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, Christian 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.

Christian Frei 2012


From the very start of his career, Christian 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]

Christian 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, Christian 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 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, Christian 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, Christian 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 Christian 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]

Currently, Christian Frei is working on a new project titled Sleepless in New York. The documentary will look at the agony and dynamics of romantic rejection.



Ricardo, Miriam y Fidel

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

War Photographer

The Giant Buddhas

  • 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

  • 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



External links[edit]

Media related to Christian Frei at Wikimedia Commons