Ernstfall in Havanna (Sabine Boss, 2001)

An earlier version of this article appeared in Women Filmmakers: Refocusing, copyright UBC Press 2002, reproduced by permission of UBC Press.

The following essay is not an attempt to write about an entire nation of women filmmakers – it has been done, and well, elsewhere (Blöchlinger et al, 1995). Instead, it looks at filmmaking in Switzerland through considering aspects of its history and how these have affected two contemporary women directors. A basic understanding of any film industry, no matter how small, is reliant on statistics and film politics that affect both men and women, but it is often the filmmakers themselves, and their experiences, both personal and professional, that can give us an insight into how they work. In light of these and other developments, we will consider first of all, pertinent socio-political and cultural aspects that have influenced filmmaking in Switzerland. The spotlight is then on two fiction film directors: Tania Stöcklin and Sabina Boss – in terms of their working methods and professional developments, and their views on feminist politics and film culture in the larger picture of Swiss film production.

“Männersache”

In a critical review of Swiss film from 1896 to 1987, published by the Swiss Film Centre, a chapter titled ‘Männersache‘ begins with the following statement: “Filmmaking remains a man’s affair, not only in Switzerland, but especially in Switzerland.” (Schlappner and Schaub, 139). This tongue-in-cheek comment from one of the best-known Swiss film historians and journalists demonstrates the dominant critical and journalistic attitude towards filmmaking by women in Switzerland. Instead of pursuing the consequences of this, Schaub chooses to investigate the image of women in films made by men, completely bypassing an issue that continues to be a problem. The fact is that until recently, women working in Swiss cinema have not been given the critical attention their work needs. Popular media, in addition, gives little account of women’s filmmaking. Between 1989 and 1999, the Swiss film magazine ZOOM (replaced in 1999 by FILM) published only a handful of articles relating to the difficulties women face in funding and employment in the sector.

Cover of the Swiss Films Yearbook

The SWISS FILMS annual compendium of films produced in Switzerland provides information on feature, documentary, short and animation film productions. Relatively comprehensive, it demonstrates that women still receive little opportunity to make features. In 1991, 4 of 18 were directed by women; 1996 was a bleak year, with 17 features produced, but none directed by women, and 2001 was not promising – of 24 features, only 3 were directed by a women. On average between 1991 and 2001, 85% of feature film productions were made by men.

Icons and Identity

For many people and for a long time, a white cross on a red background – the Swiss national flag – represented security, neutrality, wealth and a peculiar attitude of smug self-containment reserved for a small nation. In 1992, a public referendum rejected Switzerland’s entry into the European Economic Community. In the past, its political neutrality was a distinguishing feature; now, it lies in isolation, surrounded by the new European union, and the Swiss are confronted with an identity crisis. The changed status of Switzerland in Europe has serious social, political and economic consequences. Swiss national film production, often a reflection and barometer of internal issues, has also been affected. In the meantime, bilateral agreements, including opening the Swiss borders to EU workers and less protective agricultural agreements, are forcing the Swiss to reconsider their hermetic mentality.

Small countries often produce small films, which reflect cultural and social idiosyncrasies or upheavals within these countries, but they also touch upon issues that other cultures can understand. Compared to the success of Belgian cinema or the Danish ‘Dogma’ new wave, whose films deal with internal issues and reach international audiences, Switzerland’s film production is in a sad state. In terms of fiction film, the country’s ‘cottage’ film industry has not been able to produce anything with a similar degree of critical success, neither inland or abroad. Its small films seem unable to express the country’s internal themes in a way that makes them attractive or relevant outside its borders.

Founding of the Swiss Federal Union, Werner Haltinner

The reputation of Switzerland as a land of plenty is a recent phenomenon that is deeply entwined with post-World War II developments in the banking and service sectors. Before this, it was a relatively poor alpine country whose mainstay was agriculture and early forms of tourism. Considering its cultural and linguistic diversity, it’s not surprising that Swiss identity is not only based on a myth, but also one that is not shared in the same way by its inhabitants (Blöchlinger et al, 23). Films are mostly made in the German and the French-speaking areas, mentalities invisibly but distinctly separated by the geographic Röstigraben (fried potato trench) between the French and German areas. The Francophone Suisse Romande pursues a stimulating cultural exchange with France; the German-speaking parts are more aligned to Germany or Anglophile culture. Tessin, the Italian part of Switzerland, is called a ‘deserto cinematografico‘ (Blöchlinger et al, 23) and is culturally oriented to Italy. And in Graub, where very few films are made at all, a small part of the population (50,000) speak the fourth official language. Over the past 50 years or so an increasing influx of immigrants account for a current 20% of the total population. This array of differences makes it difficult for Swiss artists and filmmakers to confront issues of identity shared by more than a small group or that develop an understanding beyond their borders.

Swiss Film Politics

Until 1963, film in Switzerland was a mirror for the changes the country experienced after World War II. According to Schaub, the previous ‘discursive conflict culture’ gave way to a period of consumerism, conservatism and political disengagement. In film culture, this was reflected by an ‘Americanisation’ of the cinema that has persisted to this day. In 1960, Switzerland imported 459 films (35mm), which accounted for 98.7 % of total film offerings in the country (Schlappner and Schaub, 74). Swiss identity was in a state of dissolution, the result of a cultural colonization that had begun after the war. Young filmmakers responded to this with a decision to make films about Switzerland in Switzerland, thus defining New Swiss Film as a conscious attempt at correction of Americanization and reorientation towards national culture. Unfortunately, despite a number of box office successes in the ’80s and early ’90s, the American dominance continues to prevail, with Swiss films stagnant at around a meagre 3% of cinema screenings in 2001.

Although a Federal Film Law was introduced in 1963 with the mandate to support Swiss film, this radical new beginning was financed mainly by the filmmakers themselves, by foundations and by financial awards. The persistent labyrinth of applications, interviews, submissions and statistics remains the dominant mode of financing, and as a rule, the more often a filmmaker has struggled through it, the greater their chances of future funding. Filmmaking is often referred to as ‘father and son’ collaborations, with minimal mention of women in film-political publications and statistics. Young filmmakers of the ‘New Swiss Film’ of the late ’80s opposed the dominance of the established filmmakers in the funding system, but had to resort to self-financing.

Together with the absence of major studios and independent producers and the newly imposed limitations on international co-productions, this system was lobby-driven and proved to be a particular obstacle for women filmmakers. A number of collectives and independent film production companies (or participation in such) were founded in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, although in recent years these have waned. While the laws governing film funding have changed over time, moving towards ‘selective film support‘, Swiss filmmaking has been in a crisis for many years. The modest SF 21 million Federal Film Fund is augmented by television by SF10 million, an amount which elsewhere would be considered a modest budget for a feature film. Swiss filmmakers continue to have great difficulties finding audiences within their own borders, let alone abroad.

First Filmmakers

Feature filmmaking in Switzerland remains a manifestly male-dominated domain. A number of Swiss women directors have achieved critical acclaim for their work in documentary, narrative and experimental film. The majority of these films continue the traditional focus on ethnographic, cultural or social themes; the intrinsic difference from those of productions by male filmmakers is the subject matter. Women filmmakers reveal the historical status of women within Switzerland’s social and economic fabric, celebrate unrecognized achievements of women in other countries, or concentrate on the search for identity. Some are purely documentary in nature; others develop an auteur style or locate similar themes in a fictional narrative.

Veteran Gertrud Pinkus, director of Il Valore Della Donna è il Suo Silenzio (1980) and Anna Göldin, letzte Hexe (1991), points out that most of the films made by socially engaged women filmmakers are limited to the 16mm distribution centres of religious institutions, whose main function is to deliver films for schools and private screenings. Although the films are rented on a regular basis, these viewers are not included in official cinema statistics and as a result, the films are not considered box office successes (Blöchlinger et al, 38-39). This can be fatal for filmmakers applying for funding for new projects, given that box-office success is often a prerequisite for new grants. This has become even more critical since the introduction of Succés Cinéma, an initiative that allocates directors and producers, distributors and cinemas money according to tickets sold.

Works by women filmmakers have often been made in conjunction with husbands or partners. This form of organization and production made possible the first film work by women in Swiss cinema (Blöchlinger et al, 23). The cooperation between Urs and Marlies Graf, Nag and Gisèle Ansorge, Walter Marti and Reni Mertens, Hans Stürm and Beatrice Leuthold, and June Kovach and Alexander J. Seiler, established certainty in working on film projects. This model is still productive: Marcel Zwingli and Sabine Gisiger have collaborated on two films, Motor Nasch (1995) looking at 4 generations of women in the Soviet union and Do it (2000) a feature-length essay film about Swiss political radicals from the ’70s youth movement involved in international terrorism.

Cinéma des copines

It was not until the mid-’70s that women began to work independently, to organize themselves and, in close contact with the feminist movement, to concentrate on films focussing on the changing roles of women in society. Until the Women’s Freedom Movement in 1969, there were only two independent women directors: Isa Hesse and Jaqueline Veuve (Blöchlinger et al, 43). Professional training for women was mainly autodidactic; experience was gained on the job as apprentices, and the number of films made by women remained minimal. Before the advent of Swiss film schools in the ’80s, the only alternative option was to register in film schools abroad. Many women filmmakers were (and still are) not able to undertake their own projects, and worked as editors or in other capacities for their male colleagues.

A solution to this exclusion was the formation of various collectives to collaborate with other women filmmakers. Known as cinéma des copines (girlfriends’ cinema), this form of collaboration, over a longer period of time with a number of other women filmmakers without financial support, was often the only way for Swiss women filmmakers to finish a film and make their mark in the cinematic landscape. A benefit of this form of mostly unpaid cooperation was the network of personal contacts that grew with each film.

The majority of films made by women after the 1975 founding of the ‘Women Filmmakers of Switzerland Association’ (Frauen-Filmschaffende Schweiz FFS) were of a taboo-breaking and informative nature, a characteristic of many films made by women in the ’70s throughout the Western world. In this respect, Swiss filmmakers did not differ from their foreign colleagues. Yet the social status of women in Switzerland did not benefit from feminism to a similar degree as in North America. Women in Switzerland didn’t have the right to vote until 1971 (!) – even today Switzerland remains dominated by a patriarchal system in which women have little power, in spite of the ongoing discourses of equality in politics, business and higher education.

Documentary was and is a prominent form that favoured approaches such as ethnography, participatory observation, montage documentary, manifests, pamphlets and cinematic intervention, or mixed fictional/non-fictional forms. Narrative films also investigated the personal experience and daily life of women, at the same time reflecting on issues unique to Swiss identity and cultural diversity in the Swiss immigrant population. The latter was not an integrated part of a cultural mosaic, and was long suppressed and ignored by the majority of Swiss nationals. This is changing, at least in part because of generational change within immigrant families, changes which have become part of the social fabric. A number of young filmmakers have parents from other countries, and many weave multicultural experiences into their scripts or documentaries.

The Facts Revealed: CUT

A major contribution to the discourse on women filmmakers was made by the publication, Cut: Film-und Videomacherinnen Schweiz. von den Anfängen bis 1994. Eine Bestandesaufnahme (Cut: Women Film and Video Makers in Switzerland from the Beginnings to 1994: The Current State of Affairs). It is currently available only in German. This book remains the most comprehensive publication on women’s filmmaking in Switzerland. All but one of the authors studied at and/or were research assistants at the Seminar for Cinema Studies at the University of Zurich. The appointment of experimental filmmaker and film theorist, Professor Christine Noll Brinckmann, in 1989 as head of the newly established department without doubt supported and encouraged the realization of the project.

In addition to the direct reference to the fact that many women work as cutters, the book’s title also acknowledges the importance of video as a means of expression, and it includes comprehensive filmographies and biographies of women film- and videomakers. Video has enabled many to undertake projects which, had they been shot on 16 or 35mm, might not otherwise have been completed. Switzerland has an impressive number of video artists who have embraced new technology and the freedom it provides. Recent innovations in digital imagery have made equipment even more accessible.

Two Cultures, Two Identities: Tania Stöcklin

Tania Stöcklin is one of a group of auteur filmmakers. She lives in Zurich and Berlin, commuting between these two cities to work on projects. Stöcklin grew up in a patriarchal family, and in 1975, established contact with groups of older women. There were two feminist groups in Switzerland at the time, one aligned to the youth movement, another more specifically concerned with the rights of women. But Stöcklin didn’t really experience negative aspects of being a woman in filmmaking until she studied at the DFFB in Berlin during 1982-89 (there were as yet no film schools in Switzerland). Wanting to study camera and directing, she quickly realised that camera was a man’s domain, and that she would have very little chance of succeeding, given that the profession was firmly entrenched in a lobby system that made no concessions for women. Against her desires, she decided to choose editing instead, and when she is not directing, she edits films.

It wasn’t only filmmakers that had to go abroad. Most of Switzerland’s better-known artists found success in exile. Stöcklin says that Switzerland has no ‘stars’ because the Protestant-tinged morality of Switzerland doesn’t allow for the ‘self-celebration’ or praise that a star system requires. Before her Berlin years, Stöcklin felt ‘invisible’ in the Swiss film scene. Returning from Berlin, charged with the exotic allure of foreign places, she was celebrated, and suddenly everyone wanted to work with her, which she disdained.

The Swiss feminist movement was tinged with a defensive aftertaste – part of this has to do with a complex mentality that develops from a combination of Protestant work ethic, a class system that seems to be based on dialects rather than wealth, and a competitive attitude that leaves little room for solidarity. After the pointedly feminist movement, contemporary Swiss women filmmakers who consider themselves ‘feminist’ do so in terms of an awareness that grew out of the earlier movement, and no longer as an active feminism.

Tania Stöcklin in Habibi - Ein Liebesbrief (still supplied by Xenix Film Distribution, Zurich)

Stöcklin connected with other women who were not involved in the resentments and competitiveness symptomatic of pseudo-feminism. She worked on many films with other women filmmakers, forming and developing ‘clusters’ – cinèma des copines. Her main collaborations are with co-patriot Anka Schmid, who studied with her in Berlin, where they made the award-winning Habibi (1986). Working together was a way to circumvent the power politics, and, as auteurs, Stöcklin remarks that it was a way to avoid the tag of dilettante usually attached to their innovative concepts. Unusual ideas from their male colleagues are often given the attribute ‘genial’ (Stöcklin, 6).

As a politically engaged filmmaker (she is a member of the federal film support commission staatlicher Begutachtungsauschuss für Filmförderung), Stöcklin has done some number-crunching. In the Film Directors and Script Union, 52 of the 196 members are women; in the Swiss Film and Video Syndicate (a technicians’ organisation) 35% of the 350 members are women (in the field of camera, 94% are men), and 27% of producers are women. These statistics reveal that while women aren’t necessarily able to direct, technical training provides them with opportunities to work on small and large projects.

Stöcklin makes the succinct, polemic point that the current ‘backlash’ (or complete disregard) that feminist issues seem to be experiencing is connected with a mentality that frowns upon self-promotion:

Women don’t only get less responsibility or power – often they shy away from it. Either they are not used to dealing with power, which is self-evident for men, or maybe they have a conflict in their sexual identity. A woman with modest success becomes more attractive, but a woman with lots of power and lots of success tends to reduce her own sexual attractiveness, in contrast to the male sex. In other words, from a certain point on, to further her career, she has to be willing to pay the price of a reduction of her attractiveness and value on the sexual market. (Stöcklin, 6)

Stöcklin mentions the relative disregard that conservative politics has for cultural forms they consider ‘unnecessary’ in other words, anything that isn’t theatre, opera, classical music (and sport)! The kind of cinema Stöcklin makes is ‘suspect’ because it grew out of a rebellious youth culture that opposed the dominant oppressive cultural politics. Co-productions with other countries are promising, but if Swiss funding dominates, then the co-producer is less interested in promoting it abroad. The reverse situation, for instance if a German company invests 60% instead of 20%, then it is more interested in promoting the film outside Switzerland.

Stöcklin also sees a problem in the under-representation of women in lobbying caused by small numbers of competitors, like a duel, where there is often only one winner. This is different than projects involving larger groups with men – she likens it to a battle, with more winners at the end. Although there seems to be an equal representation of women on the federal film commissions (here the Swiss are very correct), statistics show that women have a better chance in documentary and short film production. Women directors in the ’90s have avoided this dilemma by steering away from making films explicitly about women to making films, period.

As one of the few female Swiss auteurs, Stöcklin wants to preserve what she call “her authenticity”. The increasing influence of television means that film scripts and themes need to address a broad audience. This means this idea of ‘authenticity’ is threatened, since finding a broad perspective that addresses so many different subcultures can encourage mediocrity, since there is no such thing as an ‘average Swiss’. Thus the main problem confronting women filmmakers is selling ideas and themes that diverge from the mainstream to funding bodies not open to experiment or risk. In other words, funding bodies are increasingly uninterested in projects that don’t guarantee ‘quality’ (or profit). Stöcklin is of the opinion that auteur films don’t necessarily fulfil the criteria for profitability or quality, but nevertheless stresses the importance of supporting this kind of film. If Swiss cinema is ever to achieve success, new filmmakers shouldn’t strictly adhere to technical and scripting rules taught in seminars but rather be inventive and take risks.

This situation is made even more complex by the difficulties posed by the language barriers in Switzerland. Stöcklin’s tongue-in-cheek solution:

We should speak Romansch as a national language. Switzerland doesn’t have a cultural identity. We orient ourselves towards the language borders. (Interview with Tania Stöcklin, August 2002)

Das Engadiner Wunder, Tania Stöcklin and Anka Schmid

Stöcklin’s last film, Das Engadiner Wunder (2000), was made with Anka Schmid. The combination of different characters and temperaments and a great love for fine arts continues to be a successful combination. Stöcklin is engaged in film politics, and teaches at film schools. She is currently working on a documentary project, and an experimental and fiction film. It may have something to do with her status as an auteur, and the way such projects develop, that Stöcklin is a little reticent to say more about any of these projects in their conceptual stage. Since the birth of her daughter, she has developed a less ambivalent relationship with the country she was born in, especially in terms of landscape, both physically – touring the countryside – and in her filmmaking (Engadin is an area in the Swiss Alps).

Swiss Film School Graduates: Sabine Boss

Until the ’80s, the only chance filmmakers had to enter the profession was through on the job experience. “The autodidactic element was one of the identifying characteristics of the New Swiss film, both for filmmakers and technicians” (Blanc, Dubini and Lehner, 136). Before she enrolled in the film and video class at the Zurich Art Academy, Sabine Boss also had to go abroad to gain experience, working both in theatre and film. Like Stöcklin, she is one of a small number of multi-professional and politically engaged directors working in different disciplines. While emphasizing how demanding this can be, Boss notes that the different experiences cross-fertilise each of the fields.

When they opened in the ’80s, film schools proved to be fertile ground for a new generation of women. The three film schools in Switzerland (Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich) are characterised by programme concepts that produce graduates who can take on multi-functional roles.

The polyvalence that defines the new generation of Swiss filmmaking, whether it is learnt at the school or not, has similar limitations as does a born ability to improvise or learning practice while on the job. (Blanc, Dubini and Lehner, 131)

As one of the first Swiss film school graduates, Boss doesn’t have a Swiss flag shoulder bag – maybe because she spends her time between Hamburg, Berlin and Zurich, so her sense of identity is informed by diverse cultures. But these issues of identity find expression in her own work. Boss grew up in extreme left-wing surroundings that were also feminist-influenced. This sensitised her to these issues and she was involved early on in the Swiss subculture. Boss says that in the past she has “written like a victim” – her characters were developed out of a defensive feminist point of view. As the world around her changes, these changes are affecting the way she now develops her characters and narratives, which have become in turn, less defensive and more proactive and critical..

Sabina Boss

Before enrolling in the first film and video class in Zurich, Boss started in film as a self-taught sound engineer. When I asked her if and when she first experienced gender discrimination in the profession, Boss recalled that from her first day at work as a 22-year-old, she realised her gender was an advantage. She was attractive, interested and enthusiastic (and still is), in other worlds, ‘good patriarchy’ gave her opportunities. She doesn’t see disadvantages in being a woman working in the film industry. Like Stöcklin, she agrees that women often don’t sell themselves well, and she has often observed the difficulties they have making decisions on set as directors. Otherwise she feels there is no active gender discrimination now. Like many younger filmmakers, she is grateful for the hard work of earlier generations of women that has made it easier for her and others. Sabine doesn’t consider herself a feminist in a strict sense (“its not sexy to talk about feminism any more”) (1), but she does subscribe to the idea of cinéma des copines, and supports women in her own work. In her last feature film, the satire Ernstfall in Havanna (2001), 60% of the people on her set team were women.

Film schools are led by market forces, and are now more oriented to the idea of profit, and training is tailored to some degree to feed into the structures of television. Although fresh Swiss film school graduates don’t have many opportunities to get federal funding, there are production companies that have a specific interest in supporting new talent. Switzerland doesn’t have many independent producers, but there are a few, mostly older producers, and the emerging ones are predominantly young men. Ruth Waldburger and Brigitte Hofer are two examples of a small minority of women producers. In a recent issue of Bolero, a prominent Swiss fashion and lifestyle magazine (whose authorial staff are mostly women), the culture section presented a glossy report on four upcoming Swiss women film talents and their working relationships with the production company, Djoint Ventschr. Headed by filmmakers Samir and Werner “Swiss” Schweizer, a glance at Djoint Ventschr’s productions suggests the company is especially keen to support women and auteur/art-house cinema. Central to the production house’s success is its commitment to promoting a cross-culture philosophy (Krenger, 18), which, if we think about the women discussed above, is in keeping with their own personal and professional development.

Twice as many women as men work for Djoint Ventschr, and the majority of fiction projects in development are from women (2). Samir makes an observation similar to those of Stöcklin and Boss: “Women directors seem to have more doubts about themselves than men and this is why they look for intense exchange with others.” (Samir in Krenger, 18) The company employs two established producers, Karin Koch and Susann Rüdlinger, and over the past few years has produced short films that have received international acclaim: Pastry, Pain and Politics (Stina Werenfels, 1998), Summertime (Anna Luif, 2000), and Mamma hat dich lieb (Carla Lia Monti, 2002). Many of these directors choose to work with other women on their productions, so cinéma des copines seems to have established itself not only as a way of making films, but as a confirmed method in innovative production companies like Dschoint Ventschr.

Television plays an increasingly important role for film school graduates, in that they are able to gain practical experience after leaving school to better prepare themselves for working on their own productions. Swiss Television has recently begun to commission films. Before making Ernstfall in Havanna, Sabine Boss made Studers erster Fall, a TV crime drama co-produced by Dschoint Ventschr. Stina Werenfels will direct a TV comedy for Swiss television before starting on her next feature project that will be also be produced by Dschoint Ventschr.

Sabine Boss tells me she is working on a new project. It’s about a friendship between three 30 year-old women, looking at feminist expectations and how their relationships and careers change over time. Considering Boss’s own trajectory, it’s not surprising that the two main characters are Swiss women who move to Germany for a chance at success: one is an actress, the other is a lingerie designer. Boss is also weaving issues of language and identity into her story, themes that increasingly interest her. She believes the future for Swiss filmmaking will not come from films schools, which she thinks might even close. She suggests that it will be groups of young people who will define what happens, taking chances, and developing and producing their own projects. Some recent first films are born out of enthusiasm, like Michael Steiner and Pascal Walder’s organisation of young, ambitious (and unpaid) teams to make their films. Nacht der Gaukler (1997) was self-produced and made on a minuscule budget. So it seems there is also a parallel cinéma des copins for men not connected with the film schools. Maybe this will be the impetus that develops new cinematic approaches to the representation of Swiss identity. It is a national identity that is, in effect, extremely complex and diverse . Living in Switzerland, one realises that there are good reasons why the Swiss, especially the younger generation, are so committed (and at the same time ambivalent) about their own culture.

The Future

A study of federal film support, the most important source of film funding in Switzerland, revealed that between 1981 and 1992, a total of 437 grants were handed out: 82.8% for productions submitted by men, 12.8% for those submitted by women, and 4.8% for mixed projects (Blöchlinger, 29-30). The study also revealed that women with university degrees have a better chance of receiving a grant. In the study period, the majority of films documented were made without federal support, through unpaid work, private financing, unpaid salaries, etc. Cinéma des copines is unfortunately still a dominant form of film production. This may be a reason why the majority of films made by women are short films. The analysts came to the conclusion that federal support statistics with regard to women are related to broad gender discrimination that continues to characterise some parts of Swiss society.

Despite the relatively recent establishment of film schools which provide much-needed employment, many graduates must still work for television or look for work abroad as film editors, directors and production assistants. Yet there are some positive developments on the horizon that should enable a growing number of film school graduates and others to realize their projects. Support for first films is more often possible through increasing television and federal financing. Established filmmakers access funding for Swiss productions, co-produced with other countries, and as already mentioned a possible entry into the European Union will bring further opportunities. The film schools also provide an additional networking source and their collaboration with Swiss television has resulted in broader audience awareness of the films being made.

In spite of positive changes, Swiss cinema continues to experience a long-term crisis. Box office numbers remain critical and funding criteria is increasingly oriented to ‘success’. The number of women directing feature films has remained unchanged over the past 10 years. In the SWISS FILMS catalogue, the percentage of women directing has stagnated at an average of 10-15% since 1990. The ‘Audio-Visual Pact’ between television and federal film production seems to suggest that a constellation will be put in place that is similar to the one practiced by the UK’s Channel Four. Although Film Four is now essentially defunct, the broadcaster provided key support for independent filmmakers, both financially and by broadcasting the films to large television audiences.

In a discussion of what determines ‘quality’ as one of the new criteria for Swiss film funding laws, François Albera (Professor of Film at the University of Lausanne and at the ESAV film school in Lausanne) sees an unsatisfying relationship intensifying between definitions of ‘quality’ and the ‘success that determines funding.

In Switzerland, the federal funding is based on the model of an industrial system that is characterised on the one hand that it is not dependent on public funding. In this way, promotional politics confuse federal intervention (production support, subventions) with the law of profitability. It is therefore unavoidable that the possibility to develop an cinema of auteurs disappears. (Blanc, Dubini and Lehner, 23-25)

A new initiative launched in 2002, Succès Cinéma 2, has issued demands to increase federal support funding from SF4 million to SF20 million. It has proposed a move away from ‘classic’, selective film funding towards one that strikes a balance between successful, popular productions and first films, documentary, arthouse and essay films (Deriaz, 10-11). If successful, this may assuage some of Albera’s concerns.

Gertrud Pinkus, one of the first Swiss women filmmakers, has some wise words:

Be capable of many things. Be diverse. Master technical aspects. Do as much as possible by yourself in order to remain independent. Do not rely on people who always know everything better and are more clever…You have to be able to take the camera out of the cameraman’s hand. In certain situations you have to be able to say: I’ll do that myself. You have to be able to fire your woman editor. Because a film is not a social work. It is subject to very tough pressures of business and competition – as is artistic expression. (Blöchlinger et al, 42)

Whether or not Switzerland decides to join the EU, this remains good advice for women filmmakers in Switzerland, now and in the future.

Works Cited

Blanc, Jean François, Dubini, Fosco and Lehner, Bernhard, Erfolg (CINEMA: 45), Zurich: Chronos, 2000: “Filmschulen in Lausanne, Genf und Zürich” by Bernhard Lehner; “Success Story” by François Albera

Blöchlinger, Brigitte et al. (eds.), Cut: Film- und Videomacherinnen Schweiz. Von den Anfängen bis 1994. Eine Bestandsaufnahme, Basel: Stroemfeld, 1995: “Wege zum Film – Ausbildung, Arbeitsweise, Subventionspraxis” by Connie Betz und Alexandra Schneider; “Erfolg hat viele Gesichter – Léa Pool, Gertrud Pinkus, Greti Kläy im Gespräch” by Ursula Ganz-Blättler; “Frauen, Bilder, Politik – Aufbruch in den siebziger Jahren” by Cecilia Hausheer

Deriaz, Françoise, “Das neue Projekt Succès Cinéma 2” in Cinébulletin, No. 322, August 2002

Krenger, Beat, “Filmreif”, Bolero, August 2002

Schlappner, Martin and Schaub, Martin, Vergangenheit und Gegenwart des Schweizer Films (1896-1987). eine kritische Wertung, Basel: Stroemfeld/Roter Stern, 1987: “Filmemachen ist in der Regel noch Männersache, nicht nur in der Schweiz, aber in der Schweiz besonders”; “Die eigene Angelegenheiten” by Martin Schaub

Stöcklin, Tania, “Die Frau, die Macht, der Film”, unpublished lecture delivered at the International Symposium, 20th Anniversary of The Women Filmmakers’ Union, Berlin, 1999

Endnotes

  1. Interview with Sabine Boss, August 2002
  2. www.dschointventschr.ch

About The Author

Suzanne Buchan was born in Canada and lived in Switzerland for 20 years. She taught film studies at the University of Zurich and was a member of the Swiss Federal Jury for Film awards. She is Director of the Animation Research Centre (ARC) at the Surrey Institute of Art & Design, England and Co-Director of the Swiss Fantoche International Animation Film Festival.