Commentary Thomas Krempke

Thomas Krempke is one of the four directors who created the video film Züri brännt (Zurich is burning) about the Zurich youth unrest of 1980/81. Of course there were many more activists in the making of this legendary 100-minute documentary featuring street riots, nude protests, punk music, lived autonomy. The Zurich movement renounced Zurich’s puritanism and demanded life, space, money—all of it, and right now! But the editing of ri brännt with its legendary commentary by Silvano Speranza was accomplished by a small team.

Thomas Krempke: ‘The beginning sequence of Züri brännt is very long indeed, about three or four minutes: During a drive through town, the history of Zurich and its urban movements is told, from 1968 to the present, creating a sense for the coming events to unfold. We were full of enthusiasm about what we had achieved and determined to continue in the same way. After telling this history up to the Opera House Riot, we employed an opera singer, who sang Mozart’s Queen of the Night for us. We then created a mix of The Bucks and Queen of the Night, which we used to express the climax – the outbreak of the Opera House Riot. We constantly filmed additional material, like sterile housing estates made out of concrete. For the drive through Zurich we used a Citroen 2CV, and filmed out of the roof. Editing the film continued: the first five minutes, the next five minutes’. (see Thomas Krempke, Video 15.41: Montage of «Züri brännt» as a collective process)

At the Solothurn Film Festival in January 1981 ri brännt created a sensation. It was subsequently subtitled in four languages and was shown all over Europe, in Italy, the UK, Amsterdam and at the Berlin Film Festival. In Zurich the video film found a big audience.

Thomas Krempke: ‘Thanks to the Film Cooperative we were able to get Edi Stöckli on board, who exclusively ran porn cinemas in Zurich. He owned the Cinema Walche, among others, and he agreed to put his cinema at our disposal to screen ri brännt. Forty thousand tickets were sold, which was a lot. Of course this success had to do with the appeal of our film, but primarily it was due to the youth riots: Everybody wanted to know what these youth riots were all about. Many people were surprised by how much had happened over that year in Zurich and elsewhere’. (see Thomas Krempke, Video 25.06: Distribution of «Züri brännt» by the Film Cooperative)

Wishing you an inspiring viewing session,

Heinz Nigg

In the 1970s and 1980s, young activists discovered video as a new medium and used moving images in their struggle for access to cultural expression for the many, not the few. They were researching and developing new forms of independent and participatory media work. This was an important step towards realizing the utopian promises of the digital age.