Sunday, March 4, 2012

Swiss Animation Revisited

There aren’t too many books about Swiss animation. So whenever someone takes on the task of writing and publishing one, it is worth a look simply for being a rarity. Christian Gasser’s new book “” (in German and English side by side) however goes far beyond that. Gasser attempts nothing less than an appraisal of Swiss animation of the last 20 years, a period that hasn’t been covered in any book so far. His account is not without drawbacks, but overall it’s worth reading and offers a lot of color stills.

Although most mainstream audiences still don’t really notice Swiss animated films, Christian Gasser is rightly pointing out that Swiss animation “is currently in one of its most productive, ambitious and successful historical periods. Never before have so many films been made and never before have these films enjoyed such international success.” 

The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts has been one of the key factors in this development and the initiator of Gassers extensive baseline study. Since the Lucerne University decidedly educates authors and directors “who are able to develop and design their own characters” and not classically trained animators, the book focuses mainly on three active generations of film makers. Some of the interviews are compressed into short portraits, some are printed in full length and framed by three insightful essays.

Among the usual suspects such as Georges Schwizgebel and Ted Sieger a maverick like Yves Netzhammer pops up. His reflections about subjective perception and political art turn out to be the most interesting pages. Netzhammer examines his own work (which mostly consists of art installations) in a broader context than most other interviewees.

Circuit Marine (2003) by Isabelle Favez
“” doubtlessly portrays a many-voiced and vital Swiss animation scene, mentions diverging production models and current debates. However, its concept does not seem to include any critical classification and emphasis (apart from selecting 20 film makers as representatives of the scene). Occasionally one gets the impression that creator driven short films are automatically of high quality and that festival prizes are the benchmark.

Since the reader is required to relate the interviews to one another all by himself, deeper insight is only accessible to those who read the whole book. When Ted Sieger – one of the Lucerne school’s self-taught professors – wonders whether his potential would be detected within the current animation schooling, an indirect answer is found in an essay by the director of studies: he mentions a student who didn’t turn in any drawings when applying but was accepted on the basis of his abilities to entertain and his convincingly demonstrated passion for all things animation. He has turned out to be one of the more successful short film makers.

Laterarius (2010) by Marina Rosset
It would have been interesting to have an external view on what formal and narrative characteristics were developed by the Lucerne University and how the bulk of student films among the total Swiss output affects the choice and depth of subjects.

Although short film making is still an unprofitable business around here, some at-a-glance portraits of graduates and autodidacts who cut their own path off the beaten track of doing their own short films raise hopes of being able to make a living in the animation field. Christian Gasser’s final essay on applied animation also fathoms where these paths could lead to eventually.

Even if “” tends to bow to the portrayed film makers a little too low, this fluidly written tome is an important addition to the slim Swiss film history output and can be ordered here or here on Amazon.

ASIFA Switzerland can be found here.