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Swiss cinema becomes more animated

Frédéric and Samuel Guillaume are on course for success

(swissinfo.ch)

Swiss Cinema Day at the Locarno Film Festival has devoted a whole section to Swiss animated film – a small but growing industry.

Costing SFr30 million ($25.2 million) to produce, "Max & Co" is the first long cartoon to be made in Switzerland. One of the most expensive domestic productions ever, it will be released later this year.

The second annual Swiss Cinema Day, organised by the national film promotion agency, Swiss Films, with the support of the Federal Culture Office, on Tuesday showed an exhibition of real film sets from Max & Co as well as stills from short cartoons such as "Animatou".

Frédéric and Samuel Guillaume, the twins from French-speaking Fribourg behind¨Max & Co, were on hand to demonstrate how animation is done.

For Nicolas Bideau, head of cinema at the Culture Office, it was important to highlight the animation scene in Switzerland, especially as feature films were doing so well.

"We have very talented animators in this country but they are not well known so I picked this theme to show them to the public," Bideau told swissinfo.

"They have been working in their back rooms for a long time and it's time to leave the back rooms to enter the industry of animation film."

Bideau said he also wanted to benefit from the excitement surrounding Max & Co, to encourage other cartoon makers to produce long films and to interest young people in domestic productions.

Prize-winning

The Guillaume brothers' animation, which uses puppets, has already won the audience award at this year's Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France, the most well known in the field, and has been snapped up by film distributors.

It took around 35 weeks to shoot and involved more than 200 international collaborators.

The cartoon tells the story of the adolescent Max, who while searching for his father helps a village get rid of an evil wizard. On his journey he also witnesses social and economic problems and falls in love.

Frédéric Guillaume said the aim was to create a different type of animated film to Disney or British films.

"Our inspiration was more live action movies, we didn't want to copy or redo other animated films," he told swissinfo.

"What is different is the realism in the light and in the sets, actors and situations so the idea was really to make it somewhere in between live action and animation."

Obstacles

But the brothers faced many obstacles along the way, said Guillaume. The small size of the domestic industry meant that it was not easy to find Swiss to work on the project.

The animators therefore came from the Mackinnon & Saunders workshop in Manchester, Britain, which was responsible for the figures in Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride" as well as some of the characters in Aardman Animations' "Chicken Run". The characters' voices are provided by French actors.

Financing –always difficult from film projects - came from four different countries: Switzerland, France, Belgium and Britain - but shooting took place in Switzerland.

"There is a lot of creativity and creative people in Switzerland, but what's lacking is an industry such as you find in other counties such as Belgium, which is a small country but really has a good animation industry," said Guillaume.

It was therefore essential to co-produce, especially if a film is to have a chance against the already powerful industries in the United States and Britain, he added.

But all the signs are that Max & Co will do well. The screenings have gone well ahead of the release, which is scheduled for December in Switzerland.

"We are really now lucky and happy because we have a good distributor who has sold the film to many countries and in Switzerland we have Buena Vista which is a big distributor, so we cannot hope for anything better for a first film," said Guillaume.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Locarno

Key facts

Swiss Cinema Day 2007 was organised by Swiss Films and presented by the Federal Culture Office and the Locarno Film Festival.
As well as animation an event was also held on the acting profession.
Film historians also presented a work on Swiss cinema history from 1966-2000.
Another highlight is the world premiere screening of Jacob Berger's "1 Journée" at the Piazza Grande open-air cinema.

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