The Locarno Film Festival has a new director. Since December 1 last year, Lili Hinstin, 42, has taken up the challenge to maintain the relevance of Switzerland's most prestigious film festival. She has big plans.
Hinstin replaces Carlo Chatrian, who was appointed director of the Berlinale (Berlin Film Festival) just before the start of Locarno’s last edition, in August 2018 – when the festival also signed a gender-parity pledge that is being adopted by many other film festivals around the world.
Indeed, the appointment of Hinstin is certainly a gesture in this direction, even if she is not the first woman to lead the festival (Irene Bignardi reigned from 2000 to 2005). Yet the former director of the Belfort International Film Festival (EntreVues) in France is an experienced programmer and film producer in her own right.
Born and raised in Paris, Hinstin comes from a family marked by curious entanglements within French history and arts.
One of her great-grandfathers was an army general who led the suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871 – “not exactly a point of honour for the family, that’s why we never spoke much about him”, she says. His brother, Gustave Hinstin, was a teacher and possible lover of the poet Isidore Ducasse, aka Comte de Lautréamont, who dedicated his “Poésies” to “Monsieur Hinstin, mon ancien professeur de rhétorique”.
Lili’s grandfather, Charles Hinstin, was a true archetype of the 20th century adventurer: mechanic in Chicago in the 1920s, gold prospector in Cameroon, Resistance fighter during the war, ended his days in Kabul, Afghanistan. It was there, shortly before his death in 1962, that he also met French writer Joseph Kessel (author of “Belle de Jour”) and became the main character in one of his short stories, “The Zombie”.
That’s how Lili Hinstin was acquainted with the grandfather she never knew – Charles committed suicide in Kabul – and “Le Zombie” is the title of a documentary she made in search of Charles’ various lives, released in 2008. By that time, she was already working as programmer at the French Academy in Rome – Villa Médicis, before making the move to direct the film festival in Belfort, near the Swiss-French border.
Hinstin says that the shift from producer to programmer came quite naturally, as it was hard to make a living making documentaries. With an omnivorous appetite for films, she doesn’t like to work with the ordinary categories, such as ‘commercial’ versus ‘author’ films – “what matters is that they are good films”, she says.
She's not afraid to experiment with new technology, such as virtual reality or transmedia, in line-ups, and she also doesn't see any problem in adapting to a new environment in which Netflix and Amazon have emerged as big players in film production.
When it comes to her first Locarno (August 7-17 next), she plans to keep the section dedicated to experimental and artistic films, “Signs of Life”. The section's title will change, she says, though what it will be and how it will affect the curation of the section is not yet defined.
Regarding the geographical scope of Locarno – in previous editions, some critics overlooked a broader choice of films from Asia and Africa, for instance – Hinstin confesses that she is particularly attracted by productions in the Maghreb region, particularly in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
So much so that she has hired a consultant to look for new talent emerging in the region. She's also looking at what is being made in sub-saharan Africa, in spite of the slump in production after several boom decades in the 1970s and 1980s.
The retrospective for 2019
The definitive program of Locarno will only be announced by mid-July, but Hinstin has confided to swissinfo.ch that this year’s retrospective will be dedicated to the American director Blake Edwards (1922-2010), who fits perfectly Hinstin’s view of cinema. Edwards used to work within the Hollywood industry, but has built an idiosyncratic and almost authorial filmography.
Take, for example, his early masterpieces “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961) and “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962), the Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers (and the hilarious “The Party”, also with Sellers), or “Victor or Victoria” (1982), and it's safe to say great fun is already guaranteed this summer on the Piazza Grande.
Free tickets to see Lili Hinstin
If you wish to have a closer meeting with Lili Hinstin, she will be next February 5th at the National Museum (Landesmuseum) in Zurich, in the first of three French-speaking conferences planned for this year at the museum.
swissinfo.ch, as a media partner of the Tuesday Conferences of the Landesmuseum, offers our readers a limited number of free tickets. The tickets will be awarded in a "first come, first served" system. No lottery, no questionnaire: just write an email to email@example.com link with your full name and contact info.