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Camera, lights ... action! Switzerland is hardly famed internationally for its film industry. Yet one of the most renowned International Film Festival is held in Locarno each year. Swiss News looks at how the event helps the local filmmakers.

Every year, the sleepy lakeside resort of Locarno in the Swiss Italian-speaking canton of Ticino transforms itself into a veritable Mecca for film lovers as it hosts its famed International Film Festival. With just under 200,000 tickets sold for the two-week event, which runs from 6-16 August, this veritable film bonanza is certainly the most important film festival in Switzerland, Locarno, which boasts the world's biggest outdoor screen set in the majestic surroundings of the Piazza Grande, is billed as the people's festival. Audiences, numbering up to a staggering 7,000 in the piazza, are keen to show their appreciation or disdain lot for the movies they see.

'Trampoline' for Swiss Films

Locarno's film festival is more ready than most to explore new ground. While justly famed for its strong interest in new filmmakers and experimental works, the festival is also a vital showcase for the small but budding Swiss film industry.

Despite the nation's failure to rival Hollywood as a centre for the cinematic industry, there is one organisation that plays an important part in promoting and developing local talent during the festival and throughout the year.

The Swiss Film Center (SFC), founded in the early 1970s by Swiss filmmakers and producers, is a national agency that works to promote long feature and documentary films.

The SFC is also heavily involved in guaranteeing a strong Swiss content at the Locarno film festival.

SFC marketing director Francine Brucher tells Swiss News that the Locarno International Film Festival is important for Swiss films not only because of the numbers of visitors it attracts, but also because it has an international importance for the film industry.

Based in Zurich, the SFC provides consulting, support and information services to Switzerland's filmmakers. "It's like a trampoline for Swiss films because it's such an important festival in Switzerland," explains Brucher. "With so many international film industry representatives as well as members of the international press coming to Locarno it's obvious that they are keen to see new Swiss film productions."

The SFC also organises the "Appelations Suisse" section of the Locarno festival, which highlights new films that have come out of Switzerland "In Locarno you'll find in the catalogue not only big American films presented by major American distribution companies but also young students coming with their first films," says Brucher. "Everyone can enjoy a good screening in a good cinema packed with a great audience--that's the essence of Locarno, everyone is treated equally."

Swiss films have enjoyed some success at the Locarno festival, with such Swiss film luminaries as director Daniel Schmid, Alain Tanner and Jean-Luc Goddard all taking away the festival's honours at one point or another.

Swiss feature films participationg in the festival are known for knocking the Swiss stereotype to pieces. Schmid's film Beresina is a fine example. Wowing Locarno audiences a few years back, it told the strange modern day fairytale of a Russian prostitute who becomes the Queen of Switzerland.

Expensive Proposition

However, like its competitors, the Swiss film industry has its fair share of problems to contend with.

"Making films is getting more and more expensive every year," explains Brucher, "And the audience the home produced films get isn't growing."

As with many other European countries, the box office is dominated mainly by American films, with the market share for Swiss films coming in at just 2.7 per cent.

"The Swiss film industry is subsidised but the subsidies are not enough. It's almost impossible to produce a feature film in Switzerland without a foreign co-producer. The only possibility to finance a feature film only with financing in Switzerland is to produce a very low budget film," says Brucher.

With so much work going into getting the money to release around 20 domestic feature films a year, you may wonder how the industry continues.

Well it seems that they may not have the money for films in Switzerland but the one thing they do have in vast quantities is talent, and where there's talent you'll find people trying to make those movies.

"The main assets of the Swiss film industry are talent and technical perfection,." explains Brucher. "We also have great labs such as Swiss Effects which invented a process to enable film makers to shoot with digital video cameras and then blow it up into 35 mm to get 35mm prints. They are highly respected and have a lot of customers from the US."

Subsidies from the federal government are an important part in the financing of Swiss films and the SFC isn't shy about asking for more.

"Public money should be used because Swiss films are amongst the best ways to portray our cultural identity," said Brucher. "It's important to maintain the diversity of our culture through film and this cannot be done without subsidies."

Swiss films are definitely an important document of the country we live in, and we can be sure that through organisations such as the SFC and its exposure of fresh talent at this year's 56th Locarno International Film Festival those Swiss films will continue to strive to reach a wider audience.
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Title Annotation:Art & Culture
Author:O'Brien, Tom
Publication:Swiss News
Date:Aug 1, 2003
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