Switzerland has seen cinema admissions soar by 6.4% in the first half of 2001 to 8.78m, with local productions accounting for a 4.1% market share in the first six months, compared with 4.6% in 2000 as a whole.

However, of the 100-plus Swiss films released in the first half of 2001, only five titles generated more than 20,000 ticket sales - the minimum necessary to recoup basic distribution costs.

The most successful Swiss release was Azzurro, directed by Denis Rabaglia, with almost 82,000 admissions. The title was however released in autumn 2000. The most successful domestic movie released in the first half of 2001 was Markus Imboden's Heidi, which attracted some 75,000 admissions.

As the Swiss Film Center noted in a recent report, "in contrast to the 'lean Nineties' when Swiss films attracted scarcely more than 2% of home audiences, the year 2000 [saw] a remarkable recovery in their share of the home market, amounting to 4.6%", which was largely thanks to the box-office success of Silvio Soldini's Bread And Tulips and Markus Imboden's Komiker. "A less flattering reality", as the Center remarked, was that "two thirds of Swiss features still go unnoticed by the general public". But maybe this state of affairs will now change with the advent of a new dynamic generation of filmmakers.

"It looks like being a good year for Swiss cinema", notes Ivo Kummer, director of the Solothurn Film Days' annual showcase of the latest Swiss production each January, as this year sees the 54th Locarno International Film Festival inviting three new Swiss features - Riccardo Signorell's Scheherazade, Thomas Imbach's Happiness Is A Warm Gun, and Fosco and Donatello Dubini's Die Reise Nach Kafiristan - to screen in competition.

"The films being produced in Switzerland at the moment address very controversial social issues and handle these very skilfully as far as their form and dramaturgy are concerned, but they nevertheless clearly belong to a narrative cinema rather than to an experimental one", says Kummer who himself donned a producer's hat early this year for the shooting of Nino Jacusso's asylum seeker drama Escape To Paradise which will be presented in competition in San Sebastian this September.

"There is a new generation of filmmakers and producers aged between 25 and 28 who have really broken onto the scene", adds the Swiss Film Center's marketing and sales consultant Francine Bruecher who picks out Scheherazade's producer Simon Hesse and self-taught filmmaker Florian Froschmayer as names to watch in the future.

Froschmayer, who first made an impact on young cinema audiences with his thriller Exklusiv in 1999, is now applying the finishing touches to his new feature L.A.X. for an autumn festival premiere. "They make their 'crazy little films' with very little money and without subsidies or TV cofinancing", Bruecher declares. "They target their audience which is their generation, but do this without imitating the mainstream popular genre. I admire their courage for taking risks and working so hard!"

At the same time, there is an older generation of filmmakers in the 35-45 year old age bracket coming through with such thought-provoking works as Christoph Schaub's romantic drama Secret Love (Stille Liebe) or Stefan Haupt's coming of age tale Utopia Blues. But despite their many undeniable qualities, Swiss films still have trouble making a connection with their local audiences.