New life for old movies
Nowadays, films are not only watched in cinemas, but increasingly also at home on video-on-demand platforms. However, up to now Swiss film classics have rarely been available there. This will change thanks to the filmo project, which is made possible by Engagement Migros. In June, an online edition of many Swiss films will be launched for the first time, making them accessible to a younger audience. But until these classics can be shown on Teleclub or iTunes, they have to be digitised. A process that can take up to one year per film.
Anyone who wants to watch a film at home will also be able to buy or rent Swiss film classics starting on 6 June. As of that date, the first ten Swiss film treasures from a growing edition will be prominently displayed on the video-on-demand platforms Teleclub, iTunes, cinefile, leKino, UPC and Sky. These include films such as “Das Boot ist voll” by Markus Imhoof and the Swiss refugee drama “Die letzte Chance” from 1945. Thanks to the filmo project, some are available for the first time in a new HD streaming quality. But these classics have overcome numerous hurdles, coming a long way from resting like Sleeping Beauty in film archives to their appearance on streaming platforms.
Elaborate preparatory work
The selection of films alone is not easy for filmo. Independent curators – including film editors, scholars, historians and festival directors – individually select each of their ten favourite Swiss film classics. They are defined as films more than ten years old that have cultural, historical or formally aesthetic significance to Switzerland’s film heritage. For each film, the experts write a brief justification as to why it should be shown to the general public. This reasoning will also be available on the filmo.ch website. In this way, the viewer can understand why a film is worth discovering and why it is important to Swiss film history.
Start with ten Swiss movie classics
filmo is an initiative of the CH.Film association, realised by the Solothurn Film Festival and made possible by Engagement Migros, the Migros Group’s development fund. filmo is launching the first online edition of Swiss films, giving key works from Switzerland’s film heritage more digital visibility. On 6 June, Swiss film classics will appear for the first time on the video-on-demand platforms Teleclub On Demand (Swisscom TV), iTunes, Apple TV, cinefile, leKino, UPC and Sky. The films will be highlighted when they are released, and can be rented or purchased. In the long term, a curated library of Swiss films will be created on these platforms.
Every year new experts are asked to select ten classics from Swiss film history for inclusion in the online edition. In the meantime, a list with a total of 80 films has been created, which are continuously processed and added to planning by project management. Some of the films mentioned have already been digitised and published, but others have disappeared off the grid. The latter must first be completely digitised before they can even be made accessible to viewers. However, before even a single minute can be digitised, the original recordings must first be found. “On average, I research one month per film for this,” says Florian Leupin, project manager at filmo. This includes locating the films in the Cinémathèque suisse archive in Lausanne or from private individuals. Once Leupin has found the film, the filmmakers or rights holders must give their consent to the digitisation. “Most people are happy that someone is finally taking this on,” says Leupin. After all, it is not uncommon for older films to be saved from decay through digitisation.
“We take a close look at each of the 135,000 frames.”
“Storing celluloid film rolls for many years can cause problems like mould,” says film restorer Nicole T. Allemann of cinegrell, the company responsible for preparing the classics. However, the fungus can be killed with a special agent, which stops further growth. Also the brittle residue of adhesive tape used to glue the film rolls together often have to be removed, or scratches on the film itself have to be repaired. “A film can consist of up to 135,000 frames. We take a close look at every single image,” says Allemann.
Thanks to modern software, it’s possible to get a lot out of the old films digitally, but you have to be careful not to do too much. “We must adhere strictly to ethical restoration rules. This means that we try to stay as close to the original as possible,” says Allemann. For example, if a scene is out of focus, it will not be sharpened, even if this is technically possible. “Except if the filmmaker explicitly wants this,” adds Leupin. Some would have liked to shoot scenes differently, but were technically limited. “Now they’re happy they can fix that,” says Leupin. In addition to the picture, the sound must also be brought up to date. For example, mono tracks become stereo tracks. In addition, each film is supplemented with subtitles, because filmo also offers all films subtitled in German, French and Italian.
To ensure that the films are shown to their best advantage on the video-on-demand platforms, a short trailer is produced separately for each film. “Some films didn’t have a trailer at all back then, or one that was five to six minutes long, which is far too long for today,” says Leupin. In order to meet the viewing habits of today’s audience, the project makes a point of working together with young Swiss filmmakers for the trailers.
Goodwill from the industry
The selection, the research, the digitisation, the creation of the trailers – all of this is complex work. The process can take up to a whole year, from the selection of the film to its publication on the streaming platform, where the films can either be rented or purchased. filmo receives only a tiny portion of the income. “It’s more of a symbolic amount,” says Leupin. “It is important to us that a large part of the revenues flow back to the film rights owners or filmmakers.” At the beginning of the project, some in the Swiss film scene were afraid that the films would be made available free of charge on the platforms. “That’s why we had to offer a few more details. Now the project is meeting with goodwill,” says Leupin.
Despite the revenues, there should be no illusions that filmo will ever cover its costs. The restoration and digitisation of the films is far too expensive. Therefore, the project is dependent on financial support from Engagement Migros. “We think it is important that Switzerland’s cultural film heritage be preserved,” says Britta Friedrich, project manager of Engagement Migros, explaining its support. Even though some of the films are decades old, they are often still topical and have value. “But preparation and preservation are not an end in themselves: our primary concern is to ensure that the films can be seen again,” says Friedrich. And for that, they need to get back on the radar. The project also aims to stimulate demand, especially among a younger audience, and to bring Swiss film out of its niche existence. Leupin adds: “Our main focus is on reviving the films, i.e. bringing them to the general public – digitisation is only a means to an end.”
“Each selected classic conveys a message that is timeless.”
Friedrich is well aware that wanting to see these films is not inherent in everyone. “That is why short texts by experts on each film are essential. They help younger viewers open themselves up to the films,” says Friedrich. Leupin also believes that older Swiss films in particular have lost none of their topicality. “Each selected classic conveys a message that is timeless. It would be a pity if it were lost and not made available to today’s generation.”