Young Swiss filmmakers are calling for greater diversity in Swiss fiction production and the introduction of a new funding instrument to support up-and-coming directors.

Gathered together as the Swiss Fiction Movement (SFM), the film-makers are holding their first public debate to air their grievances and proposals on the second day (Aug 7) of this year’s Locarno Film Festival.

In a paper described in advance as the Locarno Manifesto, the SFM’s founders argue that the Swiss national funding system is currently concentrated on the support of large productions and that small productions “can only be made outside of the official funding landscape and with the aid of alternative financing”.

The examples of the UK’s Microwave scheme or Germany’s Das kleine Fernsehspiel are cited as successful initiatives in other countries which have been supporting and producing low-budget productions for many years.

At the same time, the filmmakers point to the ironic situation where the main prizes at Locarno – a festival supported with public money from the government in Berne – have often gone to productions made with scant financing: ranging from last year’s Our Sunhi by Hong Sangsoo from South Korea (Best Director) to the Golden Leopard for She, A Chinese by Xialou Guo who has now signed up as a member of the SFM.

Among other things, the filmmakers manifesto calls for:

  • the introduction of a separate definition for cost-effective feature films with an upper budget threshold of $330,000 (CHF 300,000)
  • the creation of a new funding category to support around 10 feature films a year with $330,000 (CHF 300,000) per film.

The SFM’s founding members include Peter Luisi whose latest feature film Unlikely Heroes (Schweizer Helden) will have its world premiere as an open-air screening on the Piazza Grande on August 13.

The comedy, which will be distributed in Switzerland by Frenetic Films in November and is handled internationally by Berlin-based m-appeal, follows Luisi’s previous comedy The Sandman which cost $649,000 (CHF 590,000) and posted over 20,000 admissions as well as 18 prizes and 30 festival invitations.

By comparison, the $33m (CHF 30m) animation film Max & Co received funding from Berne, but only managed to attract around 32,000 into the Swiss cinemas.

Further SFM members include:

  • Simon Jacquemet whose new film Chrieg will premiere in New Directors at San Sebastian next month and is being handled by Picture Tree International
  • director-DoP Lorenz Merz, who was selected for Locarno’s Signs of Life last year with Cherry Pie
  • Basil Da Cunha, whose Ate ver a Luz showed in the 2013 Pardi di Domani line-up
  • Oliver Rihs, director of Black Sheep and Achtung Fertig WK
  • Ramon and Silvan Zürcher of the festival favourite The Strange Little Cat.

Ahead of today’s debate, a report in the national newspaper NZZ cited Ivo Kummer, head of the film department at the Federal Office of Culture (BAK), defending the national funder’s record of support for newcomer filmmakers. He also pointed to the existence of a working group which is currently looking at more effective ways of supporting up-and-coming talents.

Moreover, Swiss professionals may have learnt more about the future direction of the national film policy from a press conference being held today in Locarno with Federal Councillor and Interior Minister Alain Berset, BAK director Isabelle Chassot and Kummer.

Switzerland and the EU

As in previous years, Swiss and European film politics will be on the agenda in Locarno away from the cinema screens.

On Saturday (Aug 9), the Association of Swiss Film Journalists, Swiss Films and Media Desk Suisse are joining forces with Locarno’s Industry days to cast a spotlight on the current situation facing Swiss cinema since its exclusion from the new Creative Europe’s MEDIA sub-programme.

The discussion entitled will include contributions from Eurimages’ executive director Roberto Olla, distributors Hélène Cardis (Pathé), Milada Kolberg (Senator Film), Kamran Sardar Khan (Camino Filmverleih), producer Valerie Fischer (Cobrafilm), and Sven Wälti, head of co-productions at Swiss public broadcaster SRG SSR.

Wälti will also speak at a second discussion event the same day organised by the Geneva International Film Festival/Festival Tous Ecrans in cooperation with the Industry Days the Lift Conference.

The focus will centre on the future of Swiss audiovisual funding in the digital future, with keynote speeches on European and Canadian models for funding audiovisual and digital production.