As Switzerland takes the international cinema spotlight, hosting the prestigious Locarno Festival, Swiss Films – the agency responsible for promoting the Swiss cinema industry – has announced that veteran filmmaker Markus Imhoof’s European refugee documentary “Eldorado” will be submitted as the Swiss entry for the 2019 Academy Awards.
Should the feature make the final cut, it would be the second time for the director. In 1981, his historical-fiction feature, the similarly-themed “The Boat is Full,” earned the honored distinction, making it one of only five Swiss films to ever have done so.
When it world premiered at Berlin in February, “Eldorado” received almost unanimous strong reviews. Variety’s Guy Lodge said of the film: “In the sincerely felt ‘Eldorado,’ veteran Swiss filmmaker Markus Imhoof easily staves off ‘just another refugee doc’ shrugs with the unusual personal scope of his study.”
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“Eldorado” tackles the divisive and highly-publicized subject of Europe’s current refugee crisis. It can be difficult to come at such a ubiquitous issue with a fresh take, but by paralleling personal stories from WWII and modern day Italy and Switzerland, “Eldorado” pushes its audience to think about the current crisis in a broader, historical framework.
“It’s said that history is being written in the present,” Imhoof said in an interview with Variety just before the film’s Berlinale premiere. “This will be history in 40 years, so better if we think now what that history will be.”
The filmmaker isn’t just looking to make a film ripped from the headlines, but a person with a refugee tale of his own. His experiences go back to early childhood when his Swiss family took in a young refugee girl named Giovanna, who was malnourished and struggling to survive in post-WWII Italy. Hers and Markus’ stories are interwoven with modern day accounts from a number of African and Middle Eastern refugees, and it’s hard not to notice the similarities.
Imhoof has always been a director with a social conscience, unafraid of putting his personal history to bare for audiences. In the case of “Eldorado,” he even shares letters, pictures and toys from his time spent with Giovanna.
In the case of “El Dorado,” Imhoof’s story begs the question; If the actions of his family are looked back upon as inspirational, why is there such a push back against helping modern-day refugees? In asking that question it’s hard not to notice the difference in the color of Giovanna’s skin and the skin of those featured in “Eldorado.”
The feature was co-produced by Thelma Film in Switzerland, Zero One Film in Germany, Swiss Radio and Television and Bavarian Broadcasting. International sales are handled by Berlin-based Films Boutique.