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Ursula Pfander, the fairy of festivals without whom the cinematographic landscape would look sad

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Wattenwil is very far from Hollywood. In the 1970s, the Bernese town had no cinema and television was satisfied with the three national channels. It was in Thun, when she was 10, that Ursula Pfander saw her first film on the big screen: Cabbage soup, who confronts Louis de Funès with extraterrestrials …

This experience does not distract her from the 7th art, quite the contrary. She returns regularly to Thun then, emancipating herself, spends her Saturday afternoons in Bern where she goes on screenings at 1, 3, 5 and 8 pm… “Lots of American films, and French too. Author’s cinema, I discovered it later, at festivals. ” And without it, festivals in Switzerland would shine with less prestige.

The linchpin of the biggest cinematographic events, Ursula Pfander seems to belong to the elven family. Small, slender, she has almond-shaped eyes and a laugh that makes you happy, while her hard work and interpersonal skills command admiration. It is based in central Switzerland, in Bern, under the banner of PROGR, a former gymnasium converted into a Center for cultural production.

She shares with a few plastic surgeons a vast space that takes on creative shambles. His office is tiny. This school table, however, is the epicenter of Solothurn Days, of Locarno Film Festival, of Swiss Cinema Prize, and other celebrations of the moving image, such as Visions of the Real that she is joining this year to apply the “Ursula method”, which consists of covering the whole of the territory rather than the regions.

Political sense

Ursula Pfander has always been interested in audiovisual culture and creation. However, she began by doing an apprenticeship in commerce. Falling “in love” with Geneva while doing a year there as an au pair, she works there in the travel and accounting sectors. Back in Bern, she completed a federal diploma, then went to study in Friborg (contemporary history, social anthropology, communication and media). She admits not having finished her course, “but neither Simonetta Sommaruga,” she breathes, mischievously.

During her studies she worked as editorial assistant at the International Space Science Institute where she befriended Johannes geiss, the researcher who developed the first scientific experiment conducted on the moon by the Apollo 11 mission: a metal foil capable of capturing solar winds. She joined Nicolas Bideau’s team at the Federal Office of Culture at the very beginning of the operation “for a quality popular Swiss cinema” which caused famous turmoil.

“Ursula Pfander quickly proved to be an indispensable companion on the rope. Ursula is risk insurance! At the same time intelligent, organized, tenacious, sensitive and endowed with political sense, she has all the qualities to navigate in the turbulent waters of Swiss cinema ”, explains Nicolas Bideau, today at the head of Swiss presence. It was with her that he set up the new Cinema Prize and injected a dose of glamor into the branch: “We had a good time seeing everyone in a tuxedo. Because Ursula is also a great laugh, a precious quality in this country! ”

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Bernese and citizen of the world, staying occasionally in New York, Ursula Pfander speaks German, French and English – “Italian is rather passive. I understand everything, but I dare not speak it until the last day of the Locarno Festival… ”She is also a German-speaking columnist for Make television even more awesome, the online TV launched by Thierry Spicher in resistance to the pandemic. And, in her spare time, she takes care of a second-hand clothing store in Bern with a few friends.

Dreamers and worried

It is in Friborg, Locarno, Solothurn or Nyon that it opens its giant wings. She has worked with Edouard Waintrop, Olivier Père, Carlo Chatrian, Lili Hinstin, Seraina Rohrer, Anita Hugi, Emilie Bujès… Highly colorful, demanding, sometimes whimsical personalities, called upon to artistic direction because they have a vision. These pragmatic dreamers, but also worried filmmakers and distracted journalists, we must “get to know them, establish relationships of trust that leave room for criticism”. She loves meetings, passion, enthusiasm. She strongly believes in “authenticity”.

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She thus devotes a great admiration to Marco solari whose frankness, benevolence and unfailing commitment she celebrates. The president of the Locarno Festival praises her in return: “Ursula is a strong personality. She has a strategic vision and fulfills her tasks to perfection. She hates gossip, she gets to the substance of things. She is deeply loyal. It represents an enlightened feminism. Without being an activist, she convinces the rightness of the fight in an intelligent, natural and spontaneous way. ”

Ursula Pfander often stays in the shadows of the office. Duty does not prevent him from experiencing great joys. In Solothurn, the premiere of Divine Orderby Petra Volpe. In Locarno, Gerry from your Gus Van center Before dawn by Maria Schrader, and especially the evening when Harry Belafonte took the stage in Piazza Grande. A “magical, incredible” moment, she said with still stars in her eyes.


1971 Born in Wattenwil (BE).

1998 First visit to the Locarno Festival.

2006-2008 Head of film culture at the Federal Office of Culture, cinema section.

2011 Press officer for the Journées de Solothurn and the Locarno Festival.

2021 Press manager at Visions du Réel.

Find all portraits of “Time”.

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