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Swiss-Canadian director keeps her focus

Léa Pool (centre) on the set of her latest film

(Journées de Soleure)

One of a few Swiss directors to have made a career abroad, Swiss-Canadian Léa Pool is known for her intimate portraits of people "on the edge".

The director is currently being celebrated in a retrospective at the Solothurn film festival, which runs until Sunday. She tells swissinfo about the challenges of commercial competition and says coproductions are key to arthouse cinema's survival.

swissinfo: Filmmaking in Quebec is similar to that in Switzerland – it is mostly subsidised by a country made up of different languages and cultures. How is it faring?

Léa Pool: At the moment it is doing rather well. French-language films are being noticed at festivals and at prize ceremonies. There were six French-language films in the last Canadian top ten. On a cinematic and cultural level, Quebec is currently more solid and more lively and dynamic than English-speaking Canada.

However, it is becoming extremely difficult to compete with American-style commercial releases and promotion campaigns, but Quebec loves its cinema. As in Switzerland, it's always comedies or light films that do the best, but there is still a public for more difficult, humanist films.

I've been making movies for 25 years and my views haven't changed. We are in an industry, but you have to keep putting your artistic stamp on it and to take risks. It's sometimes a real challenge, but it's worth it.

swissinfo: Does the coproduction system work well?

L.P.: We are trying to make it work. It's at least a solution. My producer is currently in a minority coproduction with French-speaking Switzerland. She's finding it an interesting experience. I find having two nationalities a real advantage.

In filmmaking, you often don't have 25-30 per cent of your budget. At this level, small film making industries should help each other. You need a certain sense of fairness when it comes to rules. It's really a normal thing to do 20 per cent of the work in Quebec if 20 per cent of the budget comes from there.

But I sometimes find that this system lacks a little bit of flexibility. A German film, such as Paris-Texas, which was filmed abroad, also has its place. You can't make up the stories just to fit in with the rules of coproduction!

swissinfo: Are Swiss films shown in Quebec?

L.P.: Unfortunately, not very often. Swiss cinema was well known during the times of Alain Tanner, Claude Goretta and Fredi Murer, but we don't really know the new generation.

In the past, independent films were much more commonplace as there were more arthouse cinemas and smaller distributers. [Swedish director] Ingmar Bergman was even shown in the provinces, which is unimaginable today.

US cinema accounts for between 78 per cent and 90 per cent of the world market, so there isn't much space left for national and independent cinema and even less room for foreign film. Everyone defends their own film industry, which is normal. And the stronger ones are going to gain even more space with the advent of changes in distribution, digital and the internet.

swissinfo: Which projects are you currently working on?

L.P.: I have finished Une belle mort, a coproduction with Luxembourg. I'm trying to pitch a film about the life of [Swiss psychiatrist] Carl Jung. It would be good to film in Switzerland because Jung was born in Basel and worked in Zurich, but it's not easy because it's an ambitious film.

In fact it's virtually impossible to pitch a film costing eight to ten million Canadian dollars (SFr7.2-9 million). You can find subsidies for a four-to-six-million-dollar project or you can go into big budget status at more than 20 million Canadian dollars and use American stars. Unfortunately, it's really difficult to go between the two.

swissinfo: What would be your advice to a young director?

L.P.: I don't know if it's still possible, but you have to find your own work. If you expect full funding and production from the very first film onwards, you'll be waiting a very long time. You also need to do something simple and very personal to have a convincing business card. It's become easier with video and you can also do short films.

I have noticed that those directors who received lots of money straightaway were not necessarily those who then went on to have a career. There's a danger that you end up with a very experienced team who do all the work.

You have to learn to get a handle on the situation, it's really a step you have to do for yourself. The result might be a bit clumsy at first, but it will be more expressive and more representative of your talent.

swissinfo-interview: Carole Wälti in Solothurn

Solothurn facts

The Solothurn Film Festival runs from January 19-25

Budget: SFr2.85 million

Expected attendance: 44,000 people

Works on show: 253

Prix de Soleure (main film prize): SFr60,000

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Léa Pool

Léa Pool was born in Geneva, Switzerland to a Jewish-Polish father and an Italian-Swiss mother.

A trained teacher, she moved to Quebec in 1975 and studied communications in Montréal.

Her feature films include La Femme de l'hôtel (84), the semi-autobiographical Anne Trister (86), À corps perdu (88), La Demoiselle sauvage (91), Mouvements du désir (93), Emporte-moi (99), Lost and Delirious (00), which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival and at the Berlin Film Festival, and Le Papillon bleu (02). Mama est chez le coiffeur (08) is her latest feature.

Her films are known for their passion and emotion and for not shying away from difficult topics. The search for identity often features.

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