There were celebrities, like Adrien Brody, Vanessa Paradis, Irrfan Khan, Golshifteh Farahani, Nastassja Kinski and Fanny Ardant. There were 2018 Oscar-contender performances like Harry Dean Stanton’s in John Carroll Lynch’s ‘Lucky’ — and you can mark my words! There were screenings for audiences as large as 8,000 in the Piazza Grande, and intimate gatherings for under 200 people inside the Kursaal. There was a comprehensive retrospective dedicated to cinema noir maestro Jacques Tourneur, and a film by first time Georgian filmmaker Ana Urushadze — although she does hail from cinematic stock — which walked away with a prize at Locarno.
The only thing that was lacking at this magnificent festival was more time, just so we could savor it all.
As Locarno Film Festival Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian tweeted an image (see below) on Sunday illustrating his need for solitude on the day after the end of this 10-day non-stop multi-artistic event, I also retreated to the nooks of my thoughts to savor all I’d experienced in Locarno.
After all was said and done, the 70th edition of the third-oldest film festival in the world very much matched one of my favorite films in Competition. Just like Stanton’s character Lucky, the Locarno Festival is young at heart, utterly spellbinding, able to stay set in its traditions but with a spirit so free it allows for year-after-year reinventions of itself. And, most importantly, so fascinatingly human it enters one’s heart, to stay there forever. It is also one of the few events I’ve ever attended where you begin to feel a spiritual connection with audiences around you, because almost as soon as you set foot in Locarno you realize that everyone is there for the same exact reason: our love of cinema.
Awards were handed out on Saturday, including the UBS Audience Choice which went to US indie hit ‘The Big Sick’, while the Pardo d’Oro — this year’s Competition jury included Olivier Assayas as president as well as Portuguese helmer Miguel Gomes — was awarded to Wang Bing for his touching portrayal of a woman’s last days, ‘Mrs. Fang’, best female performance went to Isabelle Huppert for her ‘Madame Hyde’ and best male performance to Elliott Crosset Hove for his turn in ‘Winter Brothers’. The Cineasti del presente Jury headed by Yousry Nasrallah handed out their best film award to ‘3/4’ (’Three Quarters’) by Ilian Metev and the Swatch First Features award went to ‘Sashishi Deda’ (’Scary Mother’) by Ana Urushadze. A personal favorite screening in the Critics’ Week sidebar, ‘The Family’ by Rok Biček, won the SRG SSR Semaine de la Critique top prize.
While audiences and critics often find a disconnect between what they have watched and what the juries reward at film festivals, I believe there is a very conscious cinematic design at play in bestowing those awards. In the age of Netflix changing the game for independent cinema, films that may not otherwise secure distribution are so brought to the forefront, and an award often means the difference between a filmmaker’s oeuvre regressing into obscurity or enjoying life as an arthouse treasure. While we may not always share the taste of the juries, we should always agree with their enthusiasm about new cinema, and their efforts to create alternative ways in which we view movies.
And I feel that they may just be so far ahead of us in their vision that it will take us a few years to actually catch up.
One trend predicted for sure by the Competition jury lay in their choice to award the top prize to Wang Bing’s documentary. During the one-day Locarno StepIn program, which brought together some 60 prominent European independent film industry execs on August 3rd, one of the takeaways highlighted in Variety was Apple joining the SVOD move, with their emphasis to be on documentaries. Are we growing tired of invented stories, and have become so addicted to the reality shows around us that we are turning to the next best thing, documentaries? I too personally preferred films with a vérité feel to them in Locarno like ‘Lucky’ — which was awarded the ecumenical jury prize —and Biček’s Critics’ Week winner ‘The Family’ which, though absolutely different one from the other, both brought me wholeheartedly into their worlds, worlds that somehow, somewhere actually exist.
StepIn was only one of the various programs framing the Locarno Film Festival. The others included Open Doors, which is a three-fold program run by Sophie Bourdon, focusing on a certain region every three years to offer filmmakers co-production, a Lab to highlight producers from that region and a showcase platform which screens films during the festival; and the Industry Days run by Locarno Co-Director Nadia Dresti, a program now in its eighth year, which is designed to facilitate networking for those attending Locarno.
“Co-artistic director Nadia Dresti,” explained international publicist and Locarno Festival press team consultant Richard Lormand, “represents the modern history of Locarno Festival. She is an important thread that has helped hold it together, having played many roles aside five directors: Marco Mueller, Irene Bignardi, Frederic Maire, Olivier Pere and now Carlo Chatrian. As a native of Ticino, she has supported them all with her enthusiasm, knowledge and experience. For me, she will always be the heart and soul of Locarno Festival.”
In her latest role, Dresti has tapped onto the pulse of what feels like a boutique festival with a very large audience in Locarno. Bourdon described that when “Nadia created the Industry Days eight years ago, the spirit was to keep the informal dimension of it, and accepting that there is a core audience in terms of professionals. People who have been regulars coming to Locarno, they have been used to screen films and hold meeting, informally. So what Nadia created is the meet-and-greet and industry appearance.” The common thread of the festival, this fresh attitude we feel all around us while in Locarno, Bourdon explained, is also embodied by “the industry side which should reflect the spirit of the festival in the sense of being very focused, selective and preferring quality vs. quantity.”
A film festival is of course only as great as the sum of its parts, and one very important, visual and ever-present part of the well-loved and hyper-attended festival that is Locarno is represented in the figure of its Artistic Director, Carlo Chatrian. A film journalist, writer, film programmer and now as the visionary head of the festival, Chatrian has been a part of Locarno Festival since 2002, inheriting his latest role in 2013. Those attending, as well as those following the event on social media and through their informative, interactive website, will notice his infectious enthusiasm. When I caught up with him on the next to last day of the festival, after he greeted the delegations of the day’s films during lunch — an activity he calls “a pleasure, after spending so much time in the dark watching films, to see these films come to light, and meet those who have done that work” — and then did a lively TV interview, he still had energy to spare. I, on the other hand, was exhausted by then.
On the eve of this milestone 70th edition of Locarno coming to an end, I asked Chatrian about the challenges ahead. “Every year for me, I do understand that there is something we need to do better, my team and I. The challenge for the future is to see where the cinema is going, how can we integrate the new techniques, the VR, etc, and how we can use this great Piazza Grande in a more innovative way — that’s what we are looking forward to.”