Casimir Sivan's camera
Switzerland has been a country characterized for its neutrality in the two biggest changing events in Europe during the 20th century, the two world wars. That uniqueness has made Swiss cinema finds its own aesthesis and way amongst the power of neighbor countries like Italy or Germany, where film productions have been important to change and move masses and it society.
The cinema as an entertainment
But when did all begin? Not too long after the invention of the Cinématographe by the Lumiere brothers in France, the first screenings in Switzerland were held in Geneva in 1986 by Maurice Andreossi. That same year Casimir Sivan from Geneva built a camera and a 38 mm projector of his own design which he used for shooting and show films to friends.
The first productions
In those early years all films screened in Switzwerland were productions made abroad, often, being documentaries by the Lumière brothers. But in 1901 Zurcher Sechselauten-Umzagwas became the film production in the country and in 1917 the first feature film was produced by Edward Bienz under the title of Der Bergfuhrer.
However, during those early years, entrepreneurs like Felix Mesguich also joined the filming trend during traditional wine growers’ festivals.
During the 20s and the World War II Swiss cinema saw a steady growth, however, not compared to the development in another countries. Those decades had highlights such as the production of the first spoken film: Robert Wohlmut’s Bunzli Grossstadtabenteur in 1930. That steady increase paved the way for foreign distribution companies such as FOX to open offices in Geneva as the demand was higher for alien films.
World War II plunged Switzerland into isolation which turned to be a time of creative development. During that period over 40 feature films were produced in Switzerland, with subject matter that was geared at promoting national political and cultural awareness. Films such as Fusilier Wipf (1939), Gilberte de Courgenay (1941) and Die Missbrauchten Liebesbriefe (1940) received international recognition and became classics of Swiss film history.
Gilberte de Courgenay
Director Xavier Koller
The international recognition.
The next three decades remained almost the same for the amount of films produced in the country, but the plots changed. Those years between the 50s and 60s were led by stories about patriotic ideals and nineteenth-century farming life. Also by late 60s and during the 70s, a new trend of producing documentaries took over the directors minds and filmmakers such as Henry Brandt, Walter Marti, Alain Tanner and Jean-Luc Godard, were among the most important, the latter two taking Swiss cinema to the international arena.
Precisely the late 70s were marked by the production of the most successful Swiss film: Rold Lyssy’s The Swissmakers (1978), a satirical comedy dealing with the difficulties facing foreigners who want to become Swiss citizens.
From the 80s until present time the cinema industry has been a rollercoaster for filmmakers and producers, with plunging and flourishing periods galore. Nonetheless, it is during this period when the Swiss film earned its most important accolade, an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film with Journey of Hope (1991), directed by Xavier Koller.