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Christian Frei (born 1959 in Schönenwerd, Solothurn) is a Swiss filmmaker and film producer. He is mostly known for his films War Photographer (2001), The Giant Buddhas[1] (2005) and Space Tourists (2009). Since 2006, Frei has been an associate lecturer on Reflection Competence at the renowned University of St. Gallen. From 2006 to 2009 he was president of the “Documentary Film Commission” for the film section of the Swiss Federal Office of Culture. Since August 2010 he is president of the Swiss Film Academy[2].

Frei in 2012



From the very start of his career, Frei established a reputation as an exacting documentarist, with a perfect grasp of his subjects. He follows his protagonists closely, always in search of authentic moments[3] and always keeping the whole picture in mind. His films are considered to be humanistic and universal, as much as subtle and insistent.[4] "What makes these films so extraordinary? They are authentic moments that endure. Christian Frei takes us along a perimeter that both divides and unites individuals and cultures: the tectonics of humanity."[5]

Frei studied television at the Department of Journalism and Communications of the University of Fribourg. In 1981, he directed his first documentary short film, Die Stellvertreterin[6]. After co-directing Fortfahren with Ivo Kummer in 1984, he became an independent filmmaker and producer. He made another short film, Der Radwechsel. Then he moved on to feature-length documentaries with Ricardo, Miriam y Fidel (1997). With this striking portrait of a Cuban father and his daughter, torn between faith in the revolutionary ideas and the desire to emigrate to the United States, Frei takes a critical look at Cuban society. Carefully avoiding taking sides, he leaves it up to the spectator to form his own opinion.[7]

War Photographer (2001) marks a turning point in his career as director in 2001: Due to the Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary and numerous prizes worldwide he had the international break through. For this feature-length documentary, Frei spent two years accompanying war photographer James Nachtwey to different war zones around the world. The film shows his protagonist to be a shy and reserved man, far from the hothead image associated with his profession[8]. Frei intelligently plays with the role of the spectator, confronting him with the ambivalence of war photography and the role of the media. The documentary appeals to the spectators’ sense for compassion and thematically approaches the theme of war itself.[9] Still popular with audiences and critics today, the film has become a classic.[10]

With The Giant Buddhas (2005), Frei once again deals with a subject of strong political and global interest: The film revolves around the destruction of the two giant Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan’s remote Bamiyan Valley. It is an essay "on faith and fanaticism, tolerance and terrorism, identity and ignorance, the ephemeral and our feeble attempts to preserve it".[11] The film turned out to be a documentary that filled a necessary gap of knowledge far from the everyday media war reportage.[12]

At the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 Frei won the “World Cinema Directing Award” for his film Space Tourists (2009). The documentary juxtaposes the journeys of the extremely rich tourists traveling with the astronauts into space with the poor Kazakh metal collectors risking their lives in search for rocket waste fallen down into the planes once the space shuttle has left. As a result, the film turns out to be a humorous and poetic declaration of love for planet earth. Critics acclaimed this film for its breathtaking imagery and richness of insights, having strengthened Frei’s reputation as one of today’s most original and innovative directors.[13]

In 2014, Sleepless in New York premiered in competition at Visions du Réel, the Nyon International Documentary Film Festival. Frei dives into the frenzied nights of three newly rejected. Helen Fisher, an American biological anthropologist, reveals the astounding and profound processes that unfold in the brain of the lovesick[14]. Working again with DOP Peter Indergand, they developed a spherical mirror to capture the solitude of the broken-hearted.[15]

As producer, Christian Frei releases Raving Iran, the first feature length documentary directed by Susanne Regina Meures[16]. She follows two Tehran DJs performing on illegal parties and planning to leave Iran. The film had its international premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival Toronto and won awards at numerous film festivals[17].

The documentary Genesis 2.0 celebrated its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2018[18] and was awarded with the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography[19]. Swiss cameraman Peter Intergand and the Russian filmmaker Maxim Arbugaev are responsible for the cinematography, Arbugaev also co-directed the film. Genesis 2.0 follows mammoth hunters on the remote New Siberian Islands and portrays clone researchers and synthetic biologists in South Korea, China and USA[20].



Ricardo, Miriam y FidelEdit

  • Basic Trust International Human Rights Film Festival Ramallah-Tel Aviv 2000: audience award[21]

War PhotographerEdit

The Giant BuddhasEdit

Space TouristsEdit

Genesis 2.0Edit


  1. ^ Tully, Andrew F. (26 March 2006). "Afghanistan: Film Revisits Destruction Of Bamiyan Buddhas". Radio Free Europe. Retrieved 25 February 2011.
  2. ^ Homepage Swiss Film Academy (in German)
  3. ^ "The only thing that matters is a quest for authentic moments, trying to make myself invisible.” Frei quoted in: Norbert Creutz: Director’s Portrait Christian Frei, ed. by SwissFilms May 2006, S. 1.2.
  4. ^ Peter-Matthias Gaede: Editorial. In: The Tectonics of Humanity. GEO Edition Documentaries Christian Frei Collection, ed. by Warner Home Video Switzerland 2007, p. 4.
  5. ^ Kulturzeit quoted in: Peter-Matthias Gaede: Editorial. In: The Tectonics of Humanity. GEO Edition Documentaries Christian Frei Collection, ed. by Warner Home Video Switzerland 2007, p. 3.
  6. ^ Swiss Radio and Television
  7. ^ Norbert Creutz: Director’s Portrait Christian Frei, ed. by SwissFilms May 2006, S. 1.4.
  8. ^ A.O. Scott: Witnessing the Witness: Looking Over a Shoulder at War's Deprivation, in: New York Times, June 19, 2002.
  9. ^ Edward Guthmann in San Francisco Chronicle: "(...) this film is an act of spiritual faith -- an eloquent, deeply felt meditation on the nature of compassion." 06.12.2002
  10. ^ Position 20 of the list "The 50 Most Important Documentaries + 2 Movies" of the Internet Movie Database
  11. ^ Norbert Creutz: Director’s Portrait Christian Frei, ed. by SwissFilms, May 2006, S. 1.7.
  12. ^ David Courier: "The Giant Buddhas is a stirring example of the power of cinema to enlighten as it defies the boundaries of culture and time."Sundance Institute History, 2006
  13. ^
  14. ^ Giorgia del Don: Sleepless in New York: A dive into the intimacy of three broken hearts, in: Cineuropa, April 22, 2014
  15. ^ John Anderson: Romance and Heartbreak Is Rarely As Moving As ‘Sleepless In New York’, in: Indiewire, May 5, 2014.
  16. ^ Siân Melton on Raving Iran in: Women And Hollywood, April 30, 2016.
  18. ^ "Sundance Film Festival". Archived from the original on 2017-10-27. Retrieved 2018-02-10.
  19. ^ Winners List Hollywood Reporter
  20. ^ Science and Film January 31, 2018
  21. ^ See festival list of the official movie website
  22. ^ IMDb
  23. ^ "SWISS FILMS Cinéportrait, Update 2014 (see PDF p. 3)". Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  25. ^ "SWISS FILMS Cinéportrait, Update 2014 (see PDF p. 3)". Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  26. ^ IMDb Sundance 2018 award winners
  27. ^ "Award list Swiss Films". April 25, 2018. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  28. ^ "15th Seoul Eco Film Festival Award Winners". June 8, 2018. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  29. ^ "Lunenburg Doc Fest Twitter". September 18, 2018. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  30. ^ "Agha, Genesis 2.0 and Bribe awarded the best Arctic films at the International Film Festival Golden Raven (Cyrillic)". September 16, 2018. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  31. ^ "DocUtah 2018 Wrap-Up". November 9, 2018. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  32. ^ "Media Release". November 14, 2018. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  33. ^ "Awards". February 4, 2019. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  34. ^ "Nominations Swiss Film Award". January 31, 2019. Retrieved April 29, 2019.

Further readingEdit

  • The Tectonics of Humanity. GEO Edition Documentaries Christian Frei Collection, ed. by Warner Home Video Switzerland 2007.

External linksEdit