Heimatland: When the Swiss become refugees

This time around, the borders are closed to the Swiss

Ten young directors with a common goal: to make a political film about Switzerland being threatened by a cloud of isolation. This is the idea behind Heimatland, the only Swiss entry in the running for the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival.

This content was published on August 12, 2015 - 17:00
Stefania Summermatter in Locarno,

Switzerland has declared a state of national emergency. A mysterious cloud has appeared out of nowhere and is looming over the country. It’s only a question of time before a hurricane of unprecedented force breaks out, with unforeseeable consequences.

A natural catastrophe? Not really, because the great black blot stops at the borders. Only Switzerland is affected – or, rather, punished.

Using the stylistic elements of the catastrophe genre, ten young Swiss directors have plotted a metaphor of a country that is increasingly isolated on the European scene and increasingly distrustful of anything different – immigrants above all.

The cloud threatening Swiss security and peace does not come from abroad as one might think, but from deepest and most conservative Switzerland.

Screened in the International CompetitionExternal link in LocarnoExternal link, Heimatland – “homeland”, although its official English title is Wonderland – is intended as a political film and a declaration of resistance by a new generation of filmmakers.

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“This film was born of a desire of introspection and reflection on what we are experiencing,” said 32-year-old Jan Gassmann, one of the directors and the promoter of the project along with 30-year-old Michael Krummenacher.

“But it’s not a question of condemning someone, because we’re aware that we too are part of the problem. We’ve lost the ability to forge ties with our neighbours.”

The idea behind Heimatland goes back four years – so before February 9, 2014, when 50.3% of Swiss voters accepted the reintroduction of curbs and quotas on immigration.

“Reality in a way caught up with us,” said Gassmann.

Lionel Rupp, 32, one of two directors of Heimatland from the French-speaking part of the country, agreed. “By isolating ourselves, by seeing ourselves as a model country and by denying the existence of a problem, we are heading for a collision.”

Different reactions

Reactions to the cloud differ. Sometimes they are absurd, but they almost never show solidarity. The threat lays bare people’s real needs and their hopes and fears – this is what the directors wanted to focus on.

Some people decide to stay, like the old woman who barricades herself in her house. There are the young people who go out partying and there’s the policewoman who has to deal with memories of an African whom she killed. Rightwing extremists grab their rifles as protection against foreign looters but end up killing a neighbour.

And then there are those who choose to leave their homes to search refuge in a neighbouring country, unaware that, faced with an exodus of more than a million Swiss, the European Union has decided to close its borders.

Switzerland therefore suddenly finds itself on the other side of the barricades. Only a Croatian family, who are members of the EU, are able to cross the border. This is a reference to a scene from The Boat is Full, Markus Imhoof’s Oscar-nominated film from 1981. In that film, however, it was the Swiss closing their borders to some of Jews who fled Nazi Germany.

Unlike apolitical Hollywood films, Heimatland has neither heroes nor a happy end, because, according to its directors, the only way out of the isolation is a collective effort, solidarity, union.

Collective effort

A collective effort is also the basis of this project and represents an interesting development for Swiss cinema.


Heimatland was filmed by ten young Swiss directors: Michael Krummenacher, Jan Gassmann, Lisa Blatter, Gregor Frei, Benny Jaberg, Carmen Jaquier, Jonas Meier, Tobias Nölle, Lionel Rupp and Mike Scheiwiller.

According to the official website, “Heimatland is neither neutral nor democratic nor representative – it is a subjective, self-critical snapshot from the point of view of a new generation of Swiss filmmakers”.

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Convinced of the need to make a political film about Switzerland, Gassmann and Krummenacher invited 30 young directors to explore the theme of an encroaching threat.

The ten directors who were chosen then collaborated on the conception and making of Heimatland, which isn’t a simple episodic film but a collage of stories which blend together coherently to form one story.

Many of the people on screen are not professional actors. “We wanted new faces and above all we wanted to respect the linguistic characteristics of each region, avoiding actors who speak a standardised dialect,” Krummenacher said.

Heimatland is definitely a collective effort, but it leans towards the male and the Swiss German. Not one of the directors comes from Italian-speaking Switzerland and there are only two from the French-speaking part of the country – and only two women.

“We would have liked a slightly more balanced composition and especially to reflect the diversity among Swiss cinema from a female point of view,” said producer Stefan Eichenberger.

“But the projects weren’t chosen based on quotas. We didn’t want to fall into the typical Swiss trap of making compromises ourselves.”

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In compliance with the JTI standards

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