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“The discussion is always about market share and box-office figures”

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Dominik Tschütscher • Curator, Diagonale Film Meeting

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- Dominik Tschütscher, organiser of an industry event at the Diagonale, talks to Cineuropa about the commercial and political need for Austrian cinema to connect more with national audiences

Dominik Tschütscher  • Curator, Diagonale Film Meeting
(© Natascha Unkart)

Dominik Tschütscher was the natural choice to organise Film Meeting, a two-day industry event held at this year’s Diagonale Festival of Austrian Film focused on the practicalities of making Austrian films connect with Austrian audiences. As the founder of CinemaNext – a talent-development scheme initiated in 2011 to assist young Austrian filmmakers – the Vienna-based curator is as well positioned as anyone when it comes to observing the shifting needs and prospects of the national film industry, including its filmmakers, funders and audiences. 

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Cineuropa: Why does Austrian cinema need to become more popular?
Dominik Tschütscher:
That was a question that [Diagonale co-directors] Sebastian Höglinger and Peter Schernhuber asked themselves during the course of the last year, in discussions with people from the industry. It became obvious that the missing link for Austrian films and a national audience is that it’s not as popular as people wish it to be. The discussions around this lead to numerical comparisons, and those numbers are highly frustrating for the industry. The audience probably doesn’t care about numbers, but the industry does. This is when it becomes a problem: maybe political leaders look at those numbers, and maybe there is a regime change towards a more right-wing form of politics. When they look at the cultural sector and decide how to distribute their money, the film sector would not have a good argument.

What are the key challenges currently facing Austrian cinema in terms of increasing its commercial or popular appeal with national audiences?
The discussion is not a new one. Everyone knows the arguments and their positions. What we tried to do across the two days of the Film Meeting was to put every argument on the table, and hopefully from there, we can try to take some steps – steps that some people in the industry might consider as painful for themselves.

Such as?
Big producers or production companies want fewer movies in theatres nationally. They say it doesn’t make sense when we produce 50 or 60 Austrian films per year: “No wonder there is no audience for that,” they say. So they want a lower number of films, like 30. Ten of these should be highly marketable films – but of course, those same companies want to produce those ten films. The diversity of the national film culture does not lie within these marketable films; it lies in films that are highly acclaimed internationally at film festivals: those by Daniel Hoesl, Michael Glawogger - though Glawogger made commercial films, too – Ulrich Seidl and Michael Haneke. These don’t really rack up good numbers in Austria either.

My personal view is that this diversity must include commercial films. I don’t want to say conventional, but they must be commercially orientated; I don’t want them to be made without effort or spirit. On the other hand, we need those arthouse films that cannot or should not be judged with box-office numbers. But right now, the discussion is always about market share and box-office figures. And we have to be careful that the discussion does not lead to one or the other direction. We need to have a positive attitude towards marketable films. We need them because Austrian cinema needs to be funded and needs to connect with an audience, but we also cannot, and must not, neglect the diversity and experimentation that, for me personally, is the basis of success. I have the feeling right now that it’s a very thin line. We have to be careful and try to lead the discussion in a healthy direction.

To what extent do European co-productions become a factor here?
If you ask sales companies or public production companies, it’s an interesting scheme for them because this is where they can reach audiences or get funding more easily. But if you ask around what Austrian cinemagoers are interested in, they don’t care about co-productions. They want to see Austrian actors speaking a dialect with a regional topic. It can be morbid, it can be strange, or even humorous, but with co-productions, you open the door to telling it in a different way, and maybe the story doesn’t connect any more with local or national audiences.

So it’s a question of authenticity?
Yes. A few weeks ago, we went with a group of Austrian filmmakers to some cinemas and asked the moviegoers there how they see Austrian cinema, and what they are interested in. Almost everyone there said, “It needs to have a connection with us. It can be slow, but if I’m to be interested in it, it needs to have this authenticity.” Where co-productions do work is with children’s films. Children don’t care whether people speak in Austrian German – they must understand the language and it must have a good story.

How important are young filmmakers to this discussion?
The director of the Austrian Film Institute, Roland Teichmann, mentioned in a discussion more than two years ago that there was a lack of systematised support for young Austrian filmmakers.I think young filmmakers are tired of the old structures, but the funding system in Austria tends to re-establish those old structures. It’s very difficult to break it up. I think we need an urgent opening of some doors so that Austrian cinema really can have a future. I don’t think Austrian cinema can have a future with the films that are only aiming towards a big market. And if the industry is not offering programmes especially for young filmmakers that give them better means to express their visions – they don’t have to be popular – Austrian cinema will fall two or three steps behind other [national] film industries in Europe.

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