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Swiss films get cash boost

To help the Swiss film industry survive, more government cash has been promised. Fotofestival/Pedrazzini

The Swiss film industry has been promised an increase in financing of SFr28 million over the next four years.

This content was published on August 14, 2003 - 20:56

The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation – swissinfo’s parent company – and the Federal Office for Culture have pledged to raise subsidies to around SFr95 million ($69.2 million).

The announcement came during the final week of the Locarno film festival and is a welcome shot in the arm according to Francine Brücher of the Zurich-based Swiss Film Center.

“Of course it’s good news,” she told swissinfo. “It’s always good news whenever you hear that more money is going to be made available.”

“It’ll mean more production companies will be able to get subsidies,” she added. “But whether it really makes a difference to the number, quality and success of Swiss films is another question.”

Swiss film-makers also welcome the promise of extra support, but many are sceptical of the impact it can have on a cash-strapped industry.

“To be honest, it’s only a life jacket,” Swiss-Iraqi director-producer, Samir, told swissinfo. “But at least everyone is also glad to have one, and in that sense it will give us a little bit of breathing space over the next couple of years,” he added.

But Samir, who is also one of the judges of this year’s video competition at Locarno, is under no illusions about the difficulties the Swiss film industry has had to face in recent years.

“As far as feature films are concerned, it has been a real disaster,” he said. “And only Swiss documentary films have really flourished because they cost a lot less to make.”

Linguistic challenge

The Swiss film industry has also had to cope with a problem few other countries have to face – the need to make movies for a domestic audience with four national languages.

This has made it almost impossible for the industry to finance Swiss films without the support of foreign capital – especially from France and Germany.

But Samir says that potential partners have become increasingly cautious about stumping up cash for even relatively low-budget feature films since the collapse of television companies in both countries.

The general financial malaise throughout the industry in Europe is also a problem. Brücher recognises that this has had an impact on Swiss film-makers, but she does not think the Swiss film industry is in such dire straits.

“The situation is not as bad as everybody is saying or would like to see it,” she said. “[But] nor is it as good as we would wish it to be.

“I think Swiss cinema is having the same difficulties as many smaller European countries, such as Portugal and the Netherlands.

“The big difference of course is that making a film in Portugal is much cheaper than here in Switzerland.”

State support

Young Swiss director, Luke Gasser, agrees that the cost of making a film in Switzerland can often be exorbitant.

He says state subsidies are needed because the country cannot support a big film industry, and they are especially important when films are aimed at a small target audience.

“If you make a movie in a Swiss dialect – which is the case with my film – it’s absolutely impossible to be certain of a good financial return because the film is only aimed at a limited number of people,” he told swissinfo.

“It’s vital that Switzerland is able to offer the same sort of assistance to film-makers as other countries do,” he added.

The difficulties do not dampen Gasser’s enthusiasm for making films and he insists that “where there is a will, there is also a way”.

“My experience is that it is always possible to get a movie off the ground,” he said. “I made my first film for just SFr35,000, and I really believe that there are chances out there to make movies.”

The extra funding still requires parliament’s agreement later this year.

Brücher is confident it will be approved and says it would be a major blow to the industry if parliament rejected the increase in subsidies.

“If it is not approved, producers will continue struggling,” she said. “Every year making a film is becoming more expensive and more difficult.”

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton in Locarno

Key facts

Of the 37 films produced in Switzerland in 2002, 13 were feature-length films and 24 were feature-length documentaries.
Swiss films accounted for 3.7 per cent of films seen in Switzerland during 2002 – up from 2.7 per cent in 2001.
The Federal Office for Culture has promised an extra SFr3.25 million per year in subsidies for the Swiss film industry, and Swiss Broadcasting Corporation has pledged an additional SFr3.75 million annually.

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