In 1972, the Swiss ambassador in New Delhi sent a letter to the Political Department, highlighting the fundamental problem of Swiss information policy in India. How to reach 500 million people, populating an area of more than 3,287,263 square kilometres in a country eighty times the size of the Confederation? According to the diplomat, the only realistic way to raise awareness of Switzerland in India was to use film, a medium apt to reach a wide audience at comparatively little expense.
However, in the early 1970s, the New Delhi Embassy only had twelve colour films (most of which were in poor condition) and two in black and white, made in the 1950s. Therefore, the image of Switzerland as shown by the embassy via film was limited to folklore and tourism, hardly corresponding with the reality of an industrialised country.
The situation in India was characteristic of Switzerland’s information policy concerning film documentaries. Financially underequipped and hampered by communications problems between various actors in this field, this line of Swiss information policy developed only very slowly throughout the 20th century.
During the 1940s and 1950s, Swiss film documentaries were almost exclusively produced by the National Tourist Board and the Swiss Office for the Development of Trade, reducing Switzerland’s image abroad to the usual clichés of beautiful scenery and industrial advancement. In 1950, the Swiss consulate decided to show the documentary Swiss Alpine Flowers at the opening of an exhibition of Swiss books, in St. Louis, USA. During the same period, China’s Swiss Minister used promotional tourist films such as A Nation of Skiers and Switzerland and A Source of Health, to spruce up lectures he gave at schools.
During the 1950s, Pro Helvetia commissioned several informational films, documenting cultural life in Switzerland. These productions were mainly designed to publicise characteristic elements of Swiss culture, such as Ferdinand Hodler’s paintings and Swiss architecture.
In 1963 when film promotion was subordinated to Federal jurisdiction, there was a sharp decline in Pro Helvetia’s activities in this field. Nevertheless, the Foundation kept producing documentaries on cultural life in Switzerland in collaboration with the Swiss Broadcasting Company SRG, such as e.g. portraits of artists. At the same time, Pro Helvetia played an important role in the distribution of Swiss documentaries abroad, making them available to embassies around the world. From 2007 onwards, the Swiss Films Foundation took over as the provider of all types of productions for Pro Helvetia, Swiss embassies, and film festivals
In the 21st century, documentaries and commercial films remain essential media for official information policy and are used by all institutional actors. Presence Switzerland, part of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, provides schools and universities with DVDs illustrating achievements considered typically Swiss, such as multilingualism and direct democracy. (tk)
AFS E2003(A) 1980/85, Vol. 385
AFS E2003(A) 1990/3, Vol. 486