The Locarno film festival – in a bag

Nathalie Bonalumi

Not only can you watch movies on the giant Piazza Grande screen at the Locarno Film Festival – you can now carry around a piece of film history as well.

This content was published on August 20, 2008 - 13:57

Entrepreneur Nathalie Bonalumi creates stylish bags using screen material. Stars Anthony Hopkins and Christian Slater have one, as do cabinet ministers Pascal Couchepin and Micheline Calmy-Rey.

The Piazza Grande is the traditional heart of the Locarno festival, Switzerland's most established film event. Each year thousands gather there to watch movies on the giant outdoor screen.

Bonalumi's MEGA collection bags are made using the Piazza screen that was in action between 2001 and 2003. This witnessed movies such as The Bourne Identity and Bend it Like Beckham.

The material, which is mainly used on the outside, is married with former truck tarpaulins to make up the body of the bag, with car seat belts cleverly used as the straps.

"I've been a big fan of films since I was a little girl and love the festival. I always thought that I'd love to have a little piece of the screen which is full of emotions from the films," Bonalumi told swissinfo on the sidelines of the Locarno film festival in mid August.

Screen surprise

A close up of the screen material reveals a surprise. "When I saw it for the first time I thought what is this? It's full of holes," laughs Bonalumi.

These small holes, she explains, let the wind and sound through. When screens get "tired" they have to be changed – for 38-year-old Bonalumi, the perfect business opportunity.

Armed with an idea to make accessories, Bonalumi devised a business plan, which she sent to festival director Marco Solari. He loved the idea and gave her the screen.

Bonalumi, who combines the MEGA collection with a job and business studies, then had to decide what to do with the material. Having plumped for bags and come up with the design, she faced a search to find someone to make them.

In the end, she opted for the Pfäffli firm based near Basel, which also makes items for the army.

"I couldn't risk sending the screen abroad to do the bag so I was looking for a good well- known firm in Switzerland. Every bag is hand made in Switzerland and I'm very proud of this," she said.

The screen is first carefully cleaned with alcohol, by hand, before it is cut it to shape for the outside panel and inside pocket and trim. The back of the screen is used because it has an attractive, pearly sheen.

The tarpaulins are also washed and treated, before everything is stitched together.

Unique

Only 500 bags – in small and extra large – have been produced this year. "Every bag is unique," says Bonalumi.

The bags, which cost SFr240-270 ($218-246), already have in Hopkins, Slater and the Swiss ministers, some prominent fans.

"I was very proud when they told me it was a big idea for them," said the young entrepreneur. She has also taken her MEGA collection to the Cannes Film Festival red carpet.

There are currently two sorts of customers – the Locarno buffs who love the festival and want to take a piece of the screen with them and those who simply like the idea of having something exclusive.

"It's great when I see somebody with one of my bags, because I think, wow there's somebody with a special bag which has all these emotions from the film festival," said Bonalumi.

Future plans

Apart from the manufacture, Bonalumi's operation is a one-woman show – she markets, packs and sends the bags herself. For now, she is ploughing all her profits back into the festival as a gesture of goodwill for all the support she has received.

"The future of MEGA will be to do special products, bags, but also accessories with other products which contain emotions from the whole world," she said, adding that for the moment these ideas were "top secret".

But how did Bonalumi manage to get her project off the ground in just two years, while studying at the Distance-Learning University of Applied Sciences Switzerland and holding down a job at an engineering company?

Keeping late hours and surviving on six hours of sleep is one answer. A sound business and financial plan is another.

"You also have to believe in yourself and your ideas," Bonalumi said. "And also have the courage to do it."

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Locarno

As seen on the screen

2001: Moulin Rouge (dir. Baz Luhrmann), Bridget Jones's Dairy (Sharon Maguire), Lagaan (Ashutosh Gowariker)

2002: The Bourne Identity (Doug Liman), Bend it Like Beckham (Gurinder Chadha), Possession (Neil Labute)

2003: Calendar Girls (Nigel Cole), Das Wunder von Bern/The Miracle of Bern (Sönke Wortmann), Raining Stones (Ken Loach)

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MEGA bags

These come in 2 sizes: small, which can fit an A4 pad inside, and extra large, which is big enough for a laptop.

They come in a variety of colours. Each of the 500 bags made this year are original and come with their own certificate of authenticity and serial number.

They cost SFr240-270 and can be ordered over the internet at www.megacollection.ch.

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