Christian Frei

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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 Ministry of Culture. Since August 2010 he is president of the Swiss Film Academy.

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[2] and always keeping the whole picture in mind. His films are considered to be humanistic and universal, as much as subtle and insistent.[3] "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."[4]

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. 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.[5]

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. 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.[6] Still popular with audiences and critics today, the film has become a classic.[7]

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".[8] The film turned out to be a documentary that filled a necessary gap of knowledge far from the everyday media war reportage.[9]

At the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 Frei won the “World Cinema Directing Award” for his latest 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.[10]

In 2014, Sleepless in New York premiered in the competition of Visions du Réel, the Nyon International Documentary Film Festival. Frei captures three persons rejected by their loves. Helen Fisher, an American biological anthropologist, provides insight in regards to the grieving process when being lovelorn[11]. Working again with DOP Peter Indergand, they developed a spherical mirror to underling the solitude of the broken hearted on the visual level.[12].

As producer, Christian Frei releases Raving Iran, the first feature length documentary directed by Susanne Regina Meures[13]. She follows two Tehran DJs performing on illegal parties and planning to leave Iran for good. The film had its international premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival Toronto and won several awards at numerous film festivals[14].

Currently, Frei is working on a new project titled Genesis 2.0. The documentary will look at mammoth excavators and geneticists[15].



Ricardo, Miriam y Fidel[edit]

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

War Photographer[edit]

The Giant Buddhas[edit]

  • Dok Leipzig 2005: Silver Dove
  • Dokufest, Pizren Dokumentary and Short Film Festival 2006: winner ex aequo
  • Trento Film Festival 2006: Silver Gentian
  • Tahoe/Reno International Film Festival 2006: Best of the Fest - Documentary
  • Sundance Film Festival 2006: Nominated Grand Jury Prize feature-length documentaries
  • Swiss Film Prize 2006: Nominated best documentary

Space Tourists[edit]

  • The Documentary Channel 2012: Jury prize «Best of Doc»
  • Cervino Cine Mountain International Mountain Film Festival 2011: Miglior Grand Prix dei Festival 2011
  • Beldocs Belgrad 2010: Best Photography Award
  • Berg- und Abenteuerfilmfestival Graz 2010: Grand Prix Documentary Feature
  • Regio Fun Film Festival Katowice 2010: 2nd Award Documentary Film Competition
  • European Documentary Film Festival Oslo 2010: Eurodok Award
  • Sundance Film Festival Park City 2010: World Cinema Directing Award
  • EBS International Documentary Film Festival Seoul 2010: Special jury prize
  • Swiss Film Prize 2010: Nominated best documentary


  1. ^ Tully, Andrew F. (26 March 2006). "Afghanistan: Film Revisits Destruction Of Bamiyan Buddhas". Radio Free Europe. Retrieved 25 February 2011. 
  2. ^ "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.
  3. ^ Peter-Matthias Gaede: Editorial. In: The Tectonics of Humanity. GEO Edition Documentaries Christian Frei Collection, ed. by Warner Home Video Switzerland 2007, p. 4.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Norbert Creutz: Director’s Portrait Christian Frei, ed. by SwissFilms May 2006, S. 1.4.
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Position 20 of the list "The 50 Most Important Documentaries + 2 Movies" of the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ Norbert Creutz: Director’s Portrait Christian Frei, ed. by SwissFilms May 2006, S. 1.7.
  9. ^ "The Giant Buddhas is a stirring example of the power of cinema to enlighten as it defies the boundaries of culture and time." David Courier
  10. ^
  11. ^ [1] Cineuropa April 22, 2014
  12. ^ [2] Indiewire May 5, 2014
  13. ^ [3] Women And Hollywood April 30, 2016
  14. ^ [4] SWISS FILMS
  15. ^

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]

Media related to Christian Frei at Wikimedia Commons