A current wave of local box-office successes provided a welcome stimulantfor Locarno Film Festival's first Day of SwissCinema, which is being held today.

Accompanied by Jean-Frederic Jauslin,the head of the Federal Office for Culture (BAK), and the Film Section chiefNicolas Bideau,Switzerland's Interior Minister Pascal Couchepinrevealed that the Swiss cinema's market share had climbed to 18% this yearthanks to the success of such films as Michael Steiner's Grounding, Juerg Ebe'sHandyman, FrediMurer's Vitus, and Christoph Schaub's Jeune Homme as well as the continued success of Steiner'sprevious film Mein Name Ist Eugen which almost singlehandedlygarnered the 6.58% domestic share last year with its 575,000 admissions and wasseen by more than 20,000 cinema-goers in the French-speaking part of thecountry this year.

Referring to Bideau's plan announced at last year'sLocarno festival to focus funding support in future on "popular quality films"by auteur directors, Couchepin said: "We are still not at our goal, butthe right steps have been instigated. The Swiss cinema, however, needs morespectators."

Bideau argued that "the most important test for afilm is the audience", pointing to the dilemma of smaller films whichreached only a few thousand spectators in the cinema and suggesting that newfilm funding guidelines in effect since July 1 would provide the basis for amore successful future for Swiss cinema.

A report issued by the Federal Office for Statistics lastweek found that 37% of the Swiss films released between 1995 and 2004 had beenseen by less than 1,500 people.

"The problem is not only the still-insufficientadmission figures in the Swiss cinemas, but also the unsatisfactory results inthe foreign cinemas," added Jauslin whose authority will be launching aspecial fund next year to support the export of Swiss films.

At the same time, Jauslin took the opportunity of theofficial press conference in Locarno to present the findings of a study on Swiss cinema and its audience's tastes - "the first study of thiskind" - which was undertaken by the University of Lausanne on the FederalOffice's behalf.

The study reported that 54% of 1,409 peopleinterviewed by telephone (708 in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and701 from the German-speaking region) express a preference for documentariesbefore comedies (43%), adventure films (33%), historical films (30%) anddetective films (30%), while the action, war, science fiction and karate filmgenres are also rans in the Alpine republic.

However, there are regional differences:comedies are the top genre among the French-language community followed bydocumentaries, but it is the other way around for the German speakers withdocumentaries heading the list. Films from the US are identified as the mostattractive by the German-speaking interviewees, while their French counterparts- not surprisingly - say that they preferred films coming from France.

The telephone survey shows that 73% of theSwiss go at least once or more each year to the cinema, but 71% see one or morefeature films each week on television.

Meanwhile, concerning the image of Swisscinema, 72% of the German Swiss say that they have a positive image of theirnational cinema, compared to only half of their French compatriots. The"most well-known Swiss director" is Jean-Luc Godard, followed byAlain Tanner, while the new generation of filmmakers such as Samir, MikeEschmann or Michael Steiner were " unknown".

The strong majority of interviewees said thatthe promotion and information about Swiss cinema must be improved.

As Swiss Films' Mathias Noschis observed inan evaluation of the study's findings, "for the audience, it is hence notso much the quality of Swiss films which is lacking, but rather the access totraditional channels of communication. This result confirms the necessity ofthe existence of an organisation such as Swiss Films."

Commenting on the fact that betweentwo-thirds and three-quarters of the people questioned said that they wouldlike to see more documentaries, comedies or films on the unsung aspects ofSwitzerland, Noschis remarked that the Swiss cinema-goer is "not afraid ofthe distorting mirror of the big screen when it shows them a new image of theircountry. On the contrary, it seems to demand of the filmmakers a vision bothindependent and rid of complexes which gives a new sense to the much discussedterm of 'Swissitude'."