A privileged showcase of the most recent Swiss film productions, the 55th Solothurn Film Festivalرابط خارجي opens its doors today marking the début of a new director, Anita Hugi. She received swissinfo.ch for a chat a few days before the opening, tearing down the clichés on Swiss cinema and Swiss identity.
The festival’s headquarters is located in a former petrol station in a nondescript road off the old town of Solothurn, with a European Union flag flying on the roof. The Kulturgarage (Cultural Garage) seems like a hub for the city’s cultural life, and the ambience in the festival office is very relaxed.
Anita Hugi receives us after a battery of interviews – as the newly appointed artistic director of the festival, she is as hot a topic as the film line-up. With a solid career in the film industry (and the independent scene), television, and, more recently, as director of Montreal’s International Festival of Films on Artرابط خارجي, she is highly opinionated in her own right. She has many views on the current state of Swiss film-making.
Created in 1966, the Solothurner Filmtage is one of the oldest film festivals in Switzerland and the most important for the Swiss film industry. Anita Hugi is just the fourth director in its 55 years, replacing Seraina Rohrer, who led the event since 2011 and now moved on to Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council. For the main prize of the festival, the jury this year is composed by the film-maker Ursula Meier (FR/CH), the German-Kurdish artist Cemile Sahin and the Swiss diplomat Mirko Manzoni, who recently brokered a peace agreement in Mozambique.رابط خارجي
Swiss films, global perspectives
A few things stand out about this year's festival programme: the quantity of films produced or co-produced in Switzerland in the last year; the fundamental role played by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (swissinfo.ch's parent company) in almost every co-production; and the globalisation of Swiss cinema, in terms of production (international partnerships), film-makers – many of them, especially the younger ones, of foreign origin – and films that often take place abroad, in all corners of the world.
Hugi is not surprised by this international aspect of Swiss cinema.
“We Swiss are all foreigners, aren’t we?”
She is more impressed with the number of productions tackling the climate crisis and the environment as well as works that touch on more universal issues, such as family life, coming-of-age and existential matters.
She also doesn’t give in to clichés, and actively drives against them. She thrashes the general idea that the Swiss have no sense of humor (or a very strict one). And she makes her point by the choice of the opening film, Micha Lewinsky’s “Moskau Einfach!”رابط خارجي (Simply Moscow), a fictionalized comedy delving into one of the most outrageous moments of Swiss recent history, the infamous “secret files scandal”رابط خارجي that surfaced by the end of the Cold War.
Treating such a delicate subject with humor is not an easy task, but, when it succeeds, the film can reach a much larger audience and achieve an importance beyond its own filmic qualities. “Moskau Einfach!” reminds of Rolf Lyssy’s “The Swissmakers”رابط خارجي (Die Schweizermacher), a comedy about immigration officers prying on Italian and Eastern European immigrants, and released in 1978, when the establishment discourse on the subject was marked by racism and intolerance, thanks in part to the controversial right-wing politician James Schwarzenbachرابط خارجي. The Swissmakers’ audience has spanned generations and is a reference until today.
If the Swiss can be funny, they can also play the cliché of seriousness, too. As Anita Hugi likes to stress, there is a special quality in Swiss movies in the way film-makers deal with their subject matters, a certain care that is not afraid to touch indiscreet or inconvenient issues, contrary to the way social mores are played in the daily life.
Liberté, fraternité, and equality
Hugi watched more than 600 works that applied for the festival, and her final list counts 168 films, including retrospectives (of director Heidi Specognaرابط خارجي) and special homages to women pioneers of Swiss cinema – Patricia Moraz, Christine Pascal, and Paule Muret. By the way, Solothurn is proud to show a gender-equal line-up, with a proportion of roughly 50-50 of male and female film-makers.
That may be just one of the details that Anita Hugi brings to put her own personal mark in her tenure. But she is very modest when asked how she plans to distinguish her direction. “First of all, I have to know the history of the festival very deeply. It goes in the ‘respect-the-tradition’ line, but still, the most important function of a festival like Solothurn are the encounters, to build bridges, and make people get to know each other”.
She will tear down the the Röstigraben (“the Rösti border”), a virtual frontier as deep and insurmountable as the Berlin Wall, separating the French and German-speaking parts of the country, in an event bringing together cinema students from the three linguistic regions of Switzerland – French, German and Italian. And a debate on the salaries of film directors and the labour conditions in the film industry. “Voilà... this is the spirit of Solothurn”, she says.