The next generation of filmmakers converged at the Tabakalera – International Center for Contemporary Culture in San Sebastian for the three-day Nest Film Student program (Sept. 20-22).
Three students/graduates represented Switzerland, more than any other nation, reflecting what program head, Maialen Franco, tells Variety is a surge in talent from the European country.
“In the last few years, we have noted an exponential increase in the reception of short films from Swiss Film Schools, such as Hochschule Luzern, HEAD-Genève, Zurich University and ECAL,” she says. “We try to always make an international selection. There might be a surge of new talent in one place, and this is a very positive fact. And this year, we are delighted with the selection of the Swiss filmmakers with their very different proposals.”
The three Swiss filmmakers competing for this year’s award have already traveled the world to make their shorts.
Senegalese film student Rokhaya Marieme Balde returned from the HEAD masters program in Geneva to make “A La Recherche d’Aline,” in her native Dakar.
“It’s a docu fiction about an anti-colonialist feminist figure who is my great, great aunt,” she says.
Multi-disciplinary artist Naomi Pacifique moved from Switzerland to England to attend Oxford University and the London Film School. She is now based in The Netherlands. She presented her short “After a Room,” which looks at intimacy and the difference between how we look at children’s and adult bodies.
“Mine is about intimacy outside of romantic and sexual relations,” she says. “I feel like we look at adult bodies differently to children and I explore that audio visually and visually.”
She grew up in Switzerland. “I’m Swiss. I make films outside of Switzerland but I’m in rebellion against what I grew up with. Specifically in this film, I’m looking at suicide in Switzerland where the levels are really high. It has to do with my relationship to Switzerland and suicide,” she says.
Nikita Merlini has lived in each part of Switzerland: the French-, German- and Italian-speaking parts. He studied at ECAL (École Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne). His short is “Little Swallow.”
“My film looks at a relationship between a mother and daughter being pulled in different directions. I wanted to look at the situation in the Italian part of Switzerland where you often have to leave to study,” he says.
A recent graduate, Merlini is now part of a collective.
“I created with some other school mates an artist collective through which we are making some projects and supporting each other,” says Merlini. “At film school we are quite spoiled with access to equipment etc. After film school you have the network.”
All agree Switzerland offers great support to graduate students. But it also has some drawbacks.
“In Switzerland, they put you in the film industry in school so when you finish you know the industry and people. You can have co-productions for your graduation film with producers. The school protects you a lot and reads your contracts,” says Balde.
“Production houses have an incentive to hire people out of film schools because the government will pay for interns,” says Merlini, noting that there are three good sources of funding for filmmakers in Switzerland.
It is better than in England. “In Switzerland you have access to an insane amount of money if you have a production company. We don’t have that in England,” says Pacifique.
And you don’t need to be well-known to get funding in Switzerland. “I think there you do not have to be famous like in France. If they like your project they will support you,” says Balde.
One drawback is a pressure to be excellent, the filmmakers say.
“Everyone studies. Studies. Studies,” says Merlini.
“That regimented structure does infiltrate the body. They announce [that a train will be delayed] even if it’s a minute late,” says Pacifique.
There is a lack of diversity in the country. “For me it’s the place I started making films and started making cinema. It always welcomed me but for the first time I felt the pressure of excellence. Having to rise to the top. I’m usually the only person of color in 99% of spaces I’m in,” says Balde.
She notes that there are only 30 spots in film school each year. “So if you don’t go to film school and want to make films, it’s not so easy,” she adds.
Schools submit the films to the Nest program. Nest hosts the filmmakers with the Swiss embassy in Spain helping with travel and welcome events.
“The talents are the festival’s way of looking toward the future, just by taking care of them, we can imagine a growth extending to the other sections, other festivals on the international circuit and other filmmaking programs,” says Franco, who is head of the training programs of the San Sebastian Festival.
“Nest is important because it is the place where it all starts. Filmmakers such as Jerónimo Quevedo, Kiro Russo, Oren Gerner, Isabel Lamberti and Grigory Kolomytsev, with a proven professional career, all took their first steps in Nest,” she adds.
The Nest section began in 2002 as the International Film School Meeting, but later was renamed as the International Film Students Meeting, she notes.
The Nest Award this year, with a Euro 10,000 prize, went to “U Šumi” (“In the Woods”) by Sara Grguric, from the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Zagreb, Croatia. A Special Mention went to “Podul de Piatrâ” (“Pont de Pedra”) by Artur-Pol Camprubí from EQZE (Elías Querejeta Film School) in Spain.