Swiss productions and co-productions are on the rise, driven in part by federal and regional funders that offer attractive opportunities for domestic and international filmmakers.
Quickly recovering from the impact of the pandemic, the local film industry has gotten off to another strong year with local films and international co-productions.
Elie Grappe’s Swiss-Ukrainian-French title “Olga” premiered at this year’s Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, while unspooling in Locarno were Lorenz Merz’s “Soul of a Beast” and Swiss-international co-productions like Stefan Jäger’s “Monte Verita” and Laurent Geslin’s nature documentary “Lynx.” Venice saw such Swiss co-productions as “Ariaferma,” by Italian helmer Leonardo Di Costanzo, and Bolivian director Kiro Russo’s “El Gran Movimiento.” And opening this year’s Zurich Film Festival (ZFF) was Michael Steiner’s Swiss-German Taliban thriller “And Tomorrow We Will Be Dead.”
The upswing in Swiss cinema is due in no small part to Zurich as a film location, noted ZFF director Christian Jungen. The ZFF and local funder Zürcher Filmstiftung (Zurich Film Fund) again showcased the city’s bustling film sector — Switzerland’s main industry hub — with their annual Zurich Film Stroll and Zurich Film Night during this year’s event.
The Zurich Film Fund is one of a number of major funders in Switzerland, which together offer a total of CHF 86 million ($92.4 million) annually in public film funding. Federal and regional sources also include the Federal Office of Culture (FOC), Cinéforom, Swiss pubcaster SRG SSR and other local boards.
The largest backer of feature films is the FOC, with a combined annual budget of CHF 28.5 million ($30.6 million) for various programs. The Film Investment Refund Switzerland (PICS) scheme, for instance, allocates CHF 6 million ($6.45 million) for Swiss-international co-productions, refunding 20% to 40% of eligible film production expenses generated in Switzerland.
With an annual budget of CHF 12 million ($12.9 million), the Zurich Film Fund is the country’s biggest regional funder, focusing on the canton of Zurich and in particular its capital. Supported co-productions have to spend 150% of their funding in the region.
Cinéforom, the second-biggest regional fund with CHF 10 million ($10.7 million), covers the whole French-speaking part of Switzerland; grants must be spent entirely in the region.
While pubcaster SRG is the country’s single biggest source of funding, with an annual commitment to Swiss film of CHF 32.5 million ($34.9 million) for the 2020-2023 period, that sum only includes CHF 9 million ($9.7 million) a year for theatrical feature films and CHF 1 million ($1.07) for animated pics. By contrast, the pubcaster supports TV productions with CHF 19 million ($20.4 million).
Among recent international co-productions that have benefited from Swiss funding are Delphine Lehericey’s family drama “Beyond the Horizon”; Milo Rau’s political passion play “The New Gospel”; Samir’s Iraqi immigrant tale “Baghdad in My Shadow”; Blaise Harrison’s teen drama “Particles”; and Stefan Haupt’s historical pic “The Reformer. Zwingli – A Life’s Portrait.”
Film projects currently in the works or in production that have also secured Swiss funds include:
- Samir’s “Stranger in a Village,” a semi-fictional story of racism inspired by James Baldwin’s 1951 stay in the alpine resort town of Leukerbad that led to his essay of the same title, and Werner Schweizer’s “Flükiger und die Suche nach Wahrheit,” both produced by Samir’s Zurich-based Dschoint Ventschr, which specializes in international co-productions;
- Margarethe von Trotta’s “Bachmann und Frisch,” about Ingeborg Bachmann, the radical Austrian writer and poet, her life in Berlin, Zurich and Rome and her relationship with the author Max Frisch;
- Nicolas Steiner’s “The Flying Mountain,” based on Christoph Ransmayr’s novel about two brothers who set off from Ireland for Tibet, where they embark on a search for an unnamed and unclimbed mountain;
- Jäger’s “White Summer,” which centers on the relationship between a hitman and a seriously ill child on a journey from southern Italy to Switzerland;
- Cosima Frei’s “5 Euro,” about a single, retired man who falls in love with a young Afghan refugee while he’s buying sex;
- Lehericey’s comedy-drama “Last Dance,” about an aging widower forced to deal with his over-protective family and the secret pact he made with his late wife.