Swiss films see spike in support

Industry calls for more homegrown funding

Last year the Swiss filmmaking community got a major jolt of confidence. Domestic productions snatched nearly 10% of ticket sales in the country — shattering a years-long trend in which the domestic share rarely topped 5%.

Swiss films shot from 840,000 admissions in 2005 to 1.64 million in 2006. In 2006, five pics topped the 100,000-admissions mark, which signifies a homegrown hit.

But insiders are tempering any celebrations with caution.

Producer Marcel Hoehn, whose T&C Film accounts for the country’s biggest-ever domestic hit, 1979 satire “Die Schweizermacher,” warns that the industry needs more homegrown funding.

“Certainly there has been progress with the Zurich film foundation and with Swiss Television,” he says, “but there is also stagnation on too low a level with the national support.

“That means it will be difficult to repeat last year’s success and to guarantee continuity for established and promising young talents.”

To date, though, there’s been more emphasis on co-productions.

Francine Bruecher of Swiss Films says co-production deals are a key goal for the Federal Office of Culture and its head of film affairs, Nicolas Bideau.

“He is very interested in pushing international co-production,” she says. The government has forged co-production agreements with countries reflecting Switzerland’s own linguistic diversity: Germany, Austria, France, Italy, and Canada.

In fact, with partners from the U.K., France and Belgium, Switzerland’s most expensive pic ever is on the way: “Max & Co.,” a $24 million animated modern fairy tale by Cinemagination and Saga. Helmed by the twin brothers Frederic and Samuel Guillaume, it will be released through Disney Intl. early next year.

These co-production deals may boost the export market, long a weakness for Swiss films, though last year saw some strengthening in that arena, too.

“Vitus,” from veteran helmer Fredi M. Murer, sold to 30 countries including the U.S. and reached a respectable 250,000 admissions in Germany, Switzerland’s main export market. Geezer comedy “Die Herbstzeitlosen” (Late Bloomers) attracted 200,000 Teutonic visitors.

With that success, promotional org Swiss Films and the country’s Federal Office of Culture announced in February that they’d support this new momentum by setting up an annual fund of CHF300,000 ($247,000) to help market local pics abroad.

Still, Bruecher warns the current success doesn’t prove that Swiss cinema is in a collective renaissance and the recent gains can do little more than prompt foreign distributors to look more carefully at Swiss movies.

“There is no particular trend, nor a new wave really — it’s the individual film that hits or misses,” she says.

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