[Originally published in Movietone News 51, August 1976]
Alain Tanner, now 45, served a long apprenticeship before he was able to make his first feature film six years ago. Before he could become a Swiss filmmaker it was necessary to invent Swiss film. There had been some activity in the German-speaking part of the country during and just after the war. Exiles had provided Zurich with a modest film industry (and even a studio), and during the war years about ten to fifteen features per year were produced in Swiss-German dialect. Since the borders had been closed to imports, these films were extremely popular. But when the war ended, the exiles departed and the Zurich filmmakers retrenched, concentrating on documentaries and industrial films.
Meanwhile, in Romand Switzerland (the French-speaking Swiss comprise approximately one-sixth of Switzerland’s six million population) there had never been any native film culture to speak of while Tanner was growing up. “Switzerland exists much more for the German Swiss than for us,” Tanner explains. “They have a real identity while we don’t. There are some differences between the French and us, but we are much more of a French province than the German Swiss are a German province.” So, after having studied literature at the University of Geneva following the war, Tanner left the country, working first on cargo ships around the world, then doing a little journalism, waiting for “something to happen.” In the middle Fifties he settled in London (choosing that city, even though he knew nothing about England, because in Paris it was so difficult to get work). He met people like Lindsay Anderson and Karel Reisz who were just starting the Free Cinema movement; “we got to be quite good friends,” Tanner says, “and they managed to get us work with the Film Institute.” In 1957 he and fellow Swiss exile Claude Goretta (the two of them had known each other since university days and had, in fact, founded one of the first film societies in Switzerland then) made their first film, a short, Nice Time—a study of Piccadilly Circus at night.