The Swiss Film Weeks

by Thomas Kadelbach

Thomas Kadelbach, né en 1979. Après des études d'histoire et littérature française à Angers, Fribourg et Madrid, il collabore au projet de recherche FNS Les relations culturelles internationales de la Suisse, 1945-1990. Thèse de doctorat sur Pro Helvetia et l'image de la Suisse à l'étranger. Actuellement collaborateur scientifique à l'Université de Neuchâtel.
, Thomas Kadelbach, born in 1979. Studied history and French literature in Angers, Fribourg and Madrid. Research assistant in the SNSF research project Switzerland's International Cultural Relations, 1945-1990. PhD thesis on Pro Helvetia and the image of Switzerland abroad. Currently scientific collaborator at the University of Neuchâtel.

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During the second half of the twentieth century, none of Pro Helvetia’s projects reached a wider audience than the Swiss Film Weeks. Some time before this kind of event became one of the most important elements in promoting Swiss culture abroad, the first Swiss Film Week was staged in Paris in 1969. Until the late 1980s, film weeks were organised in over three hundred cities on all continents. Along with the general expansion of its cultural outreach to non-Western cultures, Pro Helvetia was able to promote Swiss culture in countries such as Angola, Mozambique, and Indonesia.

The film weeks were initiated in the 1960s and 1970s at the same time when protagonists of the New Swiss Cinema turned its back on the more traditional and patriotic movies of the 1940s and 1950s.

As early as in 1964, Henry Brandt’s short films, produced for the National exhibition in Lausanne, addressed numerous topics, which then became decisive elements for the new era in Swiss filmmaking, such as unease in times of economic boom, immigration, consumer society, ecological problems and Switzerland’s international isolation. The most notable filmmakers of the New Swiss Cinema in the French speaking part of Switzerland were Henry Brandt, Michel Soutter, Alain Tanner, Claude Goretta and Yves Yersin, whose works shared the intent to encourage critical analysis of the here and now.

The international success of the New Swiss Cinema prompted Pro Helvetia to attach more importance to this genre as a means of promoting Switzerland’s cultural influence. So far, the Foundation had limited its activities to the export of documentaries, which in some cases were no more than didactic narratives about Swiss culture.

Soon Pro Helvetia and the Swiss Filmmakers’ Association began a close collaboration, and worked as partners in organising the Swiss Film Weeks. Still harshly criticised in Switzerland for its subversive tendencies, abroad the new Swiss films became a powerful tool for the “demythologisation” of the Swiss Sonderfall. Films shown during Swiss Film Weeks included Siamo Italiani by Alexander Seiler, depicting the precarious lives of migrant workers from Italy, and Die Erschiessung des Landesverräters Ernst S. by Richard Dindo, both films in stark contrast to the image of Switzerland usually propagated abroad.

It is not surprising that the Swiss Film Weeks often met with harsh criticism from Swiss embassies and the Swiss abroad. In 1972, the Consul General in Montreal did not hesitate to scrap all films from the programme of the Swiss Film Weeks, which in his eyes were undermining Switzerland’s reputation.

In 2008, Pro Helvetia handed its film service over to Swiss Films, the producers’ public relations service. In 2012, Swiss Films was subordinated to the Federal Office for Culture and the Swiss Film Weeks were abandoned as an instrument for promoting Swiss Cinema abroad. (tk)

AFS E2003(A) 1980/85, Vol. 385

Buache, Freddy : Le cinéma suisse, Lausanne, L‘Age d’Homme 1974
Schaub, Martin : L’usage de la liberté : le nouveau cinéma suisse 1964-1984, L’Age d’Homme, Lausanne 1985 


"Siamo Italiani", 1964

1964 Alexander Seiler shoots Siamo Italiani, a movie dedicated to the precarious living conditions of Italian labourers in Switzerland. It is the first in a long row of documentaries questioning migration and xenophobia. Its screening in 1972 on the occasion of an exhibition in Montreal incurs the wrath of the Swiss Consul. He deletes the documentary from the Film Weeks‘ programme and accuses Pro Helvetia of sabotaging Switzerland’s image abroad.

Poster of Siamo Italiani, 1964

Swiss National Library, poster collection

"Les arpenteurs", 1972

Les arpenteurs (The Land Surveyors) is one of the most important films of Michel Soutter, one of the pioneering directors of recent Swiss cinema. The movie brings the actors Jean-Kuc Bideau‘s and Jacques Denis‘ talent to light.

Pro Helvetia poster, advertising the Swiss Film Weeks 1986

Swiss National Library, poster collection

Daniel Schmid

Daniel Schmid from the Canton of Graubünden produces a  considerable number of internationally successful films. Pro Helvetia includes them in a lot of Swiss Film Weeks abroad. 1983 the foundation organises a retrospective of Daniel Schmid’s work in several Japanese cities.

Pro Helvetia poster, 1984

Swiss National Library, poster collection

"Les petites fugues", 1979

1979, Yves Yersin shoots his motion picture Les petits fugues. The film tells the story of the elderly farmhand Pipe's adventures. He sets out to discover the world around the farm where he lives on his moped. Throughout the 1980s, the movie is screened in many of the Swiss Film Weeks organised by Pro Helvetia abroad.

© Film & Vidéo Productions, Lausanne

"Les petites fugues", 1979

Yves Yersin during the shooting of Les petits fugues. The director, born in Lausanne 1942, plays an important role in the renewal of Swiss cinema in the 1970s.

© Film & Vidéo Productions, Lausanne

"Les petites fugues", 1979

The Matterhorn stands as a symbol for new beginnings, the quest for discovery and forays into a world beyond confinement in the film Les petites fugues.


"Les petites fugues", 1979

Pro Helvetia poster, advertising the film for distribution abroad, 1984

Swiss National Library, poster collection

"New Swiss Cinema"

Poster for the Swiss Film Weeks in Washington, 1983

Swiss National Library, poster collection


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