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Film Festival Locarno© Swiss Image / Heinz Schwab

Switzerland does not have a large film industry, and, like other small European countries, is heavily dependent on state support. Film support has the potential to make a decisive contribution to the cultural identity of the country. However, the subsidies are not high enough to maintain an industry that produces films in French, German and Italian, and output has lagged behind that of other European countries.

Swiss films are not well known around the world, except perhaps to a handful of movie buffs. Of course, there is the question of defining what makes a film Swiss - is a Hollywood film by a Swiss director as "Swiss" as a film set in Switzerland, using Swiss actors and focussing on life in Switzerland?

In the 1970s, mainly French-speaking Swiss directors such as Alain Tanner and Jean-Luc Godard helped to put Swiss films on the cinematographic map. Godard, born to a Swiss family in Paris, spent his early years in Switzerland but later returned to France and was very much influenced by the French cinematic tradition. Swiss film-makers such as Rolf Lyssy, Daniel Schmid, Fredy Murer and Yves Yersin, on the other hand, have taken Swiss life as the basis for their films.

The most succesful Swiss film is Lyssy's Die Schweizermacher (The Swissmakers), made in 1978, a satirical comedy that deals with the difficulties facing foreigners who want to become Swiss citizens. Schmid's Beresina, or the Last Days of Switzerland, which appeared in 1999, is a comedy which also did fairly well outside Switzerland. One of Murer's best-known films is Höhenfeuer (Alpine Heights), about incest in a remote Alpine setting. And Yersin's Les Petites Fugues (The Wild Oats), made in 1979, was voted best Swiss film of all times by a panel put together by the national SonntagsZeitung newspaper in 2001. The film tells the story of a farm hand who buys himself a motorcycle and embarks upon a discovery of the world and himself.

Journey of Hope, directed by Xavier Koller, won the Oscar for the best foreign language film in 1991. The film tells the tale of three members of a Kurdish family in search of a better life in Switzerland.

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