Trilateral co-production agreement between Switzerland, Germany and Austria comes into effect, but international visibility of Swiss cinema dealt a blow by ministry’s cost-cutting.

Switzerland, Germany and Austria have a launched a new trilateral agreement to encourage more co-production of feature films between the three countries.

Switzerland had previously signed bilateral treaties with Germany in 1984 and with Austria in 1990, but these agreements will now be superseded by the new co-production accord which foresees the minimum participation of a co-producing territory being reduced from 30% to 20%.

In exceptional cases and subject to approval by the three countries, the minimum participation can be reduced yet further to 10%.

In addition, the co-financing of co-productions will now be possible with participation of 10%-20% of a film’s production costs.

According to Switzerland’s Federal Office of Culture (BAK), „the possibilities for co-productions by the three countries will be considerably expanded“ thanks to this trilateral treaty.

However, at the same time, the BAK has introduced cost-cutting measures which could jeopardise Swiss cinema’s international visibility. They come as the national body is working on its concepts for film funding in Switzerland from 2012-2015.

The first measure, which will be a blow for international sales companies and theatrical distributors interested in handling Swiss feature films and documentaries, is the winding up of Swiss Films‘ Distribution Support Programme this month.

Inspired by a similar scheme run by German Films, the programme had been launched in 2007 in collaboration with BAK to subsidise distribution measures by foreign distribution campaigns for the theatrical release of Swiss films abroad.

A subsidy of up to CHF 25,000 could be paid for new Swiss feature films and documentaries which had not received assistance from the MEDIA Programme’s selective distribution support in the MEDIA member states.

Last year, the Swiss Films‘ scheme had paid out CHF 214,500 to foreign distributors for 18 titles, including Godard’s Film Socialisme, the Swiss Oscar entry La Petite Chambre and the satirical comedy Der Grosse Kater.

At the last funding session in March, Germany’s Neue Visionen and Austria’s Polyfilm Verleih received backing for their release of Der Sandmann, while support was also allocated to UK distributor West Grove Film & Media for Rüdi Gerber’s Breath Made Visible which is due to be released in British cinemas this Friday (8 July).

The other cost-cutting measure saw BAK withdraw support immediately from the European film industry Internet portal The website received CHF 19,368 from BAK (via Swiss Films) in 2010 and, in an ironic twist, leaves Swiss Films‘ managing director Micha Schiwow in an embarrassing situation as he is currently serving as the vice-president of Cineuropa’s organising body.

These latest developments come as Swiss Films reported in its review of 2010 that the work in promoting Swiss cinema internationally had seen 64 Swiss films screening at important film festivals around the globe, and 15 local feature films and 14 documentaries had been sold abroad.

Moreover, the film promotion body is becoming increasingly worried about its future after 2012. At the moment, 80% of its annual budget comes from BAK (CHF 1.4m) and Pro Helvetia (CHF 1.38m), but the share provided by Pro Helvetia is only guaranteed until next year and is not yet clear whether BAK will make up the shortfall.