‘Wonderland’ — Shining a Light on Contemporary Switzerland

Ten up-and-coming Swiss directors helm a contemporary parable

A production of Bern-based Contrast Film and 2:1 Film in Zurich and Munich-based Passanten Film, Locarno’s international competition entry “Wonderland” (“Heimatland”) is directed by 10 up-and-coming Swiss helmers: Lisa Blatter, Gregor Frei, Jan Gassmann, Benny Jaberg, Carmen Jaquier, Michael Krummenacher, Jonas Meier, Tobias Nolle, Lionel Rupp, and Mike Scheiwiller. Of the 10 directors, four – Gassmann, Krummenacher, Jaberg, Rupp – has released a feature.

“Wonderland” centers on a colossal storm that menaces the entire territory of Switzerland. The quasi pre-apocalyptic situation works as a premise to explore Swiss Confederation history, the Swiss population’s idiosyncrasies and the country’s position within Europe and the world. “Wonderland” builds as a critical parable with a suspense pulse.

Loic Magneron’s Wide handles international sales. Contrast producers Ivan Madeo and Stefan Eichenberger, the latter Oscar-nominated this year for Talkhon Hamzavi’s short “Parvaneh,” fielded Variety’s questions.

Omnibus films traditionally serve some kind of commemoration or vindication. Where does “Wonderland” stand?

“Wonderland” originates from a self-critical motive of discontent among a young generation of filmmakers. Switzerland does a great job in still selling and promoting itself to the world as a clean, rich, safe and friendly country. It’s still trying to be the land of milk and honey in the truest sense of the word. But if you look closely at it, much has changed these last years, both on the economic and on the political level. Our old Swiss ideologies like hospitality, solidarity, respect and accordance have melted away under the pressure of ruthless multinational companies and increasing scare tactics of the political right. These are forces that still rely on a safe Switzerland from foreign parts, but what they’re making out of this country is not Switzerland anymore. So where is Switzerland today? What could or should our country be in future? Our 10 directors and we as producers have decided to work together in order to shine a light on today’s different people, the current mentalities and social environments of our country.

It’s very difficult to preserve a sense of unity in a portmanteau film. What was the strategy for production? What was your work system to develop the movie?

We were all of a one mind that we didn’t want to tell nine different, independent stories, but one big meta story about our home country with nine different perspectives. On the dramaturgic level we agreed on a catastrophic storm as catalyst for our extraordinary state of widespread uncertainty in this country. And we agreed on how the hurricane would escalate. This was the reference to plot the nine different episodes with their different character developments. On the formal aesthetic level, we agreed on the general look and feel, on the mood of the film and the emotions we want to share with the spectators, but also on technical details like type of camera, lenses, setting sizes and camera angles. We knew these were the conditions to join and link the different episodes of the different directors and help the audience to watch this film as one entire movie.

Were the directors requested to work in a specific way or with concrete guidelines? Which ones?

Yes and no. Every director should remain true to himself, true to his artistic vision, to the topics and questions he or she’s interested in as a filmmaker. At the same time every director was asked to bring in his vision, his story, his thoughts into this one big film. But of course, yes, it was not possible to include all the directors’ individual wishes; and they had to tell their story within the dramaturgic and technical guidelines we agreed on as a collective beforehand. Of course we had lots of discussions; there were tears and reproaches. But somehow we managed to overcome all the difficulties. And actually we really wonder how we did that…

“Wonderland” delivers a parable of the contemporary Swiss Confederation… 

The big topic is isolation on the political, the societal and the personal level. So it’s about the political isolation of Switzerland from other countries here in Europe, but also the isolation from our fellow human beings. Both is the result of a dangerous egocentrism that leads us more and more into a position of outcasts.

At some point, one of the characters says:“Finally something is happening…” Do you have the feeling that Swiss people are getting bored and now want change or some adjustments?

Oh yes. Some would say that Switzerland is so boring. Everything is so stable, so correct, so perfect. But Switzerland is not perfect, it only thinks it is perfect. And this results in a state of false satisfaction and inappropriate conservatism. But this is not just a Swiss problem, this is a worldwide tendency. And that’s why “Wonderland,” this film about Switzerland, is not just a movie about our country, but a universal movie about many countries around the globe.

What is Contrast Film’s profile? What kind of films and how many per year do you intend to make?

Contrast Film is very keen on social and politically relevant topics. Actually, we make movies about stories that are a burning issue to us personally. But we know that there aren’t many people who want to watch these kind of films. So we stake all our marketing know-how on reaching a broader audience with our stories. And since we’re still a young production company and personally very involved in every single project, for the moment we can’t release more than one or two feature films per year.

What are the pros and cons of producing films out of Switzerland?

Pros: Different languages and different cultural influences in a very small territory.

Cons: Different languages and different cultural requirements in a very small market.

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