On Monday, December 19 and Wednesday, December 21, 2016, both at 8:15 p.m., ZDF will show the major historical two-parter "Gotthard".
It was the largest construction site in the world and the outstanding engineering achievement of the time: the construction of the Gotthard Tunnel between 1872 and 1880. The tunnel is regarded as the construction of the century, posing a huge challenge to miners, engineers and contractors. And this despite the fact that experts doubt that the construction can even be accomplished.
Based on true events, "Gotthard" tells the story of the local people: the lives of the building contractor Louis Favre and the politician Alfred Escher, who really existed, and those of the three imaginary main characters Max, Anna and Tommaso, whose lives are thrown into turmoil in the course of time.
The major TV event movie was developed under the direction of SRF in the editorial departments of SRF, ZDF, ORF and RSI and is a co-production of Zodiac Pictures (Zurich/Lucerne), MMC Zodiac (Cologne) and Wilma Film (Prague). SRG SSR is involved as national co-producer. International distribution is handled by Beta Film.
The story centers on Anna (Miriam Stein), a Swiss carter's daughter, Max (Maxim Mehmet), a German engineer, and Tommaso (Pasquale Aleardi), an Italian miner.
Anna, Max and Tommaso meet in the gold-rush atmosphere of the early years. They are welded together by the bone-jarring work on the century-old construction project, but torn apart by the turmoil of love and rapid technical developments. In the end, they even face each other as opponents.
Other roles are played by, among others, Carlos Leal, Max Simonischek, Roeland Wiesnekker, Joachim Król, Marie Bäumer, Anna Schinz and Christoph Gaugler. The film was directed by the successful Swiss film and television director Urs Egger, who was recently awarded the Grimme Prize for "Der Fall Bruckner". The screenplay for "Gotthard" was written by Stefan Dähnert.
"Gotthard" is supported by the NRW Film and Media Foundation, the Zurich Film Foundation, the Teleproduction Fund, the Baden-Württemberg Film Fund, the Czech Cinematography Fund as well as the cantons of Central Switzerland and the Federal Office of Culture.
On June 1, 2016, Switzerland celebrated the completion of a project of the century, the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel - at 57.1 kilometers, the longest rail tunnel in the world. Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen took this as an opportunity to tell the story of the first tunnel through the Alps with "Gotthard.
When producers Lukas Hobi and Reto Schaerli (Zodiac Pictures) presented the idea of a historical TV two-parter about the construction of the first Gotthard rail tunnel to the editorial team of Swiss Radio and Television (Urs Fitze, Lilian Räber) in November 2012, the project immediately met with great interest. Even then, the intention was to broadcast the films in 2016, the year of the opening of the new NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel.
Lilian Räber led the development of the project as the responsible editor. She brought the two historians Elisabeth Joris and Eva Schumacher on board. After an extended research phase, a coherent narrative concept emerged in March 2014 that took into account the original idea of telling the story of tunnel construction "from below". Screenwriter Stefan Dähnert then began his work.
International partnerships were mandatory for this major project. SRF therefore approached ZDF and ORF. Both broadcasters were interested from the start, and when the script was presented in spring 2015, they agreed to realize the film together. According to Lukas Hobi, the cooperation between the broadcasters worked very well: "It made our work enormously easier.
As international production partners, the initiators won the MMC Studios in Cologne. And when it became clear during the search for a motif that the tunnel portal could only be realized in the Czech Republic, a third co-producer, Wilma Film, joined the project.
It was clear to the producers and editors that a Swiss director should be entrusted with the realization of "Gotthard. Urs Egger was the ideal candidate. With almost 40 realized feature films, including multi-part and historical films, he covered the requirement profile perfectly. After Egger read the script in November 2014, he immediately expressed his interest. The casting of "Gotthard" was an international affair.
Two casting agents accompanied the project: Corinna Glaus cast the Swiss roles and Vienna-based Fritz Fleischhacker cast the German, Austrian and Italian roles.
On September 1, 2015, the first take was made for filming, which lasted until November 27, 2015 and took the team to three countries during 59 days of shooting.
The village of Valendas in Graubünden served as the backdrop for the tunnel village of Göschenen in Switzerland. With great scenic effort, the village was transported back to the time of tunnel construction. The Swiss filming continued to the Gotthard region and Lucerne.
For the shots of the tunnel construction site, the film crew went to a quarry outside Prague. There, the backdrop of a tunnel village was created from nothing.
The final stage of filming then took place in a several thousand square meter hall outside Cologne. There the Art Department Team of MMC Studios according to a production design by Knut Loewe, a 90 meter long tunnel, a record setting.
Explosions, blasts, water ingress, rock falls and many other spectacular effects were staged here for the lavish, historical two-parter.
Once the image editing was complete, work began on the visual effects. A major challenge of the digital image editing was to geographically relocate the tunnel construction site to Göschenen. The Swiss Fabian Römer then made the images sound.
Immediately after completion, the world premiere of "Gotthard" took place on the Piazza Grande on August 2, 2016, the evening before the opening of the Locarno Film Festival. The audience was able to see both films in a 180-minute "theatrical version". In this way, the largest fictional project ever realized by Swiss television was given a fitting platform to honor the great work of all those involved.
Lukas Hobi and Reto Schaerli look back on an eventful four-year production: "'Gotthard' was our most ambitious project to date. We were only able to master the enormous challenges thanks to the support of an outstanding team and loyal partners. Now we are happy to share the film with the audience.
Broadcast date: Monday, December 19 and Wednesday, December 21, 2016, both at 8:15 p.m., on ZDF
Photo: Gotthard: Tommaso (Pasquale Aleardi, l.), Max (Maxim Mehmet, r.) and Anna (Miriam Stein, m.) - inseparable friends? © ZDF / Daniel Ammann