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Swiss films struggle to strike right balance

No frills: Die Herbstszeitlosen (Late Bloomers) was the most-watched Swiss film of 2007

(RDB)

2007 was a good year for Swiss cinema in the eyes of festival judges, but disappointing as far as the public was concerned.

Following the boom year of 2006 when Swiss films' market share nudged ten per cent for the first time, the number of tickets sold for local films this year halved to 750,000.

"You have to bear in mind that 2006 was a record year," Micha Schiwow, head of the national film promotion organisation Swiss Films, told swissinfo.

"Sure this year was a step back, but 5.6 per cent market share is still not a bad result."

It is true that the Swiss market share had averaged two to three per cent in previous years, but this year's figure could have been a lot worse had international films fared better.

According to provisional figures from ProCinema, the national film distribution association, total ticket sales for 2007 dropped 13 per cent to 13.3 million, their lowest level for several years.

Bad choices

2007 was a year when Swiss producers and the Federal Culture Office backed the wrong horses – the two most successful Swiss films were both released in 2006.

Die Herbstzeitlosen (Late Bloomers), a gentle comedy about an eightysomething widow who turns her husband's village grocery into a lingerie boutique, accounted for an astonishing 30 per cent of the Swiss feature film market in 2007, despite being a made-for-TV film.

Vitus, a schmaltzy drama about a child music prodigy, was released almost two years ago but has hit a sentimental nerve around the world and won the Swiss Film Prize back in January.

The big disappointments of the year were the so-called "locomotives" – the big Swiss productions such as Tell, an indescribably ill-judged and unfunny William Tell farce, which sold 53,000 instead of an expected 300,000 tickets. Breakout, a much-hyped hip-hop drama, also did a lot worse than hoped.

Most embarrassing of all was the audience for Fuori dalle corde (Off the Ropes), the only film by a Swiss director in the international competition at the Locarno Film Festival. This boxing drama attracted only 211 people all year.

Festival presence

On a more positive note there was an increase in the number of awards: 54 films were honoured with 103 awards and prize money totalling over SFr320,000 ($275,000).

After the upward trend in 2006, the Swiss presence at international festivals in 2007 returned to 2004/2005 levels: there were 43 invitations for Swiss films, of which 11 were fiction, 12 were documentaries and 20 were shorts. Of these short films, seven were animation.

Swiss presence at the main international competitions remained an exception: whereas Swiss productions were conspicuous at Berlin, Locarno, Montreal and Toronto, participation remained below expectations – which were high after the success of 2006 – at Sundance, Cannes, San Sebastian and Venice.

The feature-length animation Max & Co, Switzerland's most expensive film production to date, celebrated its world premiere at the Animation Film Festival in Annecy, where it won the Audience Prize.

The most successful Swiss film production at major festivals in 2007 was Jacob Berger's 1 Journée (That Day), which celebrated its world premiere on the Piazza Grande in Locarno. It also participated in the competition in Montreal, before being screened at the festivals in Pusan, in the Republic of Korea, and Tokyo, Japan.

Looking to 2008, Schiwow hedged his bets – "I try to avoid making predications" – but said he had high hopes for three Swiss films: Max & Co, Tandoori Love, "the Swiss Bollywood film that a lot has been talked about", and Marcello Marcello, a romantic coming-of-age tale set in Italy in the 1950s.

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens

In brief

The most successful film ever in Switzerland, which has a population of 7.5 million and 323 cinemas, is Titanic (1997), which sold just under two million tickets – almost double the runners-up, Finding Nemo (2003) and Ice Age 2 (2006).

The most successful Swiss film ever is the 1978 comedy Die Schweizermacher – in fifth place overall – which sold just under a million tickets. This is followed by Die Herbstzeitlosen (2006) and Mein Namen ist Eugen (2005), which both sold just under 600,000 tickets.

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Key facts

Most successful Swiss films in 2007 (provisional, as of December 21. Source: ProCinema):
Die Herbstzeitlosen (217,979 admissions)
Vitus (66,459)
Breakout (64,761)
Tell (55,285)
Bruno Manser – Laki Penan (29,449)

Most successful films overall in 2007:
Ratatouille (698,963 – still in cinemas)
Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (622,582)
Harry Potter: The Order of the Phoenix (524,976)
The Simpsons Movie (445,803)
Shrek the Third (435,071)

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