Action star and bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger mimicked pumping iron with the orb-shaped Golden Icon Award for lifetime achievement he received at a September 29 Zurich Film Festival ceremony. The former “Kaul-ee-fore-knee-a” governor, who returned to his iconic role in this summer’s “Terminator: Genisys,” gushed: “I’m happy to be back into acting, and I’m also very happy that I did my public service.”
The action star also presented his new horror movie, “Maggie,” here in Switzerland’s largest city. (The country borders Mr. Schwarzenegger’s native Austria.)
The “Conan” star was but one part of the festival, which, from September 24 until Sunday, screened 161 films from 33 countries, including 36 debuts and 14 world premieres.
An East-meets-West sensibility was palpable at the gala premiere, with the film “The Man Who Knew Infinity” serving as the opener. This sumptuous biopic stars Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons as “a Cambridge don who brings an instinctive, ill-educated Indian to work” at England’s Trinity College, Mr. Irons related at a press conference in Zurich’s swanky Baur au Lac hotel.
“Slumdog Millionaire“‘s Dev Patel portrays real-life untutored math prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan in the film. Mr. Srinivasa formed what co-star Stephen Fry called “an intellectual, spiritual love affair” with Mr. Irons’ English academic. Mr. Patel described Mr. Srinivasa as “a superhero with a great brain.”
On the subject of superheroes, Mr. Irons joked that he does big-budget blockbusters like the upcoming “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” in which the British actor plays the Caped Crusader’s butler, Alfred, “so I can do low-budget movies like this. … What excited me [about “Infinity”] is there was a passion to make it. When I come across passion in this industry, I gravitate to it,” mused Mr. Irons, who won an Oscar depicting Claus von Bulow in 1990’s “Reversal of Fortune.”
Other ZFF pictures displayed similar passion, notably “Freeheld,” also inspired by a true story, about a cancer-stricken New Jersey detective (Julianne Moore) whose pension is denied to her domestic partner, played by Ellen Page. The 28-year-old Miss Page, who was Oscar-nominated for 2007’s “Juno,” co-produced “Freeheld.”
“This film demonstrates the socioeconomic, real, practical logistics, showing what discrimination does,” Miss Page said. “The Supreme Court ruling [upholding same sex marriage] is amazing.”
In the Western “Forsaken,” Kiefer Sutherland co-stars with a partner of a different sort — his father, 80-year-old actor Donald Sutherland.
“I’ve wanted to make a movie with my father for 30 years, and I realized I didn’t have that much time,” admitted the son who played intelligence agent Jack Bauer in the hit TV series “24.”
“It’s been 25 years since I made ‘Young Guns,’” Mr. Sutherland added. “The Western genre is a staple of American cinema, with black and white characters. Working with my father made it easier to tell that story, because in Western times, things were simpler.”
The younger Mr. Sutherland was awarded a Golden Eye Award at the festival.
Veteran documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s 40th nonfiction film, “In Jackson Heights” is a 190-minute picture portraying the startling diversity of a Queens neighborhood where 167 languages are spoken and immigrants of many stripes co-exist with longtime New Yorkers. The film also has a political dimension, depicting grass-roots activists, Mayor Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Councilman Daniel Dromm.
Demonstrating the global reach of what is becoming a major festival on the international screen scene, ZFF presented 13 feature-length productions from Iran, as well as shorts, in a section called “New World View: Iran.”
From elsewhere in the world, Tobias Lindholm’s “Krigen” portrays Danish soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and how combat impacts civilians on the ground and families back home. Johan Philip Pilou Asbæk plays an officer who calls in air support during a fierce firefight and is subsequently tried for war crimes.
Various artists presented talks. Swiss director Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball,” the James Bond thriller “Quantum of Solace”) stressed the importance of pursuing an authentic, singular vision at a film industry “summit” held in Zurich’s most exclusive hotel, the Dolder Grand.
A series of insightful, highly informative “ZFF Masters” talks by filmmakers were held at Zurich’s arthouse cinema, Filmpodium. French director Jean-Jacques Annaud, who helmed 1997’s “Seven Years in Tibet” with Brad Pitt and this year’s Mongolia-set “Wolf Totem,” related anecdotes about Sean Connery, China and more.
British helmer Mike Leigh (“Secrets & Lies,” “Mr. Turner”) also gave a Masters talk, while a tribute to Mr. Leigh at Filmpodium screened about a dozen of his features.
At the end of his acceptance speech for ZFF’s Golden Icon Award, Mr. Schwarzenegger — who is reportedly replacing Donald Trump on “The Apprentice” — vowed, “I’ll be back.” And so will the ZFF in 2016, with its savvy mixture of star power, studio productions, documentaries and independent works from around the world.
L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell co-authored “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.”