Why are people biased about fiction

Biased: Federal Office of Culture sponsors the wrong films

Knowledge gaps and resistance to advice: The Federal Office of Culture sponsors the wrong films

Art without freedom is unthinkable. A platitude, but an urgent postulate in film. However, the officials have knowledge gaps and are resistant to advice. A guest commentary on the customs of the Federal Office of Culture.

There are two kinds of filmmakers in Switzerland: those who have lost their independence and those who have not yet noticed the loss. Exceptions prove the rule. The federal government, the SRG and the Zürcher Filmstiftung, which have committed to promoting an independent film, are undermining the autonomy.

A film project can hardly be financed without the help of the three institutions. The deeper problem: those responsible maintain a close relationship with their power. They refuse to criticize the funding practice. The filmmakers only express displeasure behind closed doors. The fear of punishment paralyzes.

Two cornucopia administrators are required if a project is not to remain a dream or become a financial nightmare. In this respect, the independent Swiss film is a fiction. It should become a reality. Art without freedom is unthinkable.

Lack of trust

In front of me are 67 reasons that led to a rejection at the Federal Office for Culture (BAK), headed by Isabelle Chassot. Neither debutants nor amateurs were affected, but experts in their field, willing to disclose the reasons for their decisions to me against the guaranteed anonymity.

The refusals destroy the belief - this is the overall impression - of being able to trust the federal government for an advance payment. To speak of a lottery would be too harmless. A lottery follows rules, the BAK does not.

The funding ordinance of the Federal Department of Home Affairs names seven criteria according to which a project is to be examined, weighing the individual aspects against one another, with the goal anchored in the cultural message in mind, to enable continuity for filmmakers.

In the justifications analyzed, four of the seven criteria were taken into account, partly thoroughly and partly briefly: script, project maturity, evaluation plans, budget. The criteria of artistic and technical coherence, variety of offers and experience of the production teams played a secondary role, continuity none at all.

Hair in the ointment

The casual handling of the criteria gives way to rigor in the scripts. They are examined as if they were concepts carved in granite and not just sketches. The passionate search for defects is both an amateur misunderstanding of cinematic production processes and an undeserved doubt about the creative intelligence of filmmakers.

When reading the script, the experts like themselves as occasional writers. You are racking your brains about how a film could be made with a different approach - and better, of course.

Even worse: the difference between the scripts by the experts and those of the filmmakers results in the shortcomings that are brought forward against the projects. This method guarantees disposal instead of conveyance.

Encroachments on freedom

The experts disregard artistic freedom. You decide whether a material is relevant, whether a film can be a legal advocate, how much emotionality it can handle, what could be dangerous for the audience.

These are arbitrarily defined additional criteria. Impact assessments characterize the state film, here controlled by self-appointed guards.

Fundamentalist zeal

Text modules are used for the reasons. The most common are “not completely convincing” and “not completely convincing”. In other words, where the serious work of the expert committees should begin, it ends. Every project would have to be examined intensively until it is certain that it is either convincing or not convincing without relativization.

If the experts' own convictions are the measure of all things, things will get hot. Anyone who judges films for their eligibility for funding would be required to listen impartially to the arguments of the filmmakers and, if necessary, to revise their opinion.

If there is a lack of this spiritual tolerance, one's own conviction freezes into ideology. Evidence of this can be found in the rejections. They reveal that the committees are not attached to the classic genres of feature films, documentaries and animated films, but to the officially configured special genre of expert film.

Language puzzles

Strikingly often the arguments “seem” and “work” are used: something “appears to be questionable”, something “seems half-baked”. That might be the first impression. If so, it would have to be checked whether it is confirmed and justifies a rejection.

Filmmakers who design conventionally or tell episodically run into the knife with the experts. It has to be serious and formally new. For the experts it can never be “dramatized” enough, never exciting or emotional enough.

Perhaps, by the lack of dramatization, the experts mean the dramaturgy, which leaves something to be desired, so they are confusing two terms with different meanings. The official understanding of funding also manifests itself in the language.

Tube view

The experts focus on the story, skimming the design aspects and harshly criticizing them. Regardless of whether a script is written by experienced or inexperienced people. The tube view is the most disastrous way to read a script.

It is torn from the elementary field of reference for a film, namely the interplay of artistic and technical forces who create, redesign, further develop a template and fight for the best solution in dialogue with one another. Success depends on the intensity of this mutual inspiration. It is difficult to make predictions, but there is no professional reason to judge a script by ignoring its specific context.

Harmony instead of control

Errors may creep in in front of the overwhelming mountains of projects. In contrast, there is a built-in safeguard: the experts do not make any decisions, but make applications that the head of the Film Section, Ivo Kummer, has to approve on behalf of the BAK. According to the regulation “as a rule, it should follow the recommendation of the reviewing committees”, but may deviate from it with justified reasons.

A positive or negative recommendation can be turned around if the BAK classifies the expert opinion as poorly founded or disproportionate in comparison with similar projects. The BAK could then reject recommendations and demand sound arguments.

All of the rejected rejections were waved through by the head of the film section. The requirement to argue with the experts only in exceptional cases makes sense. But the refusals before me show that compliance with the committees is strictly sanctified.

Power is deaf

I came across projects that should have been funded if an objective assessment had been made. In a worryingly large number of cases it would have been necessary to stop the experts and replace clichéd findings that interfere with artistic freedom with credible and fair ones. Even if film funding cannot and should not be an exact science, it would have to meet the requirements of good faith.

It is known from experience that concerns raised by the BAK have no effect. At best, they are countered with the claim that everything is in perfect order. Power is deaf.

How film funding has changed

By Fredi M. Murer

In 1984 a 15-page film count was enough to get money from Bern for “Höhenfeuer”. This trust fueled the artistic freedom of the entire team. For the same film today I would have to submit a market-relevant script and a 100-page production dossier including a medical certificate.

As a rule, the most talented applicants are awarded the contract, while the most talented filmmakers (over 65) try their luck as high-end statists on other stages.

According to today's film funding doctrine, the script is the be-all and end-all, as if reading was the end of the line. Nobody would say of the plan of a house that it is the inhabited house. The film teams have always been made up of creative people who conjure up the script on the screen.

Since we have been walking around the world with our mobile phones in front of our eyes, filming has been a human right: I pan, therefore I am. And since little Switzerland has the highest density of filmmakers in the world per capita, the film funding bodies are confronted with a flood of applications that can no longer be dealt with on their own "to the best of their knowledge and belief". Perhaps our film funding bodies would have to ask Swisslos how to deal with the increasing demand.

* Fredi M. Murer is a filmmaker (“Höhenfeuer”, “Vitus”) and illustrator.