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72nd Locarno Film Festival Arty and popular: new director brings Locarno back to its roots

Raphael Brunschwig, Chief Operating Officer, left, Lili Hinstin, Artistic Director, center, and Marco Solari, Festival President

(From left) Raphael Brunschwig, the festival's chief operating officer, Lili Hinstin, artistic director, and Marco Solari, festival president, during the 2019 programme presentation

(Keystone / Francesca Agosta)

Lili Hinstin is marking her first year as artistic director of the Locarno Film FestivalLink externo with one of the boldest and most exciting Locarno line-ups in years. The festival kicks off today. 

Faithful to its long tradition as a carefully curated showcase of not only European but also “peripheral” films (those made outside the US-European axis), the next festival promises quite a few surprises and changes, privileging young film-makers and experimental works of experienced directors without disregarding big audience tastes.

For the festival’s main venue, the open-air night sessions in the central Piazza Grande that holds up to 8,000 people, Hinstin was bold enough to resist the trend of offering the public “feel-good” films that cater to larger audiences.

Putting together the program

Interview with Lili Hinstin, Artistic Director Locarno Festival. 'How do you navigate the film world to build Locarno’s programme?'

A few changes

She took up the tough challenge to bring quality films that captivate a wide spectrum of the public.

Her choices include Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in … HollywoodLink externo, which premiered in Cannes and was re-edited by the director afterwards; Diego MaradonaLink externo, a documentary about the Argentinian’s dark years playing for Napoli made by the director of the acclaimed Senna, Asif Kapadia; To the End of the EarthLink externo, by Japanese cult horror movie director Kyoshi Kurosawa; the German-Austrian thriller 7500 by Patrick Vollrath; and, opening the festival, MagariLink externo, an autobiographic fiction by Ginevra Elkann, granddaughter of Fiat’s larger-than-life industrialist Gianni Agnelli.

To add joy to cinephile pleasure, Hinstin decided to transform the second night-screenings on the Piazza Grande into another curated section, the Crazy Midnight sessions, with cult works by Korean director Bong Joon-hoLink externo and Americans Jack HillLink externo and John WatersLink externo, among others. Waters, who is being honoured with a selected retrospective of his works, will also introduce a special screening of one of his favourite films, King Vidor’s Show People (1928). 

Hinstin also changed the title and the scope of the experimental film section from “Signs of Life” to “Moving Ahead”, a tribute to Jonas Mekas, long-time patron of experimental films, founder of New York’s Anthology Film Archives and a camera artist in his own right. The name of the Locarno experimental section refers to Mekas’s film As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty Link externo(2000).

A new section devoted to virtual reality, "Gender Bender", will show works from Switzerland, Canada, Greece, Ukraine and France, selected, says Hinstin, less for their technological prowess than their “contemporary artistic perspectives”. This kind of work shall have an increasing space in future editions of the festival. 

Source of youth

For many years the festival has been nurturing parallel programmes dedicated to young talents. 

Locarno Academy comprises programmes for up-and-coming filmmakers, producers and critics. swissinfo.ch is also one of the media partners of the Critics Academy (see box), together with Filmexplorer.ch, Film Bulletin, MUBI, Variety and Indiewire.

This year, the festival introduces Base Camp. An old army barracks will lodge 200 creative talents (film-makers, artists, designers, poets etc.) aged 18-30 from all over the world, with no plan but full access to the festival’s venues and behind-the-scenes proceedings.

What will come out of it is anyone’s guess, but the new direction of the festival seems happy to take quite a few creative risks. swissinfo.ch will be watching closely to bring our readers the most accomplished outputs. 

International scope

“Swiss Panorama”, a section traditionally dedicated to Swiss films, remains, but Hinstin made clear that under her direction the “Swissness” of a film is no longer a guarantee that it will be selected.

Mentioning the “impressive quality of the works of a new generation of Swiss film-makers”, Hinstin spread her choice of Swiss films throughout the festival’s various sections, side by side with international features. “A very smart move,” noted Giuseppe Salvatore and Ruth Baettig, critics and editors of Filmexplorer.chLink externo, an online revue based in Basel.

The Swiss films that will be shown in Locarno include 21 co-productions of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, parent-company of swissinfo.ch. Many of them deal with the timely questions of migration, diaspora and cross-cultural issues, such as O Fim do MundoLink externo (The End of the World) by the Geneva director of Portuguese origin Basil da Cunha, selected for the international competition. There’s also Baghdad in my Shadow by Samir,Link externo a Zurich-based director born in Iraq, and Shalom Allah by David VogelLink externo, in which an investigation into Swiss converts to Islam provokes a soul-searching trip to the director’s own Jewish roots.

swissinfo.ch takes you to Locarno

This year, swissinfo.ch teamed up with Locarno Film Festival’s Critics AcademyLink externo, a parallel programme that selects ten young film journalists – four from Switzerland and six from all over the world – for a critical immersion in the festival.

swissinfo.ch  will provide extensive coverage of the festival in all our English channels: you can follow the main news, backstage and highlights on Chiaroscuro, the live blog on our website, together with texts, video and visual features published under a special dossier

Features will also be produced for all of the other swissinfo.ch languages - Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French and German.

On Instagram you can follow daily video feeds by the Critics Academy, exposing their insights on the films and Locarno curiosities. Updates can also be found on Twitter and Facebook. Come along!

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