‘Nyad’ Co-Developer Zurich Avenue Explores Wirecard’s Shady Dealings in ‘Bad Company,’ German Colonialism in ‘Hansen’

Zurich Avenue, headed by producers and former Zurich Film Festival execs Karl Spoerri and Viviana Vezzani, has quickly amassed an impressive slate of projects since launching last year, including Annette Bening starrer “Nyad.”

Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s film, which chronicles the attempt by 64-year-old swimmer Diana Nyad to swim from Cuba to Florida, unspools at the Zurich Film Festival. Zurich Avenue co-developed the Netflix film, which was produced by Black Bear Pictures and Mad Chance.

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Part of financing group SPG3 Entertainment, likewise co-founded by Spoerri along with Urs Wietlisbach and Alfred Gantner in 2020, Zurich Avenue has provided the producers with a more hands-on approach, allowing them to create their own slate. The company’s recent films include Bill Pohlad’s critically-acclaimed “Dreamin’ Wild,” starring Casey Affleck and Zooey Deschanel; Coky Giedroyc’s Take That musical “Greatest Days”; and the forthcoming Josh Margolin action-comedy “Thelma,” starring June Squibb (“Nebraska”) as a 90-year-old grandmother out for revenge after falling victim to a phone scam.

Spoerri says he and Vezzani are especially interested in projects based on true stories, like “Nyad,” that have “emotional and inspirational angles and are filmmaker-driven. We really like working with great filmmakers. That’s the main thing. When we develop something, that’s where we want to go.”

Zurich Avenue
Zurich Avenue

While the company is focusing mostly on English-language projects aimed at global audiences, it is also developing high-profile German productions, including Robert Schwentke’s “Bad Company,” based on the tell-all expose charting the 2020 collapse of the German financial services firm Wirecard in the wake of revelations that €1.9 billion ($2.1 billion at the time) had gone missing. While former CEO Markus Braun has been indicted on a number of charges, including fraud, news continues to emerge regarding its fugitive former COO, Jan Marsalek, who disappeared in 2020 after being fired. Rumored to be hiding out in Russia, Marsalek is alleged to have had ties to German, Austrian and Russian spies.

Schwentke has “Bad Company” largely written, but Spoerri says more will be added to the story as it’s still developing. “It’s getting updated. We’ll probably need another year for that one – it’s so fascinating what is still coming out. I think we shouldn’t rush it. You don’t want to miss all the craziness that is there,” he says.

Zurich Avenue is also developing its first TV series, “Hansen.” The ambitious show is based on the bestselling German book series by Ellin Carsta about a 19th-century Hamburg family seeking to revive its money-losing coffee business with a cacao plantation in Cameroon and a distribution operation in Vienna.

The series, which has playwright Nicki Bloom attached as lead writer, will examine a little-explored chapter of German history, namely its colonial past – Cameroon was a German colony from 1884 to 1920.

It won’t delve too deeply into some of the darker aspects of that history, however, Spoerri says. “It’s historic, it’s fun, it’s sexy but it’s also a project with relevance” that will deal with these issues but in an entertaining way, Spoerri notes.

Zurich Avenue’s has two other projects currently halted due to the Hollywood strikes; they include Sigal Avin’s psychological thriller “A Perfect Marriage,” produced with Patrick Wachsberger and Ashley Stern of Picture Perfect Federation, and “So Happy for You,” based on Celia Laskey’s bestselling novel which the writer is also adapting for the screen.

“We just started working on [“A Perfect Marriage”] and then we had to stop.” Spoerri is optimistic following news of the WGA’s tentative deal with the studios, however.

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