As Swiss producers, distributors and cinema-owners gather in Cannes, those dark days of February’s Berlinale seem far away when the Swiss referendum on an ¨ Initiative against mass immigration¨ looked like resulting in the Swiss industry being denied access in future to the EU’s Creative Europe programme.

At the beginning of March, Isabelle Chassot, the Federal Office of Culture’s new director had been informed by the European Commission that participation in the MEDIA sub-sector would not be possible for 2014 and she said that ¨[we] are in a period of uncertainty from 2015¨.

For some players in Switzerland like Nyon’s Doc Outlook International Market or the FOCAL continuous training projects, 2014 was a year of transition: they had funding from Brussels for this year as part of  multi-year agreement, but would have to look elsewhere from 2015.

Seeking the potential negative effects on the Swiss film industry, the central government in Berne acted swiftly in March to introduce an interim solution ¨to compensate for the CHF 5m ($5.6m) lost funding from MEDIA. This measure is supposed to ensure that current projects can continue.¨

According to an insider, the Swiss national parliament could officially give its okay to this measure at the end of June, and the Swiss ¨calls¨ for projects probably being published at the beginning of June so that the first deadline could be set at the beginning of July.

As Locarno Film Festival’s Head of International, Nadia Dresti explains, the interim solution means that the festival “will continue and develop the Industry Days with our current activities and initiatives - Industry Screenings, Step.In, Carte Blanche - which have been created over the past years.”

“However, unfortunately, we will not be able to expand the activities of the Industry Office as we had hoped and planned for,” she noted, adding that the Locarno initiatives had benefited particularly from ¨strong relationships¨ with such European organisations as Europa International, Europa Cinemas and EAVE Puentes.

Looking forward

Hopes that Switzerland could soon be back in the family of nations benefiting from the new MEDIA Programme under the Creative Europe umbrella came last week with the news that the EU Member States agreed ¨to authorise the opening of negotiations on an agreement between the EU and Switzerland on an institutional framework governing bilateral relations¨

“We are really confident that Switzerland has a good chance to go back to the Creative Europe programme in 2015,” Dresti says. “In order to push for this, we will organise in collaboration with the Association of Swiss Film Journalists and Swiss Films a panel on the subject of (and not because we want everyone to understand how important it is for us to be part of the Creative Europe programe and how much not only festivals, but the entire film industry can benefit from it.”

The Federal Office for Culture’s Laurent Steiert from the Film Department also is upbeat about the chances of Switzerland rejoining the MEDIA Programme from 2015 following the issuing of the negotiating mandate.

“We remain optimistic, all the more so because we were able to continue the good contact with the MEDIA Programme even without any formal participation,” Steiert says.

Support for foreign releases

Meanwhile, Swiss Films’ CEO Catherine Ann Berger points to the fact that the support programme for the distribution of Swiss films for cinema release in Europe has now taken on an even more important role in this interim period.

Launched by the Federal Office of Culture in collaboration with Swiss Film, the programme currently has an annual budget of $336,000 (CHF 300,000), although Berger says that there are talks to double this amount to $673,000 (CHF 600,000).

The maximum subsidy awarded per film is $34,000 (CHF 30,000) and in all instances may not exceed 50% of the actual costs.

In the first funding session of 2014 held last month, nine films were supported for their theatrical release outside of Switzerland. They included the Panorama Teddy Award-winning docufiction The Circle, the Venice winner Sagrada, and the fiction film Dreamland [pictured].

So, the will is there - both on a political and industry level - for Switzerland to remain very much part of the European film community despite the alarming result of February’s referendum.