Juerg Neuenschwander is a Swiss film director and producer. He is also the owner of Container Film AG.
Juerg is an international film director, media consultant, expert in film studies, and researcher of interactive human-centered design. He has directed short and feature-length documentaries, artistic projects, and interactive Xmedia productions. He currently divides his time between Shanghai, Paris, and Bern.
Juerg is interested in the interfaces between innovative storytelling, creative documentary films, expanded cinema, and large-scale art projects. He embraces the challenges of digitalization and explores the narrative forms made possible by virtual and augmented reality, 360° video, and webdoc.
Juerg is a member of the Verband Filmregie und Drehbuch Schweiz (Swiss Filmmakers Association). His films receive support from the Swiss Federal Office of Culture, Swiss Radio and Television (SRF), the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG SSR), Berner Filmförderung, and private individuals and foundations.
Juerg Neuenschwander has made a name for himself as a director and producer of documentary films. His work is shaped by independence in his choice of subjects, a collaborative working method, and a distinctive, cinematic design.
The Chinese Recipe: Bold and Smart, a cinematic documentary Juerg filmed in China, premiered at the 2016 Solothurner Filmtage festival in Switzerland. It had its Chinese premiere the same year, at the 2016 Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival. His latest film, Simply Different – When the Mind Rebels, won the Audience Award at the Berner Filmpreis Festival and will arrive in selected theaters in 2017.
As early as 1986, Juerg used his documentary My Mother is in Sri Lanka, which he co-directed with Remo Legnazzi, to provide a counterpoint to the Swiss media’s very one-sided reporting on the reasons why Tamils were fleeing Sri Lanka. And with The Power of Healing, he made a film about healers working in a legal grey area in rural Emmental.
Rather than being mere snapshots, Juerg’s films are imbued with a sense of permanence. This is especially evident in the Rasheda trilogy. In Rasheda – No Time for a Chat, we see how microloans help Rasheda and her family take their first steps out of extreme poverty and servitude in 1993. Ten years later, The Rasheda Trust shows Rasheda and her family facing up to the challenges created by bank debts, failed harvests, their two sons’ truancy, and the threat of being shut out of the village community. The third in the trilogy, Töchter einer Rebellin (Daughters of a Rebel), is planned for 2018, which will mark 25 years since the first movie.
Another pioneering film is Encounters on the Milky Way, which Juerg shot in West Africa and Switzerland. Juerg showed it at the pan-African film festival, Fespaco, in Ouagadougou. He then toured with the film through the Sahel and held open-air screenings to bring the movie back to the places where he had filmed it. This journey is documented extensively in Juerg’s TV movie Les Amis d’Amadou, and in the radio feature Q in Burkina, which Eric Facon made for Swiss Radio.
Before Juerg began focusing on feature-length documentaries in the 1980s, he and the team from Container TV were very much involved in the political movements of the time. They would go out filming with the Sony Portapak, the first affordable portable video recording device to come on the market. The battery-powered technology allowed the group to move around and document their own stories and those of their fellow activists, and then quickly share the footage with groups in other cities in Switzerland and abroad. The aim was to create a Gegenöffentlichkeit (counterpublic) through grassroots reporting as the antithesis of mainstream press, radio, and television reporting.
Juerg is driven by a desire to step into the unknown. He spends little time in his comfort zone, and never shies away from risks. He is constantly moving forwards, and comes very close to other people in the process.
Juerg’s activities are centered on and deeply rooted in his own artistic practice. He wants to trigger change, creativity, and innovation. His work builds bridges between people and cultures, between art and politics.
Juerg always forges authentic relationships with the people who feature in his films. This is true whether he is exploring the world of traditional opera in modern-day China, microloans in the hands of a small-scale businesswoman in Bangladesh, the daily lives of people living with functional illiteracy, the realities of life with a mental illness in a high-performance country, or the sharing of experiences between dairy farmers from the Sahel and Switzerland. Juerg’s ability to connect with his protagonists is especially striking in the film Sooner or Later, which focuses on terminally ill people who know that they will die during filming and will never see the finished movie.
Juerg is open to projects with universities, governmental and non-governmental organizations, and businesses. His goal is to initiate new and pioneering developments in collaboration with his partners. Having spent many years working in a transcultural context, Juerg is as familiar with startups and the maker scene as he is with universities and the film and media world. He accepts commissions to develop and produce film and media programs, contributes to training curricula for tertiary education, and creates customized exhibition formats. He also advises initiatives and links them up to create multipolar platforms. His network includes people of different ages from Africa, Asia, the US, and Europe. Some represent well-known companies and institutions; others are independent, up-and-coming talents.
Juerg began experimenting with video in the 1970s. He created his first art installations and video works using a Sony Portapak. He is currently working on a long-term transmedia project entitled Stratagem.
As early as 1981, the Swiss curator Michel Ritter invited Juerg to bring his ColorTV installation to Fribourg for the first Fri-Art exhibition. At the time, Juerg was drawing inspiration from Swiss pioneers such as René Bauermeister, and Chérif and Silvie Defraoui. A New York studio grant then gave Juerg direct access to the work of artists such as Vito Acconci, Steina and Woody Vasulka, Nam June Paik, Jonas Mekas, Alexander Hahn, and Bill Viola.
Juerg was part of the group that founded the Vereinigung Unabhängiges Video Schweiz (Swiss Association of Independent Video), and in 1984 he was closely involved in compiling the first comprehensive collection of contemporary Swiss video art. He experimented with live music, performance, and video in collaboration with musicians David Gattiker, Rick Iannacone, and Michael Little, artist Res Ingold, and cinematographer Peter Guyer. During this time, he also created video works with Carlo E. Lischetti (On the Mountain), Boris Nieslony (Kleine Insuffizienzen), and Roman Signer (Aktionen Bern), to name just a few.
In the early 2000s, Juerg created ZONES, a four-channel interactive percent-for-art piece for the lobby of the headquarters of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. He followed this with another interactive piece, for which he collaborated with the artist George J. Steinmann.
In his work at universities, Juerg is an innovator and influencer. For him, teaching always involves working on concrete, transdisciplinary projects.
In 2016, the Chinese government’s National Recruitment Program of Global Experts (上海千人计划) appointed Juerg as a Shanghai Thousand Talents Chair Professor at the College of Arts and Media (艺术于传媒学院) at Tongji University in Shanghai. His research area is interactive multiplatform storytelling with analogue and digital media.
Juerg has been involved in academic work for many years. Between 1979 and 1981, he co-created Z’Programm säuber mache (Make Your Own TV Show), a community-action research project that investigated the effects of extensive media consumption among school children in Bern’s Tscharnergut neighborhood.
Further early academic achievements include setting up the audiovisual department at the Schule für Gestaltung Bern in the 1980s. He later became the founding director of the MediaLab at Bern University of the Arts, and taught audiovisual design and film at the university’s Division of Design and Fine Arts from 1999 to 2016. Juerg also spent the period from 2009 to 2012 designing and leading a research project entitled Cultural Dialogue by Teleconferencing. The project was a collaboration with Barbara Bader, who is currently head of the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design. It was funded by the Sino Swiss Science and Technology Cooperation, swissnex China, Bern University of the Arts, and Tongji University.
As Bern University of the Arts’ representative in China, Juerg was responsible for the Memorandum of Understanding with Tongji University. His relationship with Tongji University has also included serving on the advisory board to the dean of the College of Design and Innovation, working as a visiting professor from 2009 to 2015, and running a master’s studio for innovative storytelling. He also founded the Y Institute Tongji/BUA, a center for transdisciplinary studies. As the center’s director, he hosted the first transdisciplinary Y Think Tank, which was entitled New Materiality & Beyond.
Juerg produces films, educational media, and interactive media installations for national and international organizations and TV stations.
Through Container Film AG, Juerg regularly accepts commissions for work that focuses on communicating and disseminating information about complex, socially relevant topics, and about prevention in healthcare contexts.
His clients include the International Committee of the Red Cross (Wound Ballistic); the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (Rasheda – No Time for a Chat); the Swiss Red Cross (Seeing Means Living); Pro Helvetia (Fri-Art NY Made in Switzerland); Swiss Federal Railways (Die Neubaustrecke Mattstetten (Bern) – Rothrist (Olten)); the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health in collaboration with AIDS Info Doku (Confrontation HIV/AIDS, six episodes); Swiss Radio and Television (The World In-between, The Fear that has a Thousand Eyes); H+ Swiss Hospitals (pioneering hospital initiatives); Bern Cantonal Department of Education (Imprisonment); Museum der Kulturen Basel (Bao, the Upright Judge); and the Swiss Federal Office for Buildings and Logistics (The Swiss Parliament Building).
- Q Begegnungen auf der Milchstrasse (Encounters on the Milky Way): Berner Filmpreis
- Freiheitsentzug (Imprisonment): Best commissioned documentary at Locarno Film Festival
- Honorary award for outstanding educational films from Berner Schulwarte / Media Institute of Bern Teacher Training College (PHBern)
- Shigatse – Eine Spritze kommt selten allein (Shigatse – One Injection Asks for More): Invited to the Tibet Film Festival in New York (hosted by Richard Gere)
- Kräuter und Kräfte (The Power of Healing): Honorary award from the Schweizerischer Verband für Natürliches Heilen (Swiss Association for Natural Healing)
- Früher oder später (Sooner or Later): Nominated for the Pare Lorentz Award of the International Documentary Association, Los Angeles
- Grant from the Cantonal Commission for Photography, Film, and Video, Bern, for a six-month study visit to New York City
- Appointed as Chinese High-Level Chair Professor (part time) under the Recruitment Program of Shanghai Global Experts, China
- Gleich und anders (Simply Different): Audience Award, Berner Filmpreis Festival 2016
- 1990–present: Member of Verband Filmregie und Drehbuch Schweiz (Swiss Filmmakers Association)
- Frequent jury member, e.g. at the 4th China Zhenjiang Xijindu International Documentary Film Festival in 2016 and 2017
- 2016–present: Member of the jury of the Prix Thun for Art and Ethics
- Member of expert panels for degree examinations at Bern University of the Arts
- 2007: Member of the strategy group for Berner Filmförderung
- 2005–2008: Member of the Expert Committee for Non-fiction, Zurich Film Foundation
- 2007 and 2008: Jury member for the Förderpreis award for best degree project at Zurich University of the Arts
- 1987–1995: Member of the Film Commission of the City of Bern
- 1985–2008: Lecturer at institutions including the Swiss School of Journalism and the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich
Filmography and Art Projects
Cinematic, Feature-length Documentaries
- Töchter einer Rebellin (Daughters of a Rebel) (in development)
- Gleich und anders (Simply Different) (2011–2016)
- The Chinese Recipe: Bold and Smart (2012–2016)
- Alles fliesst (Everything Flows), research and script (2005–2008)
- Früher oder später (Sooner or Later) (2000–2003)
- Q Begegnungen auf der Milchstrasse (Encounters on the Milky Way) (1998–2000)
- Kräuter und Kräfte (The Power of Healing) (1994–1995)
- Shigatse – Eine Spritze kommt selten allein (Shigatse – One Injection Asks for More) (1989–1990)
- My Mother is in Sri Lanka, co-directed with Remo Legnazzi (1986)
Television Productions and Short Documentaries
- The Magic of the Chinese Opera (in development)
- Seitenblick (Side Glance), experimental (in production)
- Die Angst hat 1000 Augen (The Fear that has a Thousand Eyes), producer (2011)
- Boggsen (Boggsing) (2011)
- Der rechtschaffene Richter Bao (Bao, the Upright Judge) (2011)
- Kuppel über Bern (The Swiss Parliament Building) (2006–09)
- Unter Orang-Utans (Living with Orangutans) (2008)
- Wound Ballistic (2008)
- Zwischenwelt (The World In-between) (2007)
- The Rasheda Trust (2006)
- Les Amis d’Amadou (Amadou’s Friends) (2004)
- Freiheitsentzug (Imprisonment) (1996–1997)
- Hey you! (1998)
- Das Versprechen (The Promise) (1996)
- Simulationszauber (The Magic of Simulation) (1995–96)
- Rasheda – keine Zeit für einen Schwatz (Rasheda – No Time for a Chat) (1993–1994)
- Konfrontation HIV/AIDS (Confrontation HIV/AIDS), six episodes (1991–1993)
- Sehen ist alles (Seeing Means Living) (1991)
- Kleine Insuffizienzen (Little insufficiencies) with Boris Nieslony (1990)
- Fri-Art NY Made in Switzerland, documentary of the exhibition and performances, co-directed with Peter Guyer (1984)
- Aktionen Bern (Actions Berne) with Roman Signer (1983)
- Auf dem Berg (On the mountain) with Carlo E. Lischetti (1983)
- So Bern – Jugend auf der Strasse (So Bern – Youth on the Street), with Alex Sutter et al. (1980)
- Video5 (1978)
- Raum zum Leben – Häuserbesetzung Spitz (Space to Live – Occupation of Houses), fragment (1975)
Installations and Art Projects
- Stratagem, Xmedia installation (in production)
- ZONES, interactive four-channel video installation, percent-for-art, Bern (1999–2012)
- Schein (Shine), interactive video installation, Bienzgut, Bern (1998)
- The Presidents, Fri-Art Made in Switzerland, NY, video installation, Franklin Furnace, and performances with Peter Guyer, Res Ingold, Michael Lytle, Chris Cochrane, and others (1984)
- ColorTV, Fri-Art Fribourg, installation, curated by Michel Ritter (1981)
- Passagen (Passages), multimedia installation, Helmhaus Zürich (1980)