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Locarno festival masks crisis in Swiss film industry

Ibiza, a new Swiss film, faces tough international competition at the Locarno festival (picture: Fama Film) Still from Ibiza, a new film by Bettina Oberli (source: Fama Film AG)

As Switzerland gears up for its biggest film festival - Locarno - the industry is looking to Europe to rejuvenate domestic film-making.

Forced to compete against the public’s appetite for non-European films – mostly from Hollywood – Swiss film-makers are struggling. And with the industry in decline, many technicians and producers are heading abroad to find work.

Swiss film-makers, unlike their European Union counterparts, do not benefit from subsidies from Brussels.

According to Corinne Kuenzli, director of “euroinfo” at Ciné Suisse, the Swiss film industry’s umbrella organisation, the solution for Switzerland is to rejoin the European Union’s film support scheme – known as the Media programme.

The Media programme helps EU film-makers to penetrate foreign markets, subsidises cinema schools and underpins distribution and promotional networks. Switzerland is currently negotiating with the EU to join the programme.

Lack of national funding

Kuenzli says the Swiss industry has started to go in to decline “because there is not enough national funding, and at the same time, [the industry] is having difficulties finding co-producers”.

“For producers, the biggest benefit [to joining the Media programme] is that they would be allowed back into the networks,” she said.

And while established producers already have their own networks of co-producers and marketing contacts, many younger producers don’t.

“The young ones … don’t have, for example, any access to European trade fairs,” says Kuenzli.

“And because Switzerland is not in the Media programme, it is not very interesting for other European producers to work with Switzerland because they might not have access to the same funding in Europe by working together with a Swiss producers,” she adds.

Market know-how

By contrast, the European programme provides consultation services, legal advice and access to other professionals interested in similar projects.

Ciné Suisse says Swiss films also suffer because European distributors cannot get Media funding for a Swiss production. “Those distributors refuse to take Swiss films, which means that market access is very difficult.”

Arguments for joining the EU’s Media scheme centre on the fact that Switzerland – with its four official languages – is ideally equipped to produce films for several target languages at once.

The EU established its Media programme in 1991 to boost the European industry in the face of strong non-European competition.

Although Switzerland was the first non-EU country to join the programme, it was thrown out of the scheme after the Swiss rejected a vote to join the European Economic Area in 1992.

by Jacob Greber and Ramsey Zarifeh

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR