Solothurn is yet another well kept Swiss secret and the location of a film festival over half a century old. This baroque town with a stunning location on the river Aare, decided in 1966 to start a festival that would focus on Swiss films, feature films, documentaries and short film productions.
In addition, it now runs a seminar for school teachers, talks, panel discussions and indeed interaction with film Directors and actors before and after the screenings. It is no surprise then that this festival attracts around 60,000 visitors every year, including locals from the city and region who have developed a love for cinema over time and over generations. Teddy Amstad, an art teacher at the Kantonsschule Obwalden, came especially from Kerns to take part in an educational seminar and will return to introduce filmmaking to his young students.
The 51st Solothurn Film Festival, 21-28 January 2016, just concluded and the winners were ….
First, here is a bit about the broad spectrum of films shown. As explained by Seraina Rohrer, the Director of the festival for the last five years, the aim is to cultivate, encourage and screen films in a “culture of national languages” so that cinema “becomes a part of the daily life of people in Switzerland so they see it as a mirror to look into, to face truth and reality.” With a Ph.D. in Latin American cinema from the University of California in Los Angeles and as a former Press Director of the Locarno festival, Seraina outdid herself in the selection of the eclectic films for this year’s festival. But like Swiss wine, Swiss films do not travel much – and have to be seen locally, very locally, sometimes in a local movie house or TV channel. Just like Swiss wine. How often do we see a Pinot Noir from Neuchâtel or a Merlot from Ticino in Geneva, let alone abroad? A pity.
“Heimatland”, made by 10 Directors is a reverse take on a refugee situation, whereby the Swiss are forced to evacuate their country because of an environmental crisis and need to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, with unexpected results.
The documentary “Dirty Gold War” directed by Daniel Schweizer takes a behind the scenes look at glistening gold in Swiss watches and jewelry and reveals the reality of production in South American Indian territories and activism against the illegal cartels.
Data privacy fears
“Democracy – Im Rausch der Daten”, a documentary directed by David Bernet walks us through the laborious, but essential, process of achieving consensus in the corridors and meeting rooms of the European Commission – in this case, as regards mass surveillance in the digital world and the need to protect personal data.
A hard look at families
On life within families, a sensitive, but hard look is taken at realities in “Nichts Passiert” by Micha Lewinsky and “Sag Mir Nichts” by Andreas Kleinert – dealing with all too familiar issues, respectively, teenage years and attraction to the opposite sex within a marriage. Both films with unforgettable closing images, no words spoken. A family saga set between 1917 and 1933, “Le Temps d’Anna”, directed by Greg Zglinski, describes the early years and challenges of the Swiss watch industry, but also the progress of Swiss psychiatric analysis and care.
Fabian Kimoto directed “Swing it Kids”, an uplifting documentary on his father a Japanese-Swiss jazz musician, who teaches kids from as young as 9 to 18 years old, to love swing and the instruments they play – then takes them on tour to Swiss locales, to the US and to Japan. Each concert a resounding success.
A behind the scenes look in Mummenschanz Movie directed by Ueli Mamin is full of charm, humour, good design – and no words. “Across countries and regions, the reaction is the same”, says the Director. Pure pleasure and amusement! They wanted to take it to a remote society to test the reaction, but expected the same results. “The Five Minute Museum” a six minute short by Paul Bush, runs through coins, clocks, china, furniture, watches, guns and much more in a brilliant display of creativity and fun!
Gut wrenching were “Köpek” a feature film by the Turkish-Swiss Director Esen Isik, shot on location in her familiar terrain of Istanbul, and the 15 minute Lebanese short “Al Surat Al Mustaquim – Le Chemin des élus”, directed by Auby El Hout and Fouad Alaywan. Courageous Fouad intends to keep pursuing and directing films on complex issues – the next one under his belt on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Indian Swiss film connection
At Dharmshala, India and its international film festival, the co-Directors Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin comb the world to bring innovative films to this mountain town. “Wild Women, Gentle Beasts” a documentary by Swiss video artist and filmmaker, Anka Schmid, was shown at DIFF late last year and now at Solothurn. So for those who missed it in India could now see it in Switzerland! An extraordinary film, Anka travelled through four countries with circus troops having women as lion tamers in Germany, France and Egypt and bear tamers in Russia. The experiences and desires of these women from disparate backgrounds are eerily similar and form a “common cultural context” in the words of Anka. As a woman film maker, Anka considers it important to show the various realities of women, including those in professions normally the domain of men. Apart from technical perfection, the women tamers of wild beasts need to constantly perfect their bodies and looks. As stated by the Muslim father of Anosa, the Egyptian lion tamer, “it’s a movie about dedication, to a profession…”
The awards and who won in 2016
And now to the awards. The “Prix de Soleure”, the main award of the festival, went to “Das Leben drehen – Wie mein Vater versuchte, das Glück festzuhalten”, a documentary by Eva Vitija who has grown up with her father constantly and intrusively filming her since she was a child with a large professional camera – the days before google glass… And subsequent revelations. An astonishingly frank and transparent film, well deserving of the award.
The “Prix du Public” was awarded to “Lina”, directed by Michael Schaerer, and based on true events whereby a woman who gave birth to a son while in prison sees him for the first time when he is aged 40. Many of the festival films will be shown shortly throughout Switzerland, either in cinemas or on television. For more information.
Don’t miss out on 2017
The next, 52nd, Soloturn Film Festival will take place from 19-26 January 2017. Practical tip: book a place to stay as soon as possible. And brush up on your French and German!
Finally, let’s just roll back to 1881 for a moment. A story grounded in the Swiss alps which has spellbound children around the world and has had movies made about it since 1937, the first being a Hollywood production with Shirley Temple.
Now the latest Swiss production, shot in 2015 on location and already sold to 50 countries.
As children we read or saw this as a wonderful story of grandfather, goats, love and friendship in the stunning mountain setting of Switzerland. As an adult, there’s another perspective – the power and health benefits of the Swiss Alps in curing afflictions of childhood trauma. If ever Brand Swiss needs further branding, nothing can do it better than Johanna Spyri’s quintessentially Swiss, Heidi!
By Renu Chahil-Graf
Renu is a Geneva-based writer and former international United Nations civil servant.