• Festivals

100 Years of Swiss Animation at Annecy: Bridging the Geography and Gender Divide

After one year of COVID delay, the Animation Film Festival Annecy honors 100+1 years of Swiss Animation with 14 special programs.

They include spotlights curated by the Swiss Animation Festival’s Fantoche and Animatou, a selection by Trickfilmgruppe Schweiz (the Association of Professional Animators), restorations by Cinémathèque Suisse, retrospectives for Golden Globe and Oscar nominee Claude Barras (Ma Vie de Courgette/My Life as a Zucchini), Isabelle Favez (Giuseppe, in competition ) and Ani-Doc filmmaker Marcel Barelli (Vigia). A concert soirée is dedicated to Swiss animation icon George Schwizgebel, and twin brothers Samuel and Frédéric Guillaume (Annecy Audience Award winners 2007 for Max & Co) present the world premiere of Sur le Pont.



“It’s a great opportunity for us to show how extensive and diverse the work created in Switzerland is,” says Christian Gasser, author, and professor in the Animation department at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HSLU), about the most comprehensive exhibition of Swiss animation to date.

That was not always the case, despite a very promising start for Swiss animation:  Lortac und Cavé created L’Histoire de Monsieur Vieux-Bois (The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck)  in 1921 for a production company in Geneva. The 43-minute film was based on illustrations by caricaturist Rudolphe Töpffer (1799-1846), who is considered the father of the comic strip.


What started with a bang, however, finally led nowhere: “After WWI, animation was pretty much in the hands of the Americans,” explains Gasser. “Animation in Switzerland revolved first and foremost around advertisement, industrial and educational films. Particularly when the ad film pioneer Julius Pinschewer fled Nazi Germany in the 30s and build a studio in the Swiss capital Berne. It produced animated advertisements for the whole world.”

It was not until the 1960s that people realized that animation could produce other things than advertisements or Walt Disney films. Less than 45 minutes south of Geneva, in France, the Animation Film Festival in Annecy was founded in 1960. George Schwizgebel, one of Switzerland’s most renowned animators, attended the festival as a student with his art teacher and discovered a whole new world. The festival also inspired Gisèle and Ernest Nag Ansorge, who were a sensation with their sand animation Les Corbeaux in 1967. A year later the Trickfilmgruppe Schweiz was founded.

It was not by accident that early Swiss animation was based mostly in the French speaking part of the country: “German culture was critical of animation and comics for quite some time,”  says Christian Gasser. “The status of animation and its commercial potential were higher in France. Therefore Swiss television in the French part aired artistic and experimental animated films early on, while Swiss TV in the German part of the country did not.”

In the last 25 years, the larger, German part of the country has caught up, though: the animation Festival Fantoche in Baden outside of Zurich opened its doors for the first time in 1995. And the Lucerne University has added a Bachelor degree program in animation.

According to Christian Gasser, the digitalization of animation shook up the Swiss animation scene as well: “Animation became easier and cheaper, no studio was required. New jobs in advertising, gaming and films were created. And on top of that, governmental funding improved when animation was separated out of the funding budget for live action films.” Government funding is an important part of financing films in Switzerland, so a special commission for animation was formed in the Ministry for Culture. Gasser is a member of that commission.

All these changes in the last two decades have also helped to make progress when it came to gender parity. Until the 1990s, Swiss animation was mostly a men’s club. Now, women like Anja Kofmel (Chris the Swiss), Maja Gehrig (Average Happiness) and Isabelle Favez have made great strides and became internationally successful. Christian Gasser: “Things really have changed. In the last round of applications for funding, there was only one project done by a man alone. All the others were by either women or mixed teams.”

He believes that a long career in animation is now possible even in a small market like Switzerland, but that there is still room for improvement when it comes to supporting local talent:  “We have some catching up to do when it comes to story development. That’s why we offer classes now at HSLU specifically to improve that. And it is still not quite clear where long form animation film and TV series fall when it comes to funding, but we hope to sort this out soon.”