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Festival is seriously fantastic

Poster child for fantastic films: the Neuchâtel festival has enhanced its reputation at home and abroad.

(NIFFF)

Moviegoers will be looking for some thrills this week at Neuchâtel's sixth International Fantastic Film Festival, with some of the genre's leading lights attending.

Festival president Olivier Müller tells swissinfo how an event that started off slowly can now attract directors such George A. Romero of zombie fame and John Landis of the Blues Brothers.

Starting a fantastic film festival in relatively quiet city such as Neuchâtel was probably not taking the easy road. Yet despite the initial handicaps, its founders have managed to nurture its reputation and heighten recognition in the movie world.

It now has the backing of the Swiss Federal Culture Office, and last year the festival also hosted the awards for the best European fantastic film.

Müller is the dynamic and passionate head of the event, which has gone for an eclectic mix of films this year, including not just horror movies, but also science fiction, thrillers or even comedy.

swissinfo: Everyone gets the feeling that the festival gets bigger every year, but you still say it's small.

Olivier Müller: You should see our offices. We only have a small team and nobody's earning a banker's salary. The festival business is very competitive. You have to fight to get the films, the guests and even the journalists you want.

swissinfo: What was the impact of hosting the awards for the best European fantastic film last year?

O.M.: The foreign press found out about our festival. People came Belgium, Scandinavia. You can see the impact of our reputation in Scandinavia because our programme now has all the big movies from there.

It also had an impact in Switzerland. We were able to do some good public relations work with the federal authorities. We now have a very good relationship with the Federal Culture Office, which is very important to us.

And perhaps more interestingly, it heightened our profile in Neuchâtel itself. It helped improve our relationship with the cantonal authorities, and I think they realise that the festival is perhaps the cultural event that attracts the most visitors to the canton.

swissinfo: So you needed an international profile to be taken seriously in Neuchâtel?

O.M.: No man is a prophet in his own country... Yes, it's true that we had to work harder at home to earn some recognition. By inviting people from abroad though, we were able to make the authorities realise that our festival was talked about in Stockholm, Brussels or Bern. It was a kind of wakeup call, and now they are well and truly awake.

swissinfo: For the second time, you are organising a symposium with the theme "Imaging the Future," plus talks about Swiss filmmaking. Is this a way of giving some political credibility to the festival?

O.M.: In the beginning, that's definitely in the back of your mind. But when you organise this kind of event, you only set it up because you are convinced it is right and want to do it.

I wanted to get the head of culture office's film section, Nicolas Bideau, to take part in a discussion about how fantastic films could help production of popular quality movies. To convince him, I told him about Peter Jackson's experience with the Lord of the Rings trilogy in New Zealand.

Despite being a filmmaker who went previously unrecognised by the authorities, Jackson managed to become the biggest employer in the country for three years. He was even able to maintain jobs by creating a production studio and now supplies many of Hollywood's special effects.

Bideau agreed to come and debate because he liked the idea of trying the same thing in Switzerland.

swissinfo: You are also planning to show films outdoors...

O.M.: That will take place next year in the centre of Neuchâtel. It took some time to negotiate all the details with the authorities because you have taken into account the neighbours' wishes, deal with traffic and so forth.

It should help enhance our reputation. I think people will want to come and see a movie near the lake in mid-July.

swissinfo-interview: Bernard Léchot in Neuchâtel

Key facts

The sixth Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival runs from July 3 to July 9 in the town's Apollo movie theatre.
"Tideland" by Terry Gilliam (ex-Monty Python) opens the festival, while Swiss filmmaker Marc Forster's "Stay" will conclude it.
Forty films are taking part in four competitions: international, Asian, Swiss shorts and European shorts.
There is also a retrospective of atypical superheroes.

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