Locarno: Swiss Cinema Gets a Reality Check

A new three-festival event, Connect to Reality, examines Swiss film industry’s industry practices, or lack of. Many of its observations could be applied to much of Europe

Connect to reality, Locarno
Photo: Emilio Mayorga

LOCARNO, Switzerland — The first leg of a pioneering three-festival industry forum, Connect to Reality, ended with calls for larger release window flexibility,  closer working relations with sales agents and above all, for Switzerland to one up to the world, a plea made most dramatically by Cannes Directors’ Fortnight director Edouard Waintrop.

Kicking off Aug. 5 at the Locarno Festival, Connect to Reality aims to analyze and boost the development, production and distribution of Swiss cinema. Its Locarno session debated the distribution of Swiss films at home and abroad. A group of 60 Swiss and European industry players attended the forum. Connect to Reality will celebrate second and third events at the Zurich Film Festival and Geneva Intl. Film Festival Tous Écrans.

“The idea is to create a platform where Swiss professionals can meet  international distributors, sales, festivals, producers or marketing experts,” Dresti told Variety. “For the very first time, three festivals are working together for the sake of Swiss cinema,” she added.

Waintrop and Klaus Rasmussen, senior sales and acquisitions manager at Global Screen, the world sales arm of Germany’s Bavaria Film and Telepool, offered keynote speeches at a first session at Locarno. NZZ film reviewer Christian Jungen provided what proved to be controversial data.

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“How do you make your movie visible in this so-crowded cinema jungle?” Rasmussen asked.

He added: “Marketing and selling points are essential to promote films. If you have a Swiss film like ‘Heidi’ it’s easy; you have a well-known brand. But if you have a small contemporary Swiss drama with no international cast, it’s hard to survive.” Solution? “Get your film in the big international film festivals.”

Waintrop opened fire at the introductory session: “I don’t expect anything from Swiss cinema,” he said, to uneasy laughs in the audience, adding that he missed contemporary Swiss films that could match up to classics such as “The Salamander”, directed by Alain Tanner, 1971.

“Switzerland: open up to the world! Here there is talent, but the audience is not just in Switzerland anymore,” Waintrop urged and got plaudits.

Jungen then fanned the flames of debate, offering his own -grim – statistics about the perception of Swiss cinema both inside the country and abroad. The data took in the number of Swiss films in major sections at Berlin, Venice and Cannes –just four films in the last 20 years – plus foreign-language Oscar nominations.

Closed work groups went on to analyze specific topics: The public; which films for which audiences? documentary distribution, distribution of Swiss cinema in Switzerland, international distribution of Swiss films, the role of festivals, prospects and disruption. The event ended with conclusions. Here are some weightier points:

1. Switzerland’s three languages of German, French and Italian make for cultural richness, but mean it’s not easy to identify or target  audiences. The market share of Swiss films stood at just 7.4%, off a relatively high production volume of 105 features produced last year, including minority co-productions and documentaries, according to data from the European Audiovisual observatory.

2.Producers argued that Swiss funding system should be more flexible, better adjusted to reality and focus more on development.

3.In contrast, ”Swiss documentaries are sexy abroad,” said the rapporteur at the documentary work group. With no defined production models or strategies they’re enjoying a golden age, paradoxically, they argued.

4.”Not every feature should go theatrical,” another rapporteur said. “We need more flexible release windows,” Emmanuel Cuénod director of the Geneva Festival Tous Les Ecrans.

5.”French movies are very French but still travel,” another work group representative speaker pointed out, as participants explored what is a key issue in Swiss films and the country at large: Swiss identity.

6.”Swiss films are not seen by the audiences they target,” another speaker. lamented. The forum suggested a need in particular to reconquer young audiences.

According to promotion org Swiss Films, 69 Swiss films and co-productions were released theatrically in at least one country outside Switzerland last year, a 28% increase on 2015 figures. 31 films launched in Germany’s theaters, seventeen in Italy, fourteen in France, ten in U.S. compared to eight in 2014, three in 2013– and nine in Brazil, where Switzerland will be honored as the guest country at the 41st São Paulo Film Festival this October.

Recent Swiss cinema successes include Claude Barras’ “My Life as a Zucchini” – launched at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight and sold to 50 territories by Indie Sales, punching a standout €7.6 million ($8.5 million) in Germany, Petra Volpe’s “The Divine Order,” selected as Switzerland foreign-language Oscar entry, which earned $4.5 million in Switzerland and Alain Gsponer’s “Heidi,” sold to 100 countries by Studiocanal.