The 42nd Solothurn Film Festival has opened and is offering the best of Swiss films, including Vitus, which just missed out on an Oscar nomination.
The largest domestic film festival in Switzerland is also the platform for the "Swiss Oscars". It comes during a boom time for Swiss films – both at home and internationally.
Cabinet minister Samuel Schmid officially opened the festival on Monday, describing Swiss films as "indispensable".
In his speech, he said Swiss cinema was a cultural asset, which "contributes to the cohesion of our country and is an excellent ambassador abroad".
The ceremony featured the Swiss premiere of the thriller Marmorera, about the mystery surrounding a village that lies at the bottom of a lake.
However, the showcase for Swiss film is not without controversy. Although everyone is in agreement about the direction of the seven-day event, there have been strong words over what to do about the Swiss Film Prize.
Nicolas Bideau, head of film at the Federal Culture Office and in charge of organising the prize, wants to jazz up the whole event.
He caused uproar last January when he suggested that Solothurn simply wasn't glamorous enough to host the Swiss film prize and that the festival should be moved.
By the Locarno Film Festival in August – Switzerland's only real international film festival – Bideau had apparently changed his tune and decided to back Solothurn.
Nevertheless, this year Solothurn's organisers have promised more glitz and stars at the event, which sees the SFr600,000 ($480,000) prize going to the best film of the year.
But so far only political heavyweights are on the guest list. And the jury is made up of less-known film industry figures.
After some uncertainty over where the prizes will be given, the Concert Hall has been chosen as it is the only venue big enough to accommodate all 700 guests.
Also set to be rewarded is the best documentary film, best leading role and – for the first time this year – best film screenplay. Bideau is also planning a best film music prize for the future.
Eyebrows were raised when it was revealed that the highly popular comedy Die Herbstzeitlosen (Late Bloomers), about an old lady who opens a lingerie shop in a Swiss village, was not included in the best film shortlist.
This despite the festival's stated aim of widening the appeal of the event. However, festival director Ivo Kummer believes that the uproar over the film has had a positive effect as well, showing that the event is gaining in credibility.
New to the festival this year is the Prix du Public, a prize for the best film as voted by the public, and a public vote on the best video spots organised by the non-profit cultural project agent-provocateur.ch.
Swiss films enjoyed a record year in 2006. Grounding, Michael Steiner's populist dramatisation of the collapse of national carrier Swissair, was the most successful Swiss film, with Die Herbstzeitlosen close behind.
Both have sold around 400,000 admissions – with Die Herbstzeitlosen overtaking Grounding in the meantime – but both lag behind another Steiner film and last year's Swiss Film Prize winner, Mein Namen ist Eugen (My Name is Eugen). This attracted more than half a million people, making it one of the most popular Swiss films ever.
One of the films guaranteed to grab attention in Solothurn is Vitus, put forward by Switzerland for the foreign-language film Oscar in February. The drama about a child piano prodigy has already been sold to more than 30 countries, including the United States.
Although Vitus made it to the nine-film Oscar shortlist, it was announced on Tuesday that it was not one of the five nominees and that Switzerland is going to have to wait another year to have a shot at the biggest prize in the film world.
Top ten Swiss films of 2006
1. Grounding: 374,137
2. Die Herbstzeitlosen: 361,850
3. Handyman: 206,163
4. Vitus: 197,349
5. Jeune homme: 99, 310
6. Mein Name ist Eugen: 63,971
7. Das Fräulein: 46,431
8. Das Erbe der Bergler (documentary): 33,968
9. Cannabis: 23,367
10.Mon frère se marie: 23,353
- Comme des voleurs (Lionel Baier)
- Das Fräulein (Andrea Štaka)
- Grounding (Michael Steiner/Tobias Fueter)
- Mon frère se marie (Jean-Stéphane Bron)
- Vitus (Fredi M. Murer)
- Das Erbe der Bergler (Erich Langjahr)
- Das kurze Leben des José Antonio Gutierrez (Heidi Specogna)
- Ein Lied für Argyris (Stefan Haupt)
- Hippie Masala (Ulrich Grossenbacher/Damaris Lüthi)
- La liste de Carla (Marcel Schüpbach)
Best screenplay (new):
- Das Fräulein
- Jeune homme
Best leading role:
- Jean-Luc Bideau (in Mon frère se marie)
- Stephanie Glaser (in Die Herbstzeitlosen)
- Michael Neuenschwander (in Nachbeben)