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Locarno projects bright future for Swiss films

Swiss Cinema Day at the Locarno Film Festival is a time to focus on Swiss production and not disagreements, critic Antoine Duplan tells

Despite a lack of funding, Swiss films are quality productions, he says. Swiss Cinema Day was initiated in 2006 when the outgoing artistic director, Frédéric Maire, took charge of Switzerland’s largest film festival.

Despite the usual arguments about who receives what financially in the film branch from the Swiss authorities, the Swiss cinema industry can look to the future with confidence, says Duplan, a film critic for the magazine L’Hebdo for almost 30 years.

Its budget has risen from SFr31 million ($28.6 million) in 2003 to SFr45 million in 2009 and parliament will this autumn consider another increase of SFr2 million. Locarno is holding Swiss Cinema Day on Wednesday. How healthy is the Swiss film industry as a whole?

Antoine Duplan: It’s really in quite good shape. Obviously it’s not an industry that will make a millionaire of anyone, but year after year it demonstrates that it does’t lack inspiration. You are always surprised at the quality of the films coming out in what are quite tough economic conditions. They may not have much money, but Swiss film makers have plenty of ideas.

Last year there were four excellent Swiss films in Locarno: Un autre homme by Lionel Baier, Luftbusiness by Dominique de Rivaz, Marcello Marcello by Denis Rebaglia and La Forteresse by Fernand Melgar. Made mainly by directors from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, these films showed a great diversity of ideas. They stood out in terms of their quality and commitment. Locarno has organised a Swiss Cinema Day for the past four years. Is this a useful exercise?

A.D.: It’s more than just that because this isn’t the only day when Swiss films are shown. It was ridiculed at the beginning as being some kind of gag but it does have its merits.

It’s a day when those who make films and those who watch them can talk to each other. For the media and the general public it has also become a popular occasion, and it has the advantage that it really focuses on Swiss films. Locarno is also a place where those in the film business can vent their spleen. What’s your view about that?

A.D.: There are arguments at every festival. Obviously, those who are not happy use festivals to voice their upset but this unfortunately detracts from the films themselves and the art of film making; it becomes negative.

For 30 years film makers have been torn between their desire to please Bern and their tendency to moan. Not everyone can receive federal subsidies. And it is only human that those who are rejected [for funding] are not happy. But an administrative complaint has poisoned relations among people, and I feel the media are concentrating on that and the films themselves are going by the board. Frédéric Maire is leaving Locarno to take over the Swiss Film Archive in Lausanne. How has the festival developed under his management?

A.D.: I’m tempted to say that Locarno’s loss is Lausanne’s gain. Maire is someone who is extremely intelligent, warm, open, curious about everything and very straightforward. He did Locarno good although the time he spent here was almost too short.

With Maire we returned to pure cinema and over the four years he’s defended the Swiss film industry very well and has organised retrospectives of directors who fascinated him like Aki Kaurismäki.

As for the Manga Impact retrospective, it’s strong and bold move to put the accent on the production of Japanese cartoons in such a festival. They are very often dismissed as ‘Japanese jokes’ when in fact there is a vast richness in them that has had a profound effect on western culture. Does Locarno have to worry about the rise of the Zurich film festival?

A.D.: Economically, I can’t tell you… but culturally there should be no fear. Last year, the bickering was about having more stars in Locarno, which I don’t think is necessary. In 2008, Zurich had Sylvester Stallone as its guest of honour. I myself prefer those people in Locarno who have their heart in it: Michel Piccoli, Nani Moretti, Chuck Palahniuk and Michel Houellebecq.

Zurich will not have it easy. It’s a young festival whereas Locarno has a rich tradition. Even if they get big sponsors, if UBS finds billions again and invests them in cinema, even if Zurich doesn’t have the same accommodation problems that Locarno does, at best it can only become something of a glamour event, but a rather hollow one.

Carole Wälti, (Adapted from French by Robert Brookes)

This year’s event takes place on August 12.

It is organised jointly by the Federal Culture Office and the Locarno International Film Festival.

This year’s theme is “100 years of film music”.

A traditional panel discussion takes place with this year’s topic: culture sponsorship in times of crisis.

Several Swiss films and documentaries will be shown, in particular La Valle delle ombre, a Swiss-Hungarian co-production directed by Mihàly Györik, which will have its world premier on the main square.

Before the opening of this year’s festival, two producers’ associations lodged a formal complaint with the Federal Culture Office.

Targeting the Office’s cinema division headed by Nicolas Bideau, they accuse the cinema commission of bias and lacking in transparency.

According to the two associations, some productions receive more financing than initially foreseen while others have to accept minimal subsidies.

At a news conference on August 7, the director of the Federal Culture Office, Jean-Frédéric Jauslin, described the criticism as “unfounded”. He added the complaint would be examined by his office’s lawyers.

At a news conference shortly afterwards, the two associations said they hoped their complaint would bear fruit.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR