It is not often that a film journalist like me gets to experience the stuff hard core news are made of in first person, up close. I mean, I’ve been privy to some great cinematic history in the making and yes, I lived in NYC at the time of the attacks of 9/11 so I watched unmentionable horror unfolding before my very eyes, but in Locarno I feel part of another narrative that will affect the world as we know it.
I’m talking about the sudden decision by UN war crimes Special Prosecutor Carla del Ponte to quit her post, because she feels that Syria is now “a land without future”. Appointed to a three-member panel set up in August 2011 by the Human Rights Council to monitor the al-Assad regime and the unfolding civil war in Syria remotely, del Ponte represented the one slight hope for justice and yet today, that hope seems gone. Having previously sat on tribunals that investigated atrocities in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, del Ponte is most famous for putting Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević on trial at The Hague. And for having stood up to Sicily’s La Cosa Nostra and won, by simply walking away with her life. Now that’s a hero of a woman right there!
Anyway, when I was invited to an official dinner inside a castle hosted by Locarno Film Festival artistic director Carlo Chatrian, I never imagined I would sit across from Mrs. del Ponte and share a meal with the legend, and her son. At a table which included my favorite film critic and friend, an Italian talent agent and a journalist from a well-respected Italian newspaper, del Ponte offered the perfect example of a woman who clearly understands the world, and despite our imperfections, likes humanity. There is a line in Lebanese film ‘Panoptic’ which goes “life lets you choose between safety and truth”, and Mrs. del Ponte clearly choose the latter.
Here is the video of her historic talk, from earlier today, part of the series “Locarno Talks” courtesy of La Mobiliare.
‘Panoptic’ by Rana Eid.
The reason I love what I do is that I am allowed an insider’s look into cinema that few can manage. And that behind the scenes access allows for an extra layer of understanding, a different pair of eyes and ears sometimes. Such was the case with Rana Eid’s ‘Panoptic’. While at first look it appears to be one film, once I was allowed thirty minutes in the filmmaker’s company, my view of the film was altered and I began craving to watch it again, to experience its wisdom one more.
In person Eid is a wonder. She talks straight and isn’t afraid to be herself through and through. I immediately liked her on so many levels and felt a connection — woman to woman, human being to human being. Her debut feature is a documentary that brings to the surface the underground of Beirut, while she narrates in voiceover the simple story of her relationship with her father. Yet what she manages through ‘Panoptic’ is to hold up a mirror to our misconceptions and a look at the other side of giving up on a country, chucking it off as lost in civil war. The resulting film is chilling from this sound designer turned director who explained to me that in Arabic the word for “sound, voice and vote are the same.” And symbolically, of course, that is such a loaded statement because sometimes all are simultaneously silenced in the Arab world.
Cinematic Heroes Todd Haynes, Michel Merkt and Yousry Nasrallah.
One of the first star filmmakers I ever interviewed in my professional life is Egyptian auteur Yousry Nasrallah. It was a moment that sealed my love of cinema and inspired me to continue onward. His kindness made me believe that films can indeed be a reflection of life and his thoughtful answers, even though I remember clearly my garbled questions, created in me a need to be better, do better. I’ve since interviewed him again, and again, and have grown fond of him as a person, while his films continue to fill me with magic and wonder. So running into him first thing in the morning and finding his warmth, reconnecting so easily to a person I see hardly once every couple of years, was the energy needed to create a perfect day ahead.
Immediately after running into Nasrallah, who is of course the President of the Filmmakers of the Present jury this year in Locarno, I sat down to talk with independent producer with a golden touch Michel Merkt. Talk about a man who is changing the way cinema is made through his vision and great morals, all the while impacting those he comes in contact with through his kindness and good manners. During a conversation open to the public at the festival, moderated by Variety’s Jay Weissberg, Merkt actually stood up when a woman would stand herself to ask him questions and admitted that his philosophy is “trying to have no regret at the end.” Merkt, whose films have included the Oscar-nominated titles ‘Toni Erdmann’ and ‘My Life as a Courgette’ will also be accepting the Best Independent Producer Award “Raimondo Rezzonico” in Locarno, the night of the world premiere screening of ‘The Song of Scorpions’ — the Anup Singh film he produced which we are all awaiting with bated breath.
Dulcis in Fundo was a leisurely interview with American filmmaker Todd Haynes, who is in Locarno to accept the Honorary Pardo Manor Award for his exceptional career and is presenting his latest, the 2017 film ‘Wonderstruck’. We caught up at the Villa Orselina, a hotel placed atop a hill featuring breathtaking views of the Lago Maggiore and surroundings. And Haynes is such a breath of fresh air, easy to talk to, giving with his answers and so wonderfully down to earth for a cinematic genius. Full interview to come, shortly.