Film critics and promoters at the Locarno Film Festival say Swiss cinema is in good health and the government intends to continue its support.
With three Swiss films in the running for the Golden Leopard, there is currently a real vitality in Swiss film-making, which is present in every section of the film festival with 32 entries – 45 if you include the 13 nominated for the selection Appellations Suisse 2011.
It is in this heady atmosphere that Ivo Kummer has taken up his new job as head of the cinema department of the Federal Culture Office.
“The arrival of Ivo Kummer at the head of the cinema department can only have a positive effect on support for Swiss cinema,” film critic Antonio Mariotti told swissinfo.ch.
“What’s more, Kummer is someone who knows Swiss cinema from the inside, having worked as a producer. That will help him over the long haul. To sum up, he’s the right person for the right job.”
Kummer will of course have challenges to confront. “I think the hardest will be to calm the waters,” Mariotti said.
“On the other hand, he’ll have to think about providing fresh stimulus to the sector, because Swiss cinema needs a few box-office successes or the arrival of a new director with a profile at the international level to justify the money that is being spent on productions.”
Domenico Lucchini, director of the Lugano International Conservatory of Audiovisual Sciences and art and film critic, also appreciates Kummer’s appointment.
“He’s taking over the helm from the controversial Nicolas Bideau, who, to give him his due, made some courageous choices. Kummer enjoys a great reserve of goodwill, even if he is quite aware that there will be plenty of criticism too.”
Diversity, continuity and quality
Among the clusters of unripe grapes that adorn the Casa del Negromante in Locarno, Kummer is spotted talking to the director of the Federal Culture Office, Jean-Frédéric Jauslin. All eyes were focused on the new “Mr Cinema” as he posed for photographers.
swissinfo.ch asked him what challenges Swiss cinema faces. “After so many arguments about how to promote Swiss cinema and the criteria for providing assistance, we’ve got to a point where we can work together. But it’s clear that when you’re talking about handing out money, controversy is inevitable,” he said.
“People who know me know that I like argument and dialogue. But we’ve got to move ahead. What counts above all is to make films and not to get caught up with film politics. This is basically going to be my rallying cry.”
Swiss cinema, in his opinion, is characterised by a great diversity of genres and approaches to film-making; it provides high-quality documentaries and has a solid tradition in the animation field.
“This is a heritage that we need to preserve, and the government is moving in this direction,” he said.
“[Interior Minister] Didier Burkhalter has stressed three key concepts which I share: diversity, continuity and quality. There is certainly room for improvement regarding box-office and festival success. And it’s very important for Swiss cinema to compare itself with other film-making environments.”
The presence of three Swiss films in the international competition makes him happy, he says, since he knows that festival director Olivier Père’s selection wasn’t based on anything to do with politics.
“This is the best indicator of the quality of Swiss cinema. This is a cinema that can compete at an international level. Cinema helps to strengthen national identity. All the more so in diverse Switzerland, where cinema can favour understanding across cultural divides,” he said.
Domenico Lucchini also thinks that Swiss cinema is currently on a high.
“Three films competing in Locarno is great. Two Swiss films getting advance screening in Venice is great. I think it’s a good time.”
He notes that, among Swiss films, documentaries have increased compared with works of fiction, “and that may well be a good thing, since we know that Swiss documentary is traditionally of high quality.”
By 2012, he adds, the government’s new promotional initiatives should be taking effect, “and they seem to me to be going in the right direction. Especially because they have succeeded in getting together almost all the professional associations [just one stayed out], thanks to the facilitating role played by [senior cultural administrator] Marc Wehrlin, who is highly regarded among the film-makers”.
Developing young talent
Lucchini is a lover of culture and his curiosity has led him to explore environments experimenting with new artistic and cultural approaches.
So it is not by chance that the management of the Locarno Film Festival have put him in charge of a new initiative called “Ticino: Developing Young Auteurs”. Its kick-off meeting was held on August 11 at the Palavideo di Muralto.
He sees this mission as being one of stimulating fresh talents.
“These days at the festival I am participating in a whole lot of meetings, like the one that just took place between the various cinema schools in Switzerland. They were talking about networks, about the experimental centre in Rome, and about the international schools in Cuba,” he said.
These are all occasions to help young people grow creatively, he believes.
“On the formal side, the young film-makers have reached a good level, but there are a few things lacking as regards artistic expression. There is so much technical skill and knowledge of cinema there, but the most expressive part, the most important part when it comes to direction, is not getting enough attention,” he said.
“It would be a good idea to give more space to our young creators to really personalise their work”.
Giants like Goretta, Tanner, Suter, will not soon be seen again, he says. “That was a magic time for Swiss cinema. Unique and unrepeatable. But maybe new talents are on the way,” he said with a smile.
Ivo Kummer was appointed head of the cinema department of the Federal Culture Office on February 4, 2011, and took up his job at the beginning of August 2011. He succeeds Nicolas Bideau.
Born in Solothurn in 1959, Kummer studied German literature and journalism at Fribourg university. After working as a freelance journalist, he became press officer for the National Film Days of Solothurn in 1986.
In 1987 he founded the production company Insertfilm AG, of which he is currently director and producer. In 1989 he was appointed director of the National Film Days of Solothurn and he remained in this position until mid-2011.
Combative and yet soft-spoken, Kummer is a lover of art-house cinema.end of infobox
Locarno Film Festival
It’s the 64th Locarno Film Festival, which runs until August 13.
260 works are being shown: around 200 films and around 60 short films and including around 40 world premieres. 32 works are Swiss.
20 films are being shown on the Piazza Grande huge screen on Locarno’s main square. It starts with Super 8 by J.J Abrams and ends with Et si on vivait tous ensemble (And If We All Lived Together) by Stéphane Robelin.
20 films are in the International Competition, including 14 world premieres and three first works.
3 lifetime awards: Claudia Cardinale, Claude Goretta and Bruno Ganz; 3 special awards: Leopard of Honour to Abel Ferrara, Excellence Award to Isabelle Huppert, Best Independent Producer Award (Premio Raimondo Rezzonico) to Mike Medavoy.
It’s the second festival for Frenchman Olivier Père. Before that he was managing director of the Directors’ Fortnight, a prestigious independent section of the Cannes Film Festival.
(Translated from Italian by Terence MacNamee), swissinfo.ch