Swiss biz has its day at Locarno


LOCARNO, Switzerland -- The Locarno Film Festival turned its eyes to its home country Tuesday with the second annual Swiss Cinema Day, an event designed to give a boost to local films.

Now in its 60th year, the Locarno event has an international reputation, which makes it easy to forget that it is also Switzerland's only important film festival, thriving largely because of public and private sponsorship from within the country.

"The Locarno Film Festival is very important to Swiss films because of the international visibility it offers," Francine Brucher, head of international promotion for the Swiss Films agency, said in an interview. "There are always Swiss films in the different competitions, and this is a natural gathering place for the industry."

This year's 19-film main competition includes one Swiss film -- "Outside the Ropes," an Italian-language drama about the struggles of a boxer who turns to the sport's underworld. Made by up-and-coming director Fulvio Bernasconi, a native of nearby Lugano, the well-received film had its third and final screening here Tuesday.

"I knew about Locarno even before I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker," said Bernasconi, who was presented with the 40,000 Swiss franc ($33,500) Ticino prize, a local award that will help finance his forthcoming comedy about a flood so severe it turns the Swiss Alps into islands. "Everyone has heard of festivals like Cannes and Venice, but for the Swiss, Locarno holds a special place as well."

Other Swiss films screening Tuesday included Thomas Imbach's romance "I Was a Swiss Banker" and the world premiere of the Martin Witz documentary "Dutti der Riese," about the life of polarizing Zurich grocery store tycoon and humanist Gottlieb Duttweiler.

The evening's program in the Piazza Grande opened with "La eta Knabino," a Swiss-made short with dialogue in Esperanto. The day's other activities included acting and animation workshops and the presentation of a definitive new book on Swiss films: "The History of Swiss Cinema 1966-2000."

But the main benefit of Swiss Cinema Day, said Bernasconi, is that it might help the little-known Swiss film industry enjoy a brief period in the spotlight at an important festival.

"Swiss people are very modest," he said. "And that is not a good thing in a business that requires a degree of self-promotion. A day like Swiss Cinema Day at a festival like this maybe convinces us to show off a little bit."