Nicola Ruffo • Director, Swiss Films
“My aim is to incorporate a greater sense of playfulness in spite of the challenges we may face”
- We had a chance to talk to the charismatic new director of Swiss Films, an experienced interdisciplinary networker active in the fields of film, digital media and innovation
Forty-one-year-old Swiss national Nicola Ruffo studied Media and Film Studies as well as International Relations at the University of Zurich and the Free University of Berlin. After working for Swiss public broadcaster SRF as a journalist and innovation expert, Ruffo most recently worked as head of public programmes at Swissnex, the Swiss global network connecting Switzerland and the rest of the world in the domains of science, education and innovation, in San Francisco. He will take up his new post as director of Swiss Films, the promotional agency for Swiss filmmaking, on 1 July.
Cineuropa: What drove you to accept the challenge of heading up Swiss Films?
Nicola Ruffo: I have been working with the Swiss government in California for the past few years, strengthening the exchange of knowledge, ideas and expertise between creatives, researchers, policy makers, start-ups and companies across the world, particularly between Switzerland and Silicon Valley. My favourite thing about these projects was building connections among professionals from different industries. Working for my home country in the USA has sharpened my point of view on the potential of such a small country, which has brought forth many new talents in the creative industries. Switzerland’s size makes international collaboration vital to its success – particularly in the film industry, as Switzerland has a multilingual market with four different languages spoken.
I have always been drawn to audiovisual storytelling, which drives my professional career. I worked as a film critic and programmer for film festivals in Germany and Switzerland while studying Media and Film Studies. After graduating, I worked at SRF for 15 years, where I became increasingly involved with format development and led digital innovation projects that contributed to the company's digital transformation.
We are living in times where more audiovisual works are being produced than ever, but I believe that new approaches are needed in the film world when it comes to connecting movies with audiences, and it’s crucial to form alliances across different scenes as cinema undergoes a digital shift. As the director of Swiss Films, I am interested in creating an environment which will enable the Swiss film industry to adapt to such fundamental changes.
How will your experience in the United States influence you as the director of Swiss Films?
I went to Silicon Valley to get a feel for the place where so many technological tools are developed that we use every day. It doesn't matter if you're on your mobile phone or laptop, or watching Netflix. As a society, we know both the positive and the negative impacts of these social developments not only on the movie industry, but also on our daily lives. I believe it is important to approach this new role with an awareness of the bigger picture, regardless of everyone’s views on these changes. Professionally, I enjoyed collaborating in diverse settings with people who share a common interest in shaping the future. My aim is to incorporate a greater sense of playfulness in spite of the challenges we may face. Our work at Swiss Films reminds me of a film set, where successful outcomes depend on teamwork. And last but not least, growing up in Switzerland, where perfectionism is highly regarded in the workplace, in California I have come to understand that mistakes can be very valuable, as long as you are able to learn from them.
What kind of direction do you want to lead Swiss Films in?
Although the global film industry is currently under pressure owing to postponed film releases and delayed festivals, it also has a window of opportunity to redefine business models and industry norms. We still have influence over the outcomes, as the audience is hungry for content.
As a result of the pandemic, many trends have accelerated in our society, and the film industry is at the crossroads of a fundamental change. In such uncertain times, Swiss Films will assist our partners by connecting them to global markets and finding new ways to distribute digitally. It is also important to bear in mind that a film's cultural value is far more important than its market value. Thus, we should ensure that the content gets the visibility it deserves, whether that's on a festival stage, at the cinema, on a digital platform, on a television screen or in a VR visor.
What do you think of new Swiss cinema, and how will you promote it internationally?
Swiss cinema's strength lies in its cultural diversity, in my opinion. Due to the small scale of the film market, international collaboration is very necessary. Considering the size of Switzerland's domestic distribution landscape, we are already quite successful at international film festivals. I believe there is an opportunity for streaming services seeking non-English-language content in Europe, as well as cinemas in Switzerland that provide content for Swiss audiences. Moreover, we have an entirely new generation of aspiring filmmakers who are collaborating internationally. We need to strengthen international networks in order to maximise Swiss filmmaking's impact on the global film industry’s visibility and distribution. Also, it is important to find ways to reach new audiences.
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