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New York celebrates Swiss films

The festival opened with a showing of Swiss film "On Dirait Le Sud" starring Frédéric Landenberg and Céline Bolomey (SwissAm) SwissAm festival

The second Swiss-American Film Festival (SwissAm), showcasing a selection of 30 Swiss and 24 American films, is underway in New York.

The event started with a screening of the award-winning “On Dirait Le Sud” (Back for More) by Swiss filmmaker, Vincent Pluss.

Pluss, who graduated from the New York University film school ten years ago, said his film started as an experiment with very little funding.

With a budget of only $2,000 (SFr2,358), six committed actors who waived their fees, and a cameraman with digital equipment, the crew met in Provence in the South of France for a weekend of filming.

“We had a hard time getting funding so I thought why not go right to filming?” said Pluss.

“We didn’t rehearse the story but we did lots of improvisation – we had a four-page story and we knew what each scene would be,” he added.

The film tells the story of a recently separated father who tries to win back his wife and children with a surprise visit.

“I like how theatre is live art, how it’s just happening in the present. I wanted to bring film as close as possible to real life,” said Pluss, who has made six films to date, mainly about dance.

Successful experiment

The experiment turned out to be a success, with “On Dirait Le Sud” taking prizes in France, Korea and Switzerland.

SwissAm’s founder and executive producer Nicolas Rossier says he wanted to showcase the film because it was one of the festival’s strongest narrative feature films.

“Vincent Pluss is part of this new current of bold filmmakers who decide that they’re going to make a film about the interaction of characters that’s very strong even though they’re not getting any funding,” said Rossier.

“These people want to make a statement that tackles universal issues beyond the Swiss landscape,” he added.

“They are aggressive filmmakers, like Ursula Meier and Jean-Stéphane Bron, trying to do better with less.”

Next generation

Rossier says that while film buffs in the United States know Swiss film giants Jean-Luc Goddard, Alain Tanner and Claude Goretta, they are not so familiar with the emerging generation of Swiss directors.

That’s why there are plenty of newer films on show at the festival, including, “Charlie Chaplin – The Forgotten Years,” by Felice Zenoni, and “Elisabeth Kubler-Ross – Facing Death,” by Stefan Haupt, about the late Swiss death expert.

As well as screenings in three categories – Focus, Panorama and Shorts – SwissAm also includes a retrospective of the work of the Swiss essay filmmaker, Peter Liechti.

Meanwhile, films from the US include “Mojados: Through the Night,” by Tommy Davis, the story of four Mexican men who cross Rio Grande river and undertake a dangerous four day walk across the deserts of Texas to evade the US Border Patrol.

Festival under threat

Rossier says the festival is aimed at giving Swiss filmmakers exposure to the “most important market in the world”.

He also wants to create a bridge between the independent film industries of the US and Switzerland.

But Rossier adds that without a fourfold increase in the current budget of $50,000, the festival will not continue next year.

“If you can’t offer directors a place to sleep, it’s hard,” said Rossier.

While he appreciates the support he received this year, Rossier admits getting funding can be hard due to a “certain mentality” that Swiss film does not need to be promoted in the US.

swissinfo, Carla Drysdale in New York

SwissAm is showing a selection of 30 Swiss and 24 American films in New York.
The event runs from November 5 to November 11, 2004.
The festival, with a budget of $50,000, is under threat unless more funding can be found for 2005.

Other events include a free seminar on US-Swiss co-productions with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, IFP New York, the Swiss Institute, and Film in The City.

There is also a “Special Experimental Night” at Anthology Film Archives on contemporary Swiss and US video artists such as Olaf Breuning, Fischli and Weiss and Sylvie Fleury.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR