A new cinema law, which came into force on August 1, should help Swiss films to compete with the might of Hollywood.This content was published on August 2, 2002 - 18:37
The aim of the new legislation is to create a level playing field for all films, according to David Streiff, director of the Federal Office for Culture.
The cash-starved Swiss film industry will receive some much-needed funding to encourage more and better films, and distributors and cinemas will also be given support to offset the risks of screening less obviously commercial films.
"Many cinema owners and all the Swiss distributors are willing to promote a larger proportion of non-Hollywood films," says Streiff, adding that they now have the means to do so.
Streiff made clear that the extra funding, which is to be accompanied by other measures to stimulate the industry, is largely aimed at loosening the United States' grip on the market.
"The predominance of a few American distributors... tends to swamp the programming schedule. As a country in the heart of Europe, we must be open to European films, and films from the southern hemisphere."
The new legislation, backing by public funding to the tune of SFr30 million a year, is intended to support individual filmmakers, provide more training for cinema operators, and foster better international co-productions.
In addition, Switzerland's film festivals will be put on a firmer legal foundation, with guaranteed public support.
"Making a film is expensive," says Streiff, a former artistic director of the Locarno film festival. "And we need to do more, even though our resources are more limited than those of our neighbours."
In answer to concerns that the new law would lead to over-regulation and deny cinemagoers freedom of choice, Streiff points out that the Swiss film industry remains self-regulating.
If it fails to make the most of the state's largesse, the government has the right to intervene with two years' notice by imposing a SFr2 tax on cinema tickets, but Streiff believes the chances of this happening are remote: "We believe in the effectiveness of the [self-regulating] agreement, because the operators are strongly motivated to do even better."
Cosying up to TV
Another boost for the film industry, according to Streiff, has been its willingness to work more closely with television, signalling an end to a long rivalry.
"Television is helping us discover our own filmmaking industry," he says, "demonstrating to a broad public that it no longer has that old-fashioned 1950s atmosphere, and that it is not exclusively experimental. The new directors are tapping into the tastes of a wider audience, and producing some fine storylines."
The proof of this lies in the increasing cooperation between TV and film. German-speaking Swiss television, for example, regularly devotes its Sunday schedules to national productions, which attract large audiences.
"Of course, there will continue to be disparities between language regions", Streiff continues. "[Italian-speaking] Ticino will never be able to afford major productions, while this is possible in German-speaking Switzerland, as we have already seen a number of times."
Whatever the effect of the new legislation it's unlikely to lead to a revolution. In David Streiff's opinion, Swiss filmmaking will always be a small-scale business.
"Little Switzerland lacks the capacity for a large filmmaking industry, but there will certainly be room for art films and more popular films of a certain kind.
"As is often the case in the arts - think for a moment of Giacometti or Le Corbusier, or in the cinema Godard - the Swiss will continue to make an important contribution internationally.
But the vital thing - Streiff concludes - is the obvious determination to make films, even with limited resources.
by Daniele Papacella
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