Interview with Peter Entell – U.S Film Director living in Founex

Interview with Peter Entell – U.S film director living in Founex

Photo above – Peter Entell in Nyon’s old town

On the 6th March, the film “A Home Far Away”, is set be screened in cinemas across Switzerland. There will also be an avant-premiere at Nyon’s Capitole cinema on Tuesday 5th March at 20:00.  This film is mainly set in and around the Nyon area and was reviewed (click here) during the 2012 Visions du Reel film festival.

In the second in our series of “Afternoon Tea with.. ” we spoke to Peter Entell, the film’s director. In this first part of this interview we discover more about this award winning U.S documentary film maker who lives in Founex just outside Nyon. In the second part of the interview we focus on his films.

Entell, originally from New York first arrived in Switzerland in 1975 on August 1 – Swiss National Day.

Photo above – Swiss National Day in Rolle

“Everyone was dancing and singing and I thought, “everyone is so joyous, this is fun!”  It was a great introduction to the country. I initially came over here because of a relationship, but then found work with U.N.H.C.R. (the United Nations Refugee Agency) as a sound recordist for their film department – we went to wherever there were refugee problems in the world.

I had really hit lucky with such a job. After studying anthropology at an American university, I went backpacking across Europe with a friend.  At one stage during the trip, we were sat in a café in Italy and chatting about what we were going to do with our lives. We joked about being film makers (both of us being passionate about film), and yet here I was, in Switzerland just a few years later, doing exactly that. I was being paid to learn a craft, ride in jeeps in Africa, travel around the deserts of Somalia, and many other places. For such a young man this was a fabulous experience, although I could tell that some of the films that we were making were there purely to “sell” the U.N. and we had to gloss over or simply not mention situations that were going on in certain countries.  There is no doubt I gained valuable film making experience during this period but when the Belgian-Zimbabwe Friendship Association asked me if I was interested in making a film (“Moving on : The Hunger for Land in Zimbabwe”) about the independence of Zimbabwe, their request came at the right time and I readily accepted”.

Generous people in film business 

Previously Entell had only been working with sound and editing and had never actually directed a film, but after having spent seven years watching others, he felt he had picked up enough knowledge to be able to make his own. “There are some very generous people in the film industry, individuals who are willing to share their expertise with you”.

“Filming in Zimbabwe was extraordinary, I made several trips. I didn’t visit any of the usual tourist haunts, I lived in one area farmed by blacks whose farms were tiny little parcels of land, and then in the areas of white owned farms, their farms were made up of thousands of hectares, the country was going through a huge transition period at the time”.

Being an independent film director – one of the best jobs in the world

“For that first film I was on a huge learning curve, but it was my own. Being able to direct and be an independent film director is one of the best jobs in the world. You can choose your subject and how to cover it, plus you are usually with very talented people, and it can be a wonderfully creative process”.

After that first film in 1982, Entell travelled to the Inner Mongolia region of China and made three further films. “I learnt how to pitch for films, chase up proposals and source funding, to hustle and find out who would be interested in the subject matter. It’s a long, long process to getting a film made.  You would think the process would be easier for me after all these years but it’s not. You may know more people and the door may open that little bit wider, but you still have to go through the whole rigmarole, you have to have a rock steady dossier, you still have to sell the film to people and convince them that you are the one to make it”.

Switzerland a paradise for making movies

“Having said that, it certainly helps living here, as Switzerland is a paradise for film making. There are so many structures that exist to help with financing. This is due in no small part to the film makers, who in the past have put pressure on politicians to support Swiss culture. “Swiss Films” the organisation inZurich, gives advice to film makers and helps promote Swiss films abroad. There are lot of resources to help filmmakers at a federal, cantonal and a communal level”.

Unique to Switzerland

“There is also another mechanism that is unique to Switzerland. If you are lucky enough to sell your film to Swiss television, firstly you receive money from the sale, then from the royalties on the film, and also from an excellent system called “succès passage antenne”. Every time one of your films is played on any Swiss TV channel, money is put aside in an account to develop your next film. This can add up to a significant amount of money. So when I begin to work on a new film, I don’t have to start at zero. In addition there is “success cinema” – for every ticket bought by the cinema-going public, the film maker gets a portion too. This is all supported by the Swiss government. The Swiss are naturally very proud of their Swiss made films.

What’s next after “A Home Far Away”?

Entell says he put so much energy in to each film, (they usually take 3-4 years to make) he usually is  devoid of new ideas for a while after, but now he does have a concept for his next project. “I won’t elaborate too much, but suffice to say the film is going to be about the reaction of human beings to other speciesin certain situations. It will be much more innovative and perhaps more provocative than anything I have done before. It will involve the use of tiny, micro cameras, the technology of these has evolved so much in the past few years it means I can explore this subject in more depth. I think the young generation will be whooping with excitement at the subject, the older generation probably may not like it, we shall see”.

Entell reflects “I hit lucky getting into the business when I did. Today there are thousands of great films out there, it can be hard for a film maker to distinguish their films between all the others. You have to be very solid and have lots of perseverance to work in this industry”.

Entell is pleased that Nyon is host to Visions du Réel, the annual documentary film festival. “The town welcome filmmakers to this beautiful area, and we all get to watch extraordinary documentaries from around the world. When I’m not filming, I love hiking, skiing, and being part of local life. I don’t think I would fit into New York life any more, I love it here. Nyon is home now”.

Read on to hear more about some of Entell’s other films – “Shake the Devil Off”, “Josh’s Trees”, “Rolling” , “A Home Far Away” and how he uses a cameraman who lives in Nyon for many of his films.