award at Sundance in 1991. This master of semiotics has since picked up more than 46 international awards, including the Special Jury Prize at Cannes for his glam rock homage VELVET GOLDMINE (1998), the Special Jury Prize at the Mostra in Venice for his Bob Dylan biopic I’M NOT THERE (2007), and an Academy Award nomination for FAR FROM HEAVEN (2002).

Luis Miñarro

The Catalonian producer and director Luis Miñarro is considered one of the foremost proponents of Spanish auteur cinema. Like no other he especially defends the visual aspect of cinema. "It's totally ok that many people consider cinema as mere entertainment. For me, however, it is primarily art," Miñarro remarked in an interview with a Spanish film magazine. He has produced over 30 films with his production company, Eddie Saeta, founded in 1989, including festival favorites such as FINISTERRAE and LA MOSQUITERA. He was honored at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010 with the Palme d'Or for the international co-production UNCLE BOONMEE WHO. Four years later, he completed his first feature film as a director with Stella Cadente. The film was received with two Gaudi Awards. The latest news was not a film announcement rather the headlines were about the closure of his production company. Despite its impressive filmography and international recognition, the producer had difficulties convincing both critics and backers, especially in his homebase, of his radically unconventional projects. But Miñarro has plans of retiring from filmmaking. His second directorial effort SALOME will shake up international film festivals in 2016.

Ruth Toma

Ruth Toma was born in 1956 in Lower Bavaria. After state exams at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich she started off as an actress and author in the independent theater group "Temporary Structures" and was active for nine years. Then she attended top postgraduate courses in film at the University of Hamburg where she graduated with honors. Many of her screenplays developed into successful film, including A SONG OF LOVE AND DEATH - GLOOMY SUNDAY, SOLINO, PEAS AT FIVE-THIRTY, EMMAS GLÜCK, SAME SAME BUT DIFFERENT, 3096 Days, THE CHEF and television films ROMEO and THE LOST BROTHER. Ruth Toma is one of the most important German writers. Her scripts have won many awards, among them the German Screenplay Award, the Writer's Award of the Cologne Conference, the German Television Award, the Bavarian Film Award and the Adolf Grimme Prize.

Ulrich Seidl

Werner Herzog considers him one of his favorites, Michael Haneke values his radicalism, countless young filmmakers are influenced by his visual language: We are talking about Ulrich Seidl, one of Austria’s most important filmmakers. Exploring the fine line between fiction and documentary, his film projects are fascinating and unsettling, seemingly far from reality yet disturbingly close to it. His body of works includes such award-winning films as TIERISCHE LIEBE, MODELS, and HUNDSTAGE. Seidl caused a sensation last year with his PARADIES trilogy, which won prizes at various festivals. PARADIES: GLAUBE was even honored with the prestigious Jury Award at Venice Film Festival. At the ZFF MASTERS, Ulrich Seidl offers us insight into his work: What fascinates him about the blending of documentary and fiction? How does he get to know his film’s protagonists? 

Fatih Akin

Ten years ago, Fatih Akin celebrated his powerful breakthrough with GEGEN DIE WAND. The compelling love story impressed both critics and audiences with the self-destructive drive of its protagonists and their strained Turkish-German identity. GEGEN DIE WAND was honored with multiple awards, among them the Golden Bear and the European Film Award, but it is only one of Akin’s many brilliant cinematic works. His first feature film, KURZ UND SCHMERZLOS, a harsh crime drama set in the director’s native quarter Hamburg-Altona won the Bavarian Film Award “Best New Director”. Love and homeland, Hamburg and Istanbul, great hopes and crazy ideas – these are the themes of almost all his films. But Akin is well versed in balancing sternness and gaiety, darkness and light. So his œuvre includes both melodramas – like the trilogy about “Love, Death, and the Devil”, whose second part AUF DER ANDEREN SEITE won the “Best Screen- play” award in Cannes – and light-hearted films: IM JULI is a sunny road movie, SOLINO an affectionate family chronicle, and SOUL KITCHEN a heart-warming comedy. Besides his work as a director, Akin also successfully participates in the German film scene as a screenwriter (KEBAB CONNECTION), producer (CHIKO), and actor (KISMET). After five years, Akin finally presents the last part of his trilogy: THE CUT will be screened at this year’s Zurich Film Festival. 

Susanne Bier

Susanne Bier is one of the most accomplished Euro- pean filmmakers of our time. The Danish screenwriter and director is responsible for such internationally successful films as EFTER BRYLLUPPET (AFTER THE WEDDING) and BRØDRE (BROTHERS), a gripping depiction of a conflict among brothers amidst the emotional turmoil of the Afghan war. Due to its enormous success, the film was remade in Hollywood in 2009, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire, and Natalie Portman. Bier realized her first US film in 2007 with THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE, a melodrama revolving around a family trying to cope with the loss of husband and father.Her family drama HÆVNEN (IN A BETTER WORLD) garnered the Academy Award® for “Best Foreign Language Film”, compellingly depicting a family’s coming to terms with the oppositional worlds of Europe and Africa as well as child and adulthood, and the straining dichotomy of revenge and forgiveness. At the ZFF MASTERS, Susanne Bier offers insight into her work as a filmmaker. What hurdles did she have to overcome to take a foothold in the male-dominated film indus- try? And what challenges face European film workers in Hollywood?